NEW YORK – Well, here the Huskies are. On Jan. 2, when the Huskies were in Dallas and Kevin Ollie took them out to Arlington to tour the site of the Final Four, what did you think? On March 5, when he grabbed the mic at Gampel Pavilion and said he planned to come back in April and raise a banner, what did you think?
Kevin Ollie is no Don Quixote, it turns out. He knew what he was doing, talking about. His belief in his players, even as he was chiding them after tough losses, is paying off in a big way now, isn’t it?
One win away. The Huskies will play Virginia or Michigan State for the chance to go back to Arlington, for real, on Sunday. Wow. What a ride it is becoming; the Huskies appear to have caught lightning in a bottle. Can’t put anything past them now. Here’s the game story for the Saturday Courant.
Here’s Kevin Ollie at the podium:
“First I just want to thank all the fans that came out and supported us. We can really hear them cheering for us, but then we could also feed off them. We can also draw off their energy. They just did a wonderful job. My student?athletes played together, they played hard, and at the end of the game we played 40 full to get this win. And only thing we’re looking forward to is a Sunday matchup, whoever that might be, and we have to stay together and play another 40 full [minutes] and get the win.”
Coach [Calhoun] just said ‘Congratulations’, and I love Coach and I love him being around. He’s always a sounding board for me. If I ever have a question he’s always there to answer it. He’s like a second father to me. He really gave me an opportunity to take over this program, and he’s built this program on pride and tradition. And I just want to continue to keep the torch alive.
And he’s passed me the baton, and I’m just trying to run with it the best way I know how, and the best way I do know how is to keep our team together, keep us fighting, no matter what situation we’re in, negative, positive, we’re going to always see the bright light. And that light is shining bright now and we got to keep it shining. Hopefully we can play another 40 full of UConn style of basketball, and hopefully we can get to Texas.
I don’t put limitations on my players. You go through ups and downs. You’ve got to understand they’re still young men. They’re trying to develop and grow. There’s a lot different things. It’s just not basketball. [DeAndre Daniels] has life issues and he’s always worked through them.
And one thing DeAndre, I can tell DeAndre, he’s been hurting sometimes, but he still is here. He’s still fighting for our team, and there’s been some ups and downs where he didn’t play to his abilities, but at the end of the day, you can always be a great teammate. And that’s what he’s continued to do. I don’t care if you can be ?? you don’t have to be a great, all?the?time basketball player, but you can always be a great teammate. And that’s what he’s doing.
And we really concentrate on DeAndre, it’s not about points for him, it’s about getting touches. It’s about him bringing energy. When he does that, his talent takes over and you have that combination, it equals success. And that’s what you’re seeing tonight with the 10 rebounds. Them were touches. Deflections are touches. He’s got two blocks; that’s touches. And then once that takes over, his talent is very supreme.
And he’s an inside?outside threat, and we try to do a nice job manipulating the defense, getting him in the sweet spots, and that’s what I like to do on our offense. And then I got great two point guards that find him in the sweet spot, and throw and deliver the ball on time and on target, and he did a great job tonight staying with it. Because he could have easily hung his head, and he stayed with it and he pushed us over the top in the second half.
It’s mental toughness. It’s a very expensive price that we paid to get here. And each and every level you got to pay even more. He sacrificed for his teammates. He got touches, and then when his time was to shine, we gave him the basketball. That’s what it’s all about. We want to give him the basketball at his right position. And DeAndre took it on himself to share the game, but also be a great player down low and then shooting a great three?point shooting that he did display tonight.
That’s the kind of player he is. We want to continue to see that, but like I told you, at the end.
of the day, it’s about him being a good teammate, and us staying together. It’s not just always DeAndre, it’s not just always Shabazz [Napier]; if we have a balanced attack, we can win a lot of games, and we can continue to play. And that’s what I want our guys to understand.
Yeah, [Terrence Samuel] stepped up big time. We asked him to take Shabazz off of DeAndre Kane a little bit; he did that. He was exceptional getting to the basket, getting to the rim. And one thing about Terrence, opponents can’t stay in front of him because he’s shifty and then he’s powerful when he gets the ball, and with that confidence that he’s displaying now, it takes us to another level because I can put three point guards out there at one time, and all of them can make plays for themselves but then they can also make plays for their teammates.
So T-Sam did a great job. He stepped up to the free?throw line and knocked down his shots, and I’m very happy for him.
“.. Our main thing is protect the yard. We want to protect that paint, and we knew DeAndre Kane, he always goes in there, and he makes great shots a lot of times. And we didn’t want to foul him. We wanted him to make difficult shots, and I think we did that. I think we bothered Ejim a little bit when he was going up for his shots. And Amida did a great job just being straight up. Using his verticality to his strengths, and I think he did a good job. DeAndre did a good job. And I think we forgot about Hogue a little bit; he had 34.
But as long as we got the win. I think we established something in the first half with our defense holding them to 33 percent. Not letting them score in the first 15 seconds was our key and that was on the board. We can’t allow them to get that first 10 seconds and get a possession. I think we did that in the first half and really established our defense.
It’s defense. I know we got the crowd and it’s a great arena, but at the end of the day it’s a basketball game. You got to play defense, you got to win your individual battles and you got to play collectively as a group. And over the years we have been having great defensive teams, and I hang my hat on defense. And I thought we played exceptional in the first half defense to late in the game, when they got on a little run. But our defense was exceptional.
Our players are translating what we’re giving them in practice, and they’re translating it to the game. And their recoveries are real, real quickly. If something happened bad, they recover and they get back in the defensive stance. That’s what we need, we need multiple efforts. And that’s what we tried to do tonight. And I think that’s what we had the first half; it was another effort, it was another effort and guys were covering up for themselves, covering up for their teammates and talking. And I thought it was just a great game plan and they carried it out.
And players did a terrific, terrific job. This is a players’ games, and can I do all the X’s and O’s I want to, but those players make plays, and we did that tonight on the defensive end and on the offensive end.
We just like to manipulate the defense. I was looking for the mismatches that we had, and when DeAndre plays like that, it really gives us that X factor, because I can pick?and?pop him, I can put him on a sweet spot, I can put him on the block.
And then we were getting stops. So when you get stops, it allows you to run, and use our speed. And I put Terrence in, we got three point guards out there. All of them can be facilitators, and then they can be scorers when it’s necessary. I think we did that tonight and it was a great defensive game plan. I think they just executed wonderfully, and we wanted to just keep those two guys under wraps. That’s DeAndre Kane and [Melvin] Ejim. They do a great job and we wanted to keep them under wraps, and I think we did that. And it allowed to us get out on the break. And then it allowed us to share the game. And when we share the game and we have balanced scoring, we are hard to beat.
The [seniors] love UConn. They love the school. They love each other. Like I said many times, we were banned from a lot of things. We couldn’t come here for the Tournament, but they weren’t banned from loving and pushing and encouraging each other, and that’s what it’s all about. Those dark times, if you don’t give up in the dark times, it will reverse, the wind will start going in your favor, your direction, and I think that’s what’s happened now. It’s a shift, these guys are playing very, very well together.
And they’re fighters. And when you fight, you don’t get on the ropes, you stay in the middle of the ring and you keep fighting and keep throwing punches, and I think that’s what they’re doing. And we’re 40 minutes away from a goal that they set. We just got to play hard, and we got to stay together and we got to keep doing the things that got us here and that’s defense, that’s rebounding, and that’s sharing the basketball and sharing the game.
And it’s just a family atmosphere. That’s what we created. That’s what Coach Calhoun created, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. And it’s great to see our players doing so well in the NBA, but it’s so great to see what type of people they are, what type of husbands they are, what type of men they are, what type of fathers they are. And it just gives us some great ambassadors out there for the University of Connecticut and I thank them to death.”
Shabazz Napier has played 140 games for UConn, tied with Kevin Freeman for most in school history. Sunday, that record is all his. Terrence Samuel is really growing up fast, isn’t he? Pressure situations and he played like he owned The Garden.
No bigger basket in the game than Niels Giffey’s three after ISU had closed within four. Huge.
We also have Jeff Jacobs’ take, stories from Paul Doyle, pictures from Brad Horrigan and Rich Messina and more going up on our main website.