First things first – UConn will play Villanova on Saturday in the late game at Buffalo. Syracuse vs. Dayton is at 7:10, Huskies-Wildcats will be after the conclusion, or about 9:30 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y – A reporter from Buffalo asked Phil Martelli if he ever stopped to think what a great basketball game he was involved in.
“I appreciate that,” Martelli said, “and if I worked for the network and I could care about viewership, I’d be cool about that. But it wasn’t so great.”
Reminds me once that the Raiders lost a close game on Monday Night Football, and after ward, Howard Cosell approached John Madden and said, “John, you gave us a great show …”
Madden responded, “A great show? A great show? That’s a game we just lost. Laverne and Shirley – that’s a show.”
The point being, the NCAA Tournament is filled with great games, games like Dayton-Ohio State and UConn-St. Joseph played at First Niagara on Thursday. The local folks got a great show for their money.
But those who participate are all about the winning and the losing, because a loss and it ends the season, a career if you are a senior.
“When you work hard for something and it goes down the drain, that saddens me,” Shabazz Napier said, after the Huskies finally outlasted the Hawks in OT. “I’m glad I came out on the other end of it. I just wanted to go [to St. Joe’s seniors] and show them my respect.”
Nice gesture by Napier, and a nice snapshot of what the NCAA Tournament is about. It’s dramatic, it’s emotional and Thursday in Buffalo was a good day, unless you were part of the Ohio State or St. Joseph camp. … Here is the game story for the Friday Courant.
Now, about the Huskies … They were outplayed pretty badly for much of the game, and they were outworked for rebounds and loose balls much of the time. But St. Joe’s had no bench, got into foul trouble and the players were out of gas. UConn was relentless down the stretch and in OT, and earned the win.
“They’re not a 10 seed, and I don’t think we’re a 7 seed,” Kevin Ollie said. “But at the end of the day it’s about planting seeds …”
Yep, new Ollie-ism.
Here’s more of the coach’s take at the podium:
“First of all, I thought it was a great game by both teams. Unfortunately, someone had to lose. I’m just glad we came out on top.
The guys right here [Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels], they played hard. They played with grit. They played with grind. At the end of the day, we wanted to outwork our opponent. It took a little longer than I thought, but fortunately, we got it done at the end.
We started making plays. It’s all on my players, and I thank them for having a great game for this great university.
“… It was a great win. It’s for the university. I love this university. Those players right there, that’s what kept this university alive. They could have transferred. They could have done anything.
Like I said, they have even now faith. Even now we’re going through a dark time, we’re going to stay with our program. That’s the beautiful thing about those guys. They just stayed, and they’re resilient, and they played hard. We were banned from the NCAA Tournament, but like I said always, we wasn’t banned from loving each other and encouraging each other all the time. That’s what got us through.
Coaching is overrated. It’s really overrated. These players make plays, and I’m very passionate about my players. I love to win, but I’m more passionate about my players being great student?athletes. They did a great job keeping this great university where we belong, and that’s getting 20 wins every season. That’s getting back to the NCAA Tournament. This is where UConn belongs, and I give them all the credit in the world.
“Lasan [Kromah] did a great job on [Langston] Galloway. He was still making unbelievable shots. We kind of started widening in the post. [Halil] Kanacevic was getting on the post. [Ron] Roberts was getting on the post. They were making our defense collapse, and then they was getting threes.
We started buckling down there in the second half. We ran them up the three?point line a little bit better. I think they made seven threes, and that was a real big key to us.
First of all, it was just making a stand. That’s what I told those guys, Get back in transition, make a stand, play them one?on?one. You’ve got to individually win your battle, and that’s what we had to do.
But also know it’s collective, group, team defense. But sooner or later, you’re just going to have to man up and win your individual battle. That’s what they started doing. It really gave us an opportunity to start getting some buckets on the offensive end.
“… You want to always respect the game. You want to respect the players in the game. But that’s why you play so hard. And that’s what I try to tell each and every guy. You can’t take this for granted because it can be taken away from you so easily, and every minute you’ve got to cherish.
I know those seniors want to go out and play on Saturday. Like I said, unfortunately, somebody had to lose. Just to go over there and congratulate them on a great four years at that program.
“And Phil Martelli, if I get an opportunity to see him after the game, I’m going to congratulate him. He’s just a great coach. And that was a very, very tough team that we just beat. That’s not a 10 seed, and I don’t think we’re a 7 seed.
But at the end of the day, it’s about planting seeds. That’s what we keep doing every day in practice. We keep planting seeds. We’ve got to continue to that. We’re going to see another tough team out of Milwaukee here and Green Bay and also Villanova. Whoever comes out of this game is going to be a tough matchup for us, and we’ve got to get ready for it.
“When [Halil Kanacevic] had four fouls, he was trying to go right at him. DeAndre took it right at him. He got the fifth foul. I think he was in the charge circle. DeAndre took it up strong and got that one, and gave him his fifth foul.
That was a big upswing for us because so much of the offense go through him. He’s just a great basketball player, and he’s tough. That exemplifies what Saint Joe’s is all about, the toughness and the grit. I just know how Philly coaches are. I know how Philly players are. And just all the different players that come through that program. They play one way, and they play the right way.
I got so much respect for their players and also Coach Martelli.
“Oh, [UConn players] brought a lot. They’ve been stepping up. DeAndre’s been stepping up, and Amida [Brimah's] been stepping up. If you followed our tournament in Memphis, they was both stepping up. I’ve seen them be more confident.
And we have to trust each other. Ryan Boatright trusts Amida to throw it up and not throw it at the big fella’s ankles. So it’s just great plays by them. They wanted to win.
And you can’t wait, and they didn’t wait. Amida stepped up and made those free throws. But there’s certain things you all don’t see, but he had been working on that every day after practice with Glen Miller, every day, every day. That’s things under the waterline that a lot of people don’t see.
“When he got it in that moment, he stepped up, and it was great for him. It was great for DeAndre. I need DeAndre to still rebound more, but we’ll take four, and we’ll take a win.
Amida went to get the basketball, got a great offensive rebound, went to the right hook, and that’s pretty much money in the bank when he turns over the left shoulder. He got a foul and got excited. Then he composed himself and went to the free?throw line and knocked them down. Then he hit two big free throws in the first possession of overtime, which is huge. That’s three in a row.
(Here is the Notebook for the Friday Courant, leading with Brimah’s big play.)
I think we made 15 in a row, something like that, in the game in that last half, and that’s just phenomenal. If you come to our practice, we spend a lot of time on free throws. That play with DeAndre, he does a great job.
“I mean, all of us did a great job, and I’m just so proud of those guys. All the plays that we made was winning plays. It’s not only the guys in the game. Everybody sees the guys in the game. I’m talking about Omar Calhoun and guys like that, cheering their teammates on. That’s what I’m so proud of.
Everybody can make winning plays in a game. It’s not just the five on the court. It’s everybody. You know, in practice, Kentan [Facey], Terrence [Samuel]. It’s guys that don’t even play a lot, and they’re giving us effort in practice. That’s winning plays to me, and that’s the only thing I care about.
“I just like Ryan [Boatright's] level. I think you have the right attitude, it leads to certain situations where you’re in the game and your mind is in the game and you’re playing for others. When you play for others, that reciprocates back onto you and when you get open shots. You know, Shabazz gave him open shots, you know, great assist on time and on target, and Ryan knocked them down.
He’s been a special player for us, and we’re going to continue to keep getting him the right shots. And Boat got to understand, when he penetrates, it’s for others, and that’s what he’s starting to do. He’s starting to share the game. Got three assists, one turnover. He’s 5 for 10. He was efficient with 17 points, and that’s where we want his game to be.”
Napier has six assists and passed his coach for third in UConn history. … Yes, Toby Kimball, you can rest easy now. … Maybe UConn is lucky it wasn’t a No.4 or 5 seed – Harvard, North Dakota State, Manhattan, Dayton – life might not have been easy. Not a great day for the American Athletic Conference. … Halil Kanacevic is a really, really good player, isn’t he? Reminded me a little of Nadav Henefeld. … Thought that was Ryan Boatright’s best game in quite a while. … SJU was turnover prone, but had only five in the first half. They had nine in the second half and OT as UConn made some defensive adjustments.