Another classic example of how much heart the UConn Men have played with this season
MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HEART
In a room filled with writers UConn men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie put it better than anyone there could write it. “Our team is all about heart”, he said following the most exciting college basketball game in Connecticut this season, “You can say we’re small, we don’t rebound, you can write whatever you want, but I hope you all write we’ve got heart. At the end of your articles write that this team’s got heart. I will go to battle with them any day, all of them.” His team had just been through a battle at Gample Pavilion. Two weeks removed from one of the most stunning upsets in the Big East this season, over then sixth ranked Syracuse, the Huskies nearly pulled off an even bigger stunner when they went to double overtime against seventh ranked league leader Georgetown, only to lose by one. The Huskies trailed by 12 with four minutes left before engineering a 14-2 run to finish regulation. The postgame was like an anatomy class, today’s subject, the heart. The students learned well. “I love these guys”, said sophomore forward Deandre Daniels, who has navigated the considerable distance back from a lost freshman season to lead the Huskies with 25 points and 13 rebounds while drawing the biggest assignment in the Big East, national Player of the Year candidate Otto Porter Jr. “Plenty of times we could have put our heads down and given up on the game, but this team has so much heart and we fought hard today.” “We showed a lot of heart today”, said concensus team leader Shabazz Napier, after adding 16 points and six assists, “Going down by 12 and still having the toughness to come back and go to double overtime just shows how much heart and how much pride this team has. A lot of people say we’re not playing for anything but we’re playing for a passion for the game.” Outmanned by most conference opponents after their top three players from a year ago defected, rather than face this season’s post season ban, the scrappy Huskies long ago left all expectations in the rear view on the way to a 20 win season that in any other year would already have them waiting for their NCAA seeding. With Napier and Ryan Boatright they had one of the best backcourts in the nation, but little else. Daniels’ rebound has been monumental as he’s developed into an offensive, defensive and backboard force. The burden that would fall on freshman Omar Calhoun for this team to have any success would be immense. He’s now number three, behind Napier and Boatright, on the list of “go to guys”. Mansfield’s Tyler Olander has increased his minutes and turned it up a notch in the middle, enough to give opponents pause before going to the hoop. A year ago Neils Giffey wouldn’t be on the floor for the final play in a one point game. Last night he triggered it. The man most responsible is Ollie, who has turned this make shift bunch into what, in any other year, would be a national contender, while replacing one of the greatest collegiate coaching legends of all time. Last night he matched John Thompson III play for play, two weeks after overmatching Jim Boeheim. Word has it Thompson’s the Coach of the Year favorite, by a wide margin, Ollie’s not even close, as Big East coaches demonstrate an anti UConn bias, not wanting to validate a progam under suspension. The wrong guy takes the hit. Kevin Ollie should be the Coach of the Year in the Big East, but it’s a trophy he can live without. This year isn’t about him, it’s about his team, a team with heart. They left it on the floor last night. They’ve left it on the court all season long. If you can’t love this coach and this team, you don’t like college basketball. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.