UConn 60, Michigan State 54: Wrapping Things Up At The Garden

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Rip Hamilton, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – What a day, what a weekend, what month.

What a ride.

I asked UConn fans via twitter if they would rather be in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Final Four. Most who answered didn’t get it, but a few did.

The point being, quite frankly, the UConn brand endures. Kevin Ollie has been promising that, and his promises have a way of being kept. The Huskies will raise a banner of some kind when they come back to Gampel, as he promised. They are back in the Final Four, waving their “Amercian” flag, as Ollie said.

Conference affiliation matters, it matters in recruiting, it matters in money. But getting t the Final Four and winning it is about who you are. The Huskies had what it took, even if the AAC didn’t impress the selection committee.

It was joyous, the nets coming down, the celebration on the floor. The crowd was phenomenal. Players were wearing bits of the nets they cut down tied to their hats as reporters entered the locker room. The former Huskies were sharing in it.

Unforgettable day.

Here’s some Kevin Ollie at the podium:

   “It was just a great game plan.  Our players, our student?athletes executed the game plan perfectly.  My coaching staff came up with a great design out there and the defense was amazing.  It was great to get off to a great start, and we wanted to fight.  We wanted to throw the first punch and I think we did that.  At the end of the first half we had a lull, and then in the second half we turned it on.

                “It started with ball pressure with Ryan Boatright picking up, then everybody denying Harris, because Harris got off on us the second half.  And we started having our attention there.  Shabazz did a great job, and then our bigs did an exceptional job.  Phil Nolan came in and give us huge minutes.  DeAndre was on the string and then didn’t let Dawson go off any.

                “It was just an amazing feeling to do it in Madison Square Garden, and for the NCAA not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift.  And we’re going to unwrap it again and we’re going down to Texas.

“We’re going to see where it takes us.  We play a great Florida team and we’re going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys’ heart, and that’s what got us through, it was a heart of a champion, heart of a lion and I love these guys.

“You can’t take it for granted.  I thank Coach [Jim Calhoun] for giving me this opportunity.  I knew what I had, though.  I had faith in my players, I had a great coaching staff, two of my coaches coached me and got head coach experience, and my belief in God.  I knew God was going to give me a way out of no way.  And I thank Him for this opportunity.  I thank Coach for always being there.  I thank my AD and my president, that gave me an opportunity and signed me for that one?year deal and then extended me during the season and their faith in me.

                “I just want to make these kids better people.  If we can do that and win a National Championship on the way, that’s good.

“We got a lot of great fans out there and we got a lot of great student?athletes that came through UConn.  You can see everybody come back Andre Drummond, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Richard Hamilton, even players that you don’t even know in the NBA.  It’s a big family.  And that’s what Coach created and I’m glad he passed me the baton, and I’m just trying to run on it and try to still create that environment, because it’s all about family with UConn.

“[The Huskies] did a wonderful job.  Yes, Big?10 is known for that, but American Conference is known for it, too.  And we got our American flag waving out our window going down to Texas.  And we’re going to keep it up high, and we’re going to keep playing the right basketball.

                “We’re physical, too.  Don’t get it mixed up.  We are predators out there.  And we’re going to go in and we’re going to do a great job.  We’re going to not only use our physicality with our muscle, we’re going to use our physicality with our mind.  I think that’s what we did tonight.  When they were physical, we played the right type of game.  We made hard cuts, we were going downhill, we shared the basketball.  And then when we get up to the free?throw line, that’s our toughness.

                “It doesn’t have to be a wrestling match.  We use our toughness mentally.  I think we put on the board ‘concentration and mental toughness’, and that’s what we had today.  Because concentration, if you go 18?for?18 in the second half, you got to be mentally tough.  And that’s what we have been doing if you’ve been watching us.  And we get up to that free?throw line, we knock them down.

 

“Madison Square Garden is a great place.  I don’t care if you ?? now from here whenever I walked in here in the NBA.

 “It’s always in the back of your mind and thinking about certain things, is this the right job?  Should I stay in the NBA?  You have those thoughts going on in your mind.  But at the end of the day I wanted to be close to my family and I wanted to come back to my second family, which is my UConn family.  And just to be around Coach all the time and him believing in me, even before this coaching thing, even as a 17 year old and believing in me that I could be a point guard.  And passing up on a lot of guards to have me come way from Los Angeles to Connecticut is like unbelievable.  And he always believed in me from day one.  And I thank him to death for it.  And that’s what I told him in his ear.  ‘Thank you for believing in me.’

                “And you know what, I can do this job, but I need a lot of help.  It’s not just a one?man show.  That’s why I got a great coaching staff, that’s why I got great players, and that’s why I want to just keep forging on and keep building.  Don’t lay on your success.  Keep building on your success.  I think we’re doing that and we are going to enjoy a trip to Texas again.

“That was just a great experience.  It’s a great time when you can get on that ladder, but I was really taking my time.  One step at a time.  And that’s what you got to do to get up top of the ladder.  You can’t skip no steps.  And the last two years we didn’t skip no steps.  We took one step at a time.  I he keep telling you that and that’s what it’s all about.

                “Guys believe.  They didn’t get out of their roles and they believe in each other, and we call it something called Level Five and that’s a championship mentality, and if we can have Level Five all the time, and not only on the basketball court, in the classroom, too, we’re going to be fine.

                That’s what we try to strive for each and every day to have that Level Five and play for one another and play this game the right way.  The right way is believing in what’s on your chest, on your chest and not what’s on your back.  We don’t play for what’s on the back of our jersey, we play for what’s on the front.  And it’s a great, great school that’s on the front.”

 

*****

Shabazz Napier was the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional. He averaged 23.3 points per game in Buffalo and Manhattan. DeAndre Daniels was also on the all-Regional team, along with Adeian Payne, Gary Harris and Duston Hogue.

Napier has now played in 141 games, a UConn record. He scored 1,925 to pass Ray Allen on UConn’s scoring list.

****

I messed up on Twitter. I thought Tom Izzo said he called timeout to give UConn fans a chance to enjoy the moment. He said he DIDN’T call timeout for that reason, but to convey something to his younger players. Want to set that straight. Here is his quote.

 “ Sometimes you got to pay the price of the process and sometimes ?? the reason I called timeout with six seconds left, it wasn’t so that the UCONN fans could really enjoy it a little longer.  I just told our underclassmen and that, that I didn’t think ?? we had a couple stretches where we didn’t bring it, but we did and I don’t want to ?? don’t trademark the line, but out?of?body experiences, a couple times I came out of the huddle and I was shaking my head, like I haven’t seen this before. Sometimes that happens with pressure.  Sometimes it happens with fatigue, and I just wanted our team to capture the moment and learn from it, so next year we can be better at what we do.”

 

****

All kinds of stuff from Paul Doyle, Jeff Jacobs, Rich Messina, Brad Horrigan and myself going up on our site throughout the night. Rich Coppola will have lots on FoxCT tonight, do check all that out.

… Well, I’ve done eight Super Bowls and 10 World Series for The Courant, never a Final Four. Glad to be adding that to my career. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some travel arrangements to make!

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