Saturday, March 15, 2014

Can Kevin Ollie K.O. Rick Pitino Tonight?

Kevin Ollie has done an excellent job in his first two years as UConn's head coach. That's almost indisputable. He won 20 games last year, when the Huskies had no postseason hopes, and he's at 26-7 entering tonight's AAC tournament championship game with Louisville.

He's 0-3 against Rick Pitino. There's no shame in that, of course: Pitino is a Hall of Famer, and Louisville won the national title last season and certainly looks like a good bet to repeat this year.

Still, would it be somewhat of a coaching breakthrough for Ollie to beat Pitino tonight? I think so. Jim Calhoun doesn't necessarily agree.

“No, in all honesty," said Calhoun, who's had a long history of matching wits with Pitino over the years. "My last four out of five trips against (Bob) Knight, I beat Knight. First time I ever faced him was very significant, because I’d known him, a couple of years older than me. He had been a hero. It was amazing for me … Bob Knight. But after a while …”

(It should be noted that Calhoun faced Knight three times in his career, beating him twice. But Calhoun has never been great with math).

After UConn's win over Cincinnati on Friday night, Ollie was asked if he really wanted to beat Pitino because Pitino once cut him from the Celtics some 15 years ago, after Ollie had played for Pitino in the NBA summer league
. Pitino instead chose UK product Wayne Turner.

"I really don't care about the Celtics," Ollie said. "Rick -- actually, I grew so much with Rick that summer, so I became a better point guard with him. He came to the decision where he had to let me go, but when you have a setback like that, it just gets you ready for another opportunity. It's nothing against Rick, I love Rick to death. He's a Hall of Fame coach, he's a great coach, a good friend of mine. I could learn a lot from Rick Pitino."

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