By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut will defend its national
championship as a No. 9 seed in the South Region of the NCAA
UConn (20-13) will play Iowa State Thursday in a first-round
game in Louisville. The winner faces a possible matchup with the
overall top seed, Kentucky.
The Huskies were considered a bubble team before coach Jim
Calhoun returned from a medical leave. UConn won its regular-season
finale over Pittsburgh and two games in the Big East tournament,
before having their 13-game postseason winning streak snapped by
Syracuse, 58-55, last week in the quarterfinals.
“These kids, down the stretch, came around to earn themselves
this (bid), and you guys know it wasn’t by a wide margin,” Calhoun
said. “It really wasn’t. We had to win some games and we did, and
we showed them that we deserved to get in”
Freshman center Andre Drummond said there was no cheering in the
locker room when the brackets were announced. He said the team has
taken a business-like approach to what is in front of them, even if
others have not.
He said his mom called him after the selection show, excited
about his potential second-round matchup with Kentucky’s Anthony
Davis. The two centers were among the most highly touted freshmen
coming into this season.
“I was like, `All right, mom, but we’re not worried about that
right now’,” he said. “I’m worried about Iowa State right now.
We’re going to go out there and play some good basketball, try to
win this game and hopefully see Kentucky on Saturday.”
UConn has never played Iowa State. It’s the first NCAA
tournament bid in seven years for the Cyclones (22-10), who were
knocked out of the Big 12 tournament by Texas.
Iowa State struggled to gel in non-conference play, and nearly
lost at home to lowly Mississippi Valley State before the turn of
the year. But the Cyclones turned it on in the Big 12, winning 12
games and beating a pair of top-10 opponents in Kansas and Baylor.
Iowa State’s 3-point shooting already has UConn’s attention. The
Cyclones shoot 38 percent from 3-point range, something that has
been an Achilles heel for Connecticut’s defense, which gives up
more than seven 3-pointers a game.
“We just got to work on contesting shots, make them do other
things,” guard Jeremy Lamb said. “Threes make a huge difference
in the game, so we can’t let them get open shots.”
UConn is in its 31st NCAA tournament, and has not been seeded
this low since the 1992 when the Huskies also No. 9 seed That
season, UConn beat Nebraska in the first round before losing to
Ohio State in the second.
Connecticut is making its 18th tournament appearance under
Calhoun, who has missed 11 games this season.
He was suspended for the first three conference games for
failure to maintain control of his program when it was charged with
NCAA violations and he missed eight games with back problems,
returning for the Huskies regular-season finale following spinal
surgery. The Huskies won his first three games back, bringing him
to 873 wins, sixth on the all-time list.
“When he came back, for myself, I need him here,” guard
Shabazz Napier said. “I love when he yells at me. I hate when he
never talks to me. He’s just a father figure to me, and sometimes
you need that father figure to pick you up and tell you that
everything is going to be fine.”
UConn also played nine games this season without freshman point
guard Ryan Boatright, including a six-game suspension to start the
season, as the result of an NCAA investigation that found he and
his family took more than $8,000 in impermissible benefits before
he enrolled at Connecticut.
This could be Connecticut’s last NCAA tournament until at least
2014. The Huskies face a ban on tournament play next year because
of past academic problems.
“Ain’t nobody thinking about that right now,” Boatright said.
“Everybody is focused on making this last run and winning a
“Next year, we’ll worry about next year.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)