NEW YORK – First, how to get there. Metro North will again provide a special train, added to its regular schedule of trains running between New Haven and NYC’s Grand Central Terminal on Sunday morning.
Here are the details from the Governor’s Office:
Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that MTA Metro-North Railroad will run a special, extra New Haven Line train on Sunday, March 30, to accommodate the UConn men’s basketball fans expected to travel to New York City for the NCAA tournament game at Madison Square Garden (MSG).
“With another great win last night, I have no doubt that thousands of Husky fans will be heading down to the Garden on Sunday to show their support,” said Governor Malloy. “Another win, and our next stop will be the Final Four.”
The special train – the “Huskies Fan Express” – will depart from New Haven’s Union Station at 10:40 a.m., and will make just three intermediate stops before arriving at Grand Central Terminal at 12:23 p.m. The train will stop at West Haven at 10:45 a.m., Bridgeport at 11:03 a.m., and Harlem-125th Street at 12:10 p.m.
For the return trip, the train will be ready and waiting at Grand Central to depart as needed based on what time the game ends and fans arrive at Grand Central.
UConn games at the Garden have historically drawn big crowds from the Bridgeport and New Haven areas, and many of the fans take Metro-North to the games. Fans are urged to buy round trip tickets at their boarding station.
The Huskies have a different destination in mind: Arlington, Texas, home AT&T Stadium, also known as Jerry World, for the Cowboys owner who built it. UConn toured it during their disastrous Houston-Dallas trip at the start of 2014, a reminder of where Kevin Ollie wanted them to go. “It seemed far away then,” Niels Giffey said.
Now UConn is one game away.
But the road is blocked by Michigan State, and that’s formidable. The Spartans have size and experience inside, and the tandem of Adriaen Payne and Brandon Dawson could be too much to handle. We’ll see. UConn’s guards are more experienced, which gives them an advantage.
Whether UConn’s backcourt or MSU’s front court takes control, the game will be about defense. Both teams hold opponents under 40 percent. UConn’s defense broke down in the second half against ISU, something that can’t happen Sunday if the Huskies are to have any chance.
Lot of talk at the podium about Tom Izzo replacing a legend, or program-builder in Jud Heathcote and how Kevin Ollie is doing the same. It’s not easy, more often than not it proves impossible, but both these guys have done it. They were around earlier and players and/or assistants and had the support of their predecessor, but, mainly, both are very comfortable in their own skin and that’s probably the key to stepping into a high-pressure situation like this.
This is the topic of my main advance for the game. Paul Doyle is writing about Payne, Jeff Jacobs about the slap-gone-viral. Lots of stuff in the UConn notebook. Just a ton UConn content on our main web pages, going up this evening, including John Altavilla reporting from Nebraska with the UConn women.
Let’s change it up, and give you some Shabazz Napier stream of consciousness at the podium:
“Like I’ve always said, I felt like I owed this university a lot. I felt like after my first year we won, and the sophomore year I didn’t play up to my capabilities. I felt like I owed the university, as well as the coaches and my teammates a good year. And I just also felt like I felt something special with this team, everybody came back last year, who is on the team today, and I just felt that we had something that we were playing for that year, and we just got to keep pushing each other and hopefully we get to the top.
“For [the 2012-13 season, beating Michigan State] it definitely helped us. Michigan State, we knew they were a great team. We knew it was going to be a tough game, and we just went out there and we wanted to play as hard as we can. We understood that win or lose it really didn’t matter since we were not going to the Tournament, but we had so much passion for the game that we wanted to go out there and give them our best effort. And the respect that we gave them and especially with the crowd there, it was just something that came over us that we wanted to win so badly.
“But that’s a whole different team. We don’t expect that game to be anything like this game. Michigan State, they have grown. We have grown. And we know this is going to be a dogfight and that game we’re not even thinking about it. It’s a new game and a new day.
“I think one thing I know for sure is that we have experienced so much for the past two years. No one left besides the seniors, and everybody that came back understood what it takes to get to the next level. With the chemistry we have, with the brotherhood we have and the experience the core group that we have, and especially with the coaching staff we got two years under their belt now, I think that we understand how hard it takes. And we noticed that in practice from the first day, when Coach Ollie had us running around with no basketballs for like 30 minutes. And we just wanted to go out there and give everything we possibly can.
“So the biggest thing I think that is different from that first game against them, Michigan State that is, is the experience. We have been through a lot, we understand that this is definitely going to be another dogfight. We don’t expect them to back down and I hope they don’t expect us to back down. It’s going to be a fight, and we’re just hopeful that we’ll be on top.
“My sophomore year – that’s the reason why I didn’t transfer. I felt like I owed something. That’s why I came back my junior year. The reason why I came back my senior year is because I promised my mother I was going to get a degree.
“My sophomore season, we had one of the best teams in the country. I’m not sure. I think we were ranked, we started off No. 4 in the country. And we had great talent, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi. And I didn’t know how to be a leader out there at that point. I was doing things that I wasn’t definitely happy about. I isolated myself a lot when things were down. I didn’t learn how to be a leader, even though I had one of the greatest leaders in front of me my freshman year. I was quite flustered most of the time.
“But I felt like I didn’t play to my capabilities my capabilities that year, and I wanted to show my teammates, show the fans, show the coaches that I’m going to come back strong and I’m going to come back better.”
Napier has 1,900 points. He needs 122 to catch Ray Allen for fourth in Huskies history.
UConn is 55-29 in the NCAA Tournament, 35-8 since 1999.
Enjoy the game – get to The Garden if you can, it’ll be electric. We’ll be here for you, with all the details, pictures and such Sunday morning.