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JOE D’S NOTEBOOK

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SUNDAY CUP O’ JOE March 10- What a glorious final day of the season for the UConn men on Saturday. At their true home, Gampel Pavillion, playing in front of an appreciative crowd, beating their arch rivals from down Route 6, Providence College, in the only type of game to conclude this crazy season, an overtime one. The 63-59 victory was truly symbolic of what this season was for the Men of Ollie.

Nothing came easy this season for the Huskies, which is just the way they wanted it. They knew before the season began there would be no NCAA tournament and eventually they also knew there would be no Big East tournament. But the players and coaches never let on there was “nothing ” to play for. Because there was “something” to play for. Respect. And the UConn men earned the respect of the fans, the media, and the rest of the basketball world with how they carried themselves on and off the floor. Led by First Team All Big East selection Shabazz Napier, the Huskies had very, very few moments when they didn’t represent their school with flying colors.

Napier showed the true leader he has become with his 44 minute effort on Saturday when no one expected him to play. Shabazz grew up so much this season, and his value to the team was never more evident that in the two games they he missed and then Saturdays game against the Friars. The Huskies weren’t the same without him in the losses to Cincinnati and South Florida but with him back in the lineup on Saturday, it more that compensated for the absence of Niels Giffeye, Tyler Olander and Omar Calhoun. This was Napier’s team , and he was brilliant as it’s leader.

Ryan Boatright benefited the most from Napier’s return, scoring 22 points including the three point play that gave UConn it’s final lead of the season with 19 seconds to play. Boatright may be the most talented Husky but he is still only a sophmore and needed the help of Napier to be at his most effective.

DeAndre Daniels work in the final four games showed why next season, he could become among the best players in college basketball. It wasn’t just that he averaged 21.2 points, 9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in the final four games, it was that he played 172 of the final 175 minutes of the season and when he scored the points and grabbed the rebounds. Daniels stepped up when his team needed him, and they will need him to take the next step next year.

Phil Nolan played 34 minutes on Saturday. That’s not a misprint. The slender freshman from Milwaukee matured over the final eight games after Enosch Wolf was suspended and with a lot of work in the off-season, Nolan should be able to make a big contribution next year.

And finally, what a terrific end to the college basketball career of R.J. Evans. 42 minutes and stellar defense on the conference leading scorer in Bryce Cotton. Evans was a man when he came to UConn from Holy Cross and his maturity rubbed off on his teammates. Don’t underestimate for a minute his importance to the Huskies 20 win season.

This isn’t the time to speculate on who is coming back or what next year will bring. There will be plenty of time to do that. This is the time to congratulate this group of coaches and players for what they accomplished this year. A season that could have been an after thought turned into one of the most memorable years in UConn history and for that, we should all say Thank You.

Now, the full UConn spotlight falls on  the women, starting with tonight’s Big East Tournament quarterfinal with DePaul. There is little doubt that everyone wants to see a third battle with Notre Dame for the Big East title. If they do play Tuesday night, let’s hope the officiating is worthy of  a championship game. Because Monday in South Bend, it wasn’t. And that is the continued problem with the women’s game. While the player’s skill level has increased, somehow, the competence of the officiating has not. It’s too bad.

Monday morning at 6 AM, Spring Football begins for Paul Pasqualoni and the Huskies. The first of 15 practices in what is an important year for UConn. The installation of a new offensive system under coordinator T.J.Weist will be just one thing to observe. How do the Huskies improve on the offensive line, who replaces defensive stalwarts like Trevardo Williams, Ryan Wirth, Sio Moore, Jory Johnson, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, and what redshirt freshman make a move onto the two deep. Some of the questions that must be at least partially answered.

The UConn men’s ice hockey team hosts Robert Morris this upcoming weekend in the best of three Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals. The Huskies and Colonials  split a pair of one goal games in Moon Township on January 11th and 12th . Game one at the Freitas Ice Forum is Friday night at 7:05 with game two on Saturday at 7:05 and the third game, if necessary, on Sunday at 7:05.

And Jim Pender’s baseball nine took two of three from Sam Houston State over the weekend to improve to 8-4 on the season. The Huskies visit CCSU on Tuesday at 3 and then play Sacred Heart in Bridgeport Wednesday at Harbor Yard on Wednesday at 3.

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