Saturday, April 5, 2014

No Fluke Here: UConn Heading to National Championship Game After Final Four Win Over Florida

This is really getting pretty amazing. In fact, this UConn run may surpass the 2011 run -- even if the Huskies don't win on Monday night.

I mean, at least in 2011, you had the Big East tourney run as evidence that maybe the Huskies were getting hot at the right time (or, as many thought, maybe they would be burnt out by NCAA tourney time).

Really, how could you have seen this coming? The 34-point loss to Louisville a few weeks ago? The 10-point loss to the Cardinals in the AAC title game that really felt like a 20-point loss? Getting outplayed for most of regulation by St. Joe's in their opener before getting saved by a 3-point play by (of all people) Amida Brimah?

Go ahead and say you saw all this coming. You're lying.

My game column focuses on how UConn's Final Four win over Florida was no fluke -- the exact word used by's Gregg Doyel in reference to the Huskies' Dec. 2 win over the Gators in Storrs.

Here's a couple of UConn players talking about the whole "fluke thing":

And here are a few notes from tonight's game:

UConn showed flashes of being a very good defensive team at times this season. But this is getting ridiculous.

The Huskies’ team defense was swarming and suffocating once again in their Final Four victory over Florida Saturday night. They held the Gators to 38 percent shooting, 1-for-10 from 3-point land. They forced them into 11 turnovers but, more to the point, made Florida look uncomfortable offensively throughout the contest.

It was similar to UConn’s 60-54 win over Michigan State on Sunday in the Elite Eight in which the Huskies turned the bigger, more physical Spartans into a perimeter team (29 3-point attempts) thanks to their choking defense.

The game plan was a little different this time around, according to associate head coach Glen Miller.

“(Florida’s) offense is really good when it can flow from one side to the other,” Miller said. “We just shut it down and kept it on one side, all their ball-screen actions, we kept it to coffin corner. They couldn’t change sides, they were uncomfortable, couldn’t get into their offensive flow. Even when we were struggling offensively early, we were still defending.”

Ryan Boatright led the charge up top, harrassing Florida point guard Scottie Wilkbekin into an awful (2-for-9, four points) night. Shabazz Napier had four steals, most notably one with just under seven minutes left, when he picked Wilbekin’s pocket and hit Boatright with a pass for a layup that gave the Huskies a 47-40 lead.

And though UConn’s big men were largely plagued by foul trouble, they kept the Gators from penetrating most of the night.

“This is the best we’ve defended all year,” said Miller. “A good defensive team has become a great defensive team in this tournament.”

Rodney Shows Respect

Rodney Purvis, the talented guard who has sat out this entire season due to NCAA transfer rules, arrived in Dallas on Friday and was in the locker room after the game.

“Nobody really had us making it this far,” said Purvis, who transferred from NC State last year. “I’ve been a fan, that’s the reason I came to this school. I knew what we can do. Not being able to play, it’s tough. But I’m enjoying my time sitting on the side, becoming a better student of the game by watching and learning from Shabazz and Boat.”

On Friday, UConn coach Kevin Ollie called Purvis “a Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can’t drive.” Purvis will be eligible to play next season, of course. But for now, he can’t dress with the team or sit on the bench, and his entire trip to the Final Four must be on his own dime. He and his mother came down, though Purvis is still spending time with his teammates.

“I’ve been hanging out with them, though,” he said. “They can’t stop me from that.”

No Pain Stuart

UConn may have dodged a bullet — at least in the minds of its fans — when the officials were announced for Saturday’s game. Or, more aptly, when a certain official wasn’t assigned to the game.

Mike Stuart, who famously ejected Kevin Ollie from the Huskies’ 76-64 loss to Louisville on Jan. 18 at Gampel Pavilion, was one of 10 officials in the pool to work Saturday’s Final Four games. However, he didn’t draw the UConn-Florida bout: John Higgins, Mike Stephens and Doug Sirmons drew the duty (with Mike Roberts as standby).

Stuart ejected Ollie about seven minutes into the second half of that game after Ollie ran up and down the sidelines, incensed that no foul had been called on a Niels Giffey shot attempt. He got hit with a technical by Stuart, then a second one just a few seconds later, ejecting him from the game.

Ollie had to be escorted off the court by director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman, and had some choice words for both Stuart and fellow official Ted Valentine on his way out.

After the game, Ollie was apologetic for his actions, but didn’t back down from his belief a foul should have been called. A couple of days later, he said: “I did (overreact), a little bit, when I ran down the baseline. But, it happens. Hopefully, we can move on. Hopefully, Stuart can move on from the game and we can all be better from it.”

Stuart was on the whistle for Saturday’s other national semifinal bout between Kentucky and Wisconsin. It’s not yet known who will officiate Monday night’s championship game.

Rim Rattlings

• UConn is the third team to be a No. 7 seed or lower and reach the national championship game since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. No. 8 Butler advanced in 2011, and No. 8 Villanova in 1985. The Bulldogs, of course, lost to Kemba Walker and the Huskies.
• Ollie is the first coach to reach the national title game within his first two seasons since interim coach Mike Davis led Indiana to the 2002 title game.
• UConn is now 5-0 in Final Four games played in the state of Texas.

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