A Look at Tonight's UConn-New Mexico Paradise Jam Title Tilt
While most figured these could be the two teams to to meet in the finals, they certainly didn't take easy routes to get here. New Mexico (3-0) had to struggle to get by UIC in its opener, then pulled out a miracle to beat George Mason on Sunday. Tony Snell hit a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to give the Lobos their first and only lead of the second half in a 70-69 victory. New Mexico trailed by five with 17.7 seconds left in that one.
Of course, it took UConn two overtimes to get by Quinnipiac in its semifinal game. The Huskies trailed by 10 with less than five minutes remaining, but Shabazz Napier came up big down the stretch and UConn hit 23 of its final 24 foul shots in regulation and overtime.
The Huskies have faced New Mexico just once before, beating the Lobos 78-56 in an NCAA West Regional second round game in Denver on March 13, 1999.
Steve Alford wasn't coaching New Mexico then, but he has coached against the Huskies once before. Alford was in his final season at the helm at Iowa when the Hawkeyes beat top-ranked UConn 70-68 in the Huskies' season-opener on Nov. 11, 1999 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden.
UConn hasn't lost a season-opener since. (Thanks to Joe D'Ambrosio for the heads-up on that tidbit).
Here's what Alford had, briefly, to say about the Huskies Sunday night, before he knew whether or not he'd be playing UConn today:
The Lobos are 3-0, but their coaching staff will tell you they haven't played a good game yet. They'll be helped by the return of backup point guard Jamal Fenton, who had to sit out the first three games due to an NCAA infraction.
"They're a good team," Kevin Ollie said of the Lobos. "They showed resiliency, too. They've got great shooters, they're big at every position. It's going to be a challenge. They don't have any give-up, either. I know Steve Alford, he's going to have his guys well-prepared, and it's going to be a great game."
We'll get to realignment after talking to some people throughout the day, and also keep an eye on Brandon Austin, who could be announcing his collegiate decision today. UConn, Texas and Providence are said to be the favorites.
Oh, and Napier is Big East player of the week.