A few words on Jalen Adams

I didn’t get a chance to post this the other day (must have been a soccer fever) but here are a few comments from Jalen Adams and his coach at Cushing Academy.

Adams, a 6-foot-2 guard from Roxbury, Mass., committed to play for UConn this week.

– ADAMS ON THE inevitable Shabazz Napier (his fellow Roxbury-to-Storrs traveler) comparisons he’s getting.

“I definitely embrace it,” Adams said by phone Monday night. “It’s a good thing.”

Adams wouldn’t mind having a college career similar to Napier’s.

“He won that championship (in 2011) as he was learning to be a leader and then he definitely lead them to that second championship as a senior,” Adams said.

Adams was considering Kansas and Louisville before choosing UConn.

“Mostly style of play,” Adams said when asked why he picked the Huskies, “and the pro guards they’ve produced in the last few years. I feel I fit that mold.”

– UCONN’S RECENT national championship didn’t really impact Adams’s decision.

“Not really. Coach (Kevin) Ollie said they don’t really chase championships. Championships chase them,” Adams said, repeating one of Ollie’s favorite new sayings.

– CUSHING COACH Barry Connors gushed a bit when talking about Adams.

“He’s like nobody I’ve ever seen,” Connors said.

Cushing then repeated a phrase he told the esteemed Dave Borges about Adams a few months ago.

“I’m not going to tell you he’s the best player I’ve ever seen but the game does come easier to him than to anyone I’ve ever seen,” Connors said. “He has the incredible ability to make a play whenever it’s needed.”

Connors coached, and Adams played alongside, Syracuse-bound Kaleb Joseph. Even Adams’ teammates were apparently in awe at times.

“He’s got teammates that are really accomplished basketball players and even they would look at me after he makes a play and say ‘Coach, what the (heck)?’ ” Connors said. “He’s got the wow factor.”

– CONNORS ISN’T SURE there are many players better in the Class of 2015.

“His national ranking is whatever it is. He’s in the 20’s or 30’s, I think,” Connors said. “I’m a little biased but if there are 26 better players out there, holy mackerel, I’d like to see those guys.”

As for Adams’ specific position, maybe that will be settled later. He’s not a true point guard, yet.

“He’s a scoring guard. He makes plays the best with the ball in his hands,” Connors said.

- Neill

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UConn-Duke Dec. 18

This just in from UConn:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (June 16, 2014) – The Duke Blue Devils will face the National Champion UConn Huskies December 18th at IZOD Center (Meadowlands Sports Complex) in East Rutherford, N.J. Game time is 8:00 pm (ET).

UConn and Duke have met just nine times on the basketball court with Duke leading the series 5-4, but the Huskies have won four of the last five. One of their most memorable games took place at the Meadowlands in the 1990 NCAA East Regional Final with Duke winning 79-78 in overtime. UConn defeated Duke, 77-74, to capture the 1999 National Championship and the Huskies nipped the Blue Devils, 79-78, in the 2004 National Semifinals on their way to their second national crown. UConn and Duke last met in the 2009 NIT Tip-Off Championship Game at Madison Square Garden which Duke won, 68-59. The Blue Devils are 20-1 all-time (10-0 in NCAA Tournament games) at the Meadowlands, while UConn is 12-8 at the venue, 1-1 in the 1990 NCAA East Regional and 11-7 vs. former Big East rival Seton Hall.

Tickets will go on sale Friday, June 20 at 10:00 am (ET) through Ticketmaster and can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000. Tickets will be available at the IZOD Center Box Office beginning Monday, June 23 at 11:00 am. For more information, visit izodcenter.com.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to play Connecticut at the IZOD Center next season,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We have a strong fan base in the New York / New Jersey area and I am sure Connecticut will have great fan support as well. It is always special to play in front of terrific crowds and it should be an outstanding game between two talented teams. Connecticut is obviously coming off a championship season and has excellent personnel returning. Coach Ollie has done a terrific job running the program and we look forward to the challenge.”

Duke, coming off a 26-9 campaign last season, returns three players with extensive starting experience and seven letterwinners overall. Senior Quinn Cook and junior Rasheed Sulaimon provide a veteran presence in the backcourt, while Amile Jefferson is coming off a solid sophomore season in 2013-14. Cook and Sulaimon combined to average 21.5 points and 6.8 assists per game a year ago, while shooting 38.6 percent (108-of-280) from three-point range and 79.1 percent (163-of-206) from the charity stripe. Jefferson shot a team-best 64.4 percent (94-of-146) from the field and averaged 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Junior Marshall Plumlee (1.3 points / 2.2 rebounds per game) along with sophomores Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye are prepared to take on larger roles this season after gaining valuable experience a year ago.

Duke’s veteran group will be complimented in 2014-15 by the top ranked recruiting class in the country. Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow were each named to the McDonald’s All-America team with all four players ranking among the top 35 recruits in the country by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. Allen is a talented guard out of Florida that showcased his athleticism by winning the Powerade Jam Fest Dunk Contest. Jones, the top-rated point guard in the class, was a three-time Minnesota State Player of the Year and closed out his career with 2,909 points, 1,131 assists and 369 steals. Okafor, the No. 1 player overall by most recruiting outlets, was named the National High School Player of the Year after averaging 24.1 points and 11.3 rebounds while leading Whitney Young, to a 28-5 record and a 4A state title in Illinois. Winslow is a two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year out of Texas and one of the most versatile two-way players in the country. He averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals per game as a senior at Saint John’s [Houston]. Jones, Okafor and Winslow also have extensive USA Basketball experience with each player winning a pair of gold medals as well as participating in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit.

The UConn men’s basketball team won the national championship in 2014 – its fourth since 1999. The Huskies began the tournament as a No. 7 seed and along their NCAA run beat a who’s who of programs including Florida and Kentucky in the Final Four. The Huskies became the first no. 7 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament to win the national championship.

The 2014-15 Huskies will be led by senior guard Ryan Boatright, who was named to the NCAA All-Final Four team and averaged 12.1 points per game last year to go along with 3.4 assists. Junior Phil Nolan started 19 games last year – including all six in the NCAA tournament – returns at center. Junior guard Terrence Samuel, a Brooklyn product, scored 11 points in UConn’s NCAA third round win vs. Villanova and showed great improvement as the season went on. Sophomore center Amida Brimah led UConn with 92 blocks and was named to the American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team.

The Huskies will be bolstered by the addition of former McDonald’s All-American guard and North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year Rodney Purvis, eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from North Carolina State. Purvis averaged 8.3 points and 2.4 rebounds for the Wolfpack in 35 games in 2012-13 and was an ACC Rookie of the Week selection. Also joining the Huskies will be freshman forward Daniel Hamilton, who averaged 20.5 points, 9 rebounds and 5.2 assists as he led St. John Bosco High to the California Division II state championship; Junior College First Team All-American Sam Cassell Jr., who averaged 18.7 points and 3.7 assists for Chipola College (Florida); and Rakim Lubin, the Georgia 3A Player of the Year, who averaged 20.2 points and 12.1 rebounds at Buford High School.

“We are very much looking forward to playing against Duke at the IZOD Center this December,” said UConn head coach Kevin Ollie. “Our series against Duke includes some of the most exciting and most meaningful games in UConn basketball history and we have the utmost respect for Coach Krzyzewski and his program. Plus, it will be wonderful to return to the IZOD Center, where UConn has a long history. It not only gives our fans in the New York-New Jersey area a chance to watch us play, but is close enough to allow our great fans from Connecticut to come and support us.”

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Prince Ali re-opens recruitment

Prince Ali, a 6-foot-4 guard who just finished his junior year at The Sagemont School in Weston, Fla., announced Thursday that he was de-committing from the UConn men’s basketball team.

Ali, who is originally from New York, had given coach Kevin Ollie a verbal commitment Nov. 25, 2013. He still might end up at UConn after all, Ali said.

Ali made the announcement of his decision on his Twitter account.

“After talking it over with my family I have decided to reopen my recruitment! I still love the Uconn (sic) and I am still considering Uconn!”

Ali is ranked as the 82nd-best player in the nation by ESPN, while he’s No. 68 and No. 73 according Rivals and 247 Sports.
Before choosing the Huskies Ali was also considering Miami, LSU, Nebraska and Georgia.

It’s not clear why Ali chose to back out of his commitment to UConn but it may be because the Huskies are recruiting other players with more acclaim at his position.

UConn is recruiting Malik Newman of Jackson, Miss., a 6-foot-3 guard who is the top-ranked player in the Class of 2015. The Huskies have also shown interest in the likes of Isaiah Briscoe of Roselle, N.J.

Newman told SNY recently that he and Diamond Stone, a highly regarded 6-foot-10 center from Milwaukee, will be a “package deal” for one college. UConn is recruiting both players and would obviously like to add a big man to its group of incoming players for 2015.

Ali was one of two guards who had pledged to join the Huskies in 2015, along with 6-foot-3 Athens, Ga., standout Willie Jackson.

- Neill

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Ollie has a new deal

UConn coach Kevin Ollie signed a new 5-year, $16 million contract today. Here’s the summary:

CONTRACT PERIOD: The term of the contract is June 1, 2014 through May 31, 2019.

SALARY/SPEAKING AND MEDIA APPEARANCES: The contract calls for an annual base salary, as well as, annual payments for institutional speaking and media appearances.

The following is a year-by-year summary of those payments:

Period Base Salary Speaking and Media Fees Total

June 1, 2014-May 31, 2015 $400,000 $2,400,000 $2,800,000

June 1, 2015-May 31, 2016 $400,000 $2,500,000 $2,900,000

June 1, 2016-May 31, 2017 $400,000 $2,600,000 $3,000,000

June 1, 2017-May 31, 2018 $400,000 $2,700,000 $3,100,000

June 1, 2018-May 31, 2019 $400,000 $2,800,000 $3,200,000

NOTE: No General Fund (state tax dollars) or tuition monies were used to provide any of the resources for this contract. The Division of Athletics at the University of Connecticut is an Auxiliary Service Fund entity and the sources of revenue include: gate receipts, private fundraising, corporate partnerships, television/radio rights, conference revenues and NCAA revenues.

AUTOMOBILE ALLOWANCE: The Coach will receive an annual car allowance in the amount of $15,000 to be paid on a bi-weekly basis.

SUMMER CAMPS/CLINICS: The Coach may organize and direct basketball camps or clinics utilizing University dormitories, dining halls, athletics facilities and other campus facilities, at the rates and fees published by the University’s Conference Services Office. Coach Ollie may also organize and direct basketball camps or clinics located off the University’s campus. All camps and clinics run by the Coach shall be owned and operated by the Coach.

ENDORSEMENT CONTRACTS: Any consulting, endorsement or outside income activity performed by the Coach shall be consistent with the University consulting policy. Personal endorsement agreement must be consistent with the University’s agreement with IMG and compliant with all University policies and all Connecticut state statutes.

TICKETS: The University will provide the Coach with twenty (20) tickets for personal use and purchase privileges for up to ten (10) additional tickets for all home, away, conference tournament and post-season men’s basketball events while serving as Head Men’s Basketball Coach. The University will provide the Coach with twenty (20) tickets in a suite and five (5) parking passes for personal use for all home football games at Rentschler Field while serving as Head Men’s Basketball Coach. The Coach will be responsible for all costs associated with food and beverage service in the suite and no such costs shall be regarded as subject to reimbursement. Also, the Coach will be entitled to receive four (4) tickets for all other UConn home athletic events.

COUNTRY CLUB: The University shall pay the current fee categories for an annual family membership at a country club approved by the athletic director.

COMPENSATION FOR SERVICES AND PERFORMANCE: The Coach will receive one month of base salary for winning a conference regular season championship; one month of base salary for winning a conference post-season tournament championship; one month of base salary for participation in the NCAA tournament; one month of base salary for participation in the NCAA Sweet 16; one month of base salary for participation in the NCAA Elite Eight; one month of base salary for participation the NCAA Final Four; three month of base salary for winning the NCAA national championship; one-half month of base salary for winning a conference and/or national coach of the year award; a $5,000 payment for each academic semester with a team grade point average of 2.8 or above; a $10,000 payment for each year with an APR score of 930 or above.

BUYOUT: If the Coach accepts a position as a Head Coach of men’s basketball at an NCAA Division I institution, the following will be due to the University from the Coach: $5,000,000 in 2014-15; $4,000,000 in 2015-16; $3,000,000 in 2016-17; $2,000,000 in 2017-18 and 2018-19. If the Coach accepts a position as a Head Coach or Assistant Coach in the NBA, the following will be due to the University from the Coach: $5,000,000 in 2014-15; $4,000,000 in 2015-16; $1,000,000 in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.

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Gators gone, Kentucky next

Will Yeguete, DeAndre Daniels

UConn forward DeAndre Daniels (2) controls the ball as Florida forward Will Yeguete (15) defends during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

By Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

ARLINGTON, Texas _ No one could beat Florida. That’s what the UConn basketball players heard.

UConn’s win over Florida in December? A fluke, the Huskies were told.

So what happened Saturday night at AT&T Stadium? Another fluke?

That’s one whale of a tale.

UConn beat Florida 63-53 before a record crowd of 79,444 just outside Dallas, snapping the top-ranked Gators’ 30-game win streak and advancing to Monday’s national championship game.

“We love each other and we believe in each other. Even if nobody believes in us, we believe in each other and our coaching staff,” UConn guard Ryan Boatright said. “We have a lot of heart and pride for this university.”

No one in a Husky jersey should be more proud of their play than Boatright should for his defense, unless it’s DeAndre Daniels for his offense.

Daniels had 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead UConn (31-8). He said a chat with former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, which centered around other doubts about the Huskies’ chances this weekend.

“We talked Friday and he was telling me that nobody is paying attention to you,” said Daniels, who has scored in double figures in eight straight games and is averaging 17.6 points in the tournament. “I told him don’t worry about it. Everybody will pay attention to me after Saturday. I promised him.”

UConn will face Kentucky, a 74-73 winner over Wisconsin in Saturday’s second semifinal, in Monday night’s championship game.

Kevin Ollie is now headed to the national title game in his first season as a head coach. He is trying to lead UConn to its fourth championship, the second for the seniors on this team.

Florida (36-3), the tournament’s top overall seed and the winners of 30 straight games, hadn’t lost since a 65-64 defeat to these same Huskies Dec. 2.

UConn made 63.6 percent of its shots in the second half and 55.8 percent overall. The latter was the highest against the Gators this season.

Ryan Boatright scored 13 points, Shabazz Napier 12 and Niels Giffey 11 for UConn. The fact that the Huskies won despite Napier not having a monster offensive game may have dispelled the notion that they are a one-man team.

“I didn’t want to force anything. I wanted to get everybody else involved. I understood they were keying on me, which happens. I’m a point guard, so I want to share the ball as much as I can,” said Napier, who had six assists, four steals and attempted just six shots from the floor.

UConn becomes just the third team seeded No. 7 or lower to make the title game since the field expanded to 64 teams. Villanova made it as an 8 in 1985 and Butler as an 8 in 2011.

As solid as UConn was on offense, it was perhaps its defense that decided another game. Florida matched its season low in points and had just three assists, another season low, to go along with 11 turnovers.

“We just wanted to be relentless, make them uncomfortable. We wanted to challenge every dribble, every pass,” Ollie said.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said the difference in his team’s performance from most of the season was his point guard’s ability to penetrate.

“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like he had all year long for us,” Donovan said. “Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether against Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane. He had a really, really hard time getting in the lane around Boatright. He had a hard time getting around Napier, which inevitably made our offense very, very difficult.”

Patric Young led Florida with 19 points.

After a horrible start in which it fell behind 7-0 and 16-4, the Huskies somehow managed to storm back and take and three-point lead at the half.

UConn, which trailed by at least nine points in three of its first four games in the tournament, didn’t seem fazed after falling down by a dozen Saturday night.

“We understood that we came out a little lousy. But it’s a part of the game. We never got negative on anybody, we didn’t point any fingers. We just looked at each other and said ‘We have to step up our game,’ ” Napier said. “I don’t think we were too worried about anything.”

After scoring a measly four points in the game’s first 11 minutes and 12 seconds, the Huskies ran off 11 straight points in a blistering 1:43.

A trio of 3-pointers, including two from Daniels, highlighted the spurt, which pulled the Huskies within one point at 16-15.

Napier’s first points of the evening moments later, coupled with a three-point play from Giffey, gave UConn its first lead of the evening at 21-20.

After its hot start, Florida ended up making just eight of its 23 shots in the first half, and netted just six points over the final 10 minutes of the half.

The Huskies led 25-22 at halftime as Daniels led the charge with 10 points and six rebounds.

UConn then scored the first six points in the second half, going up 31-22 on a Napier 3-pointer. The Huskies had scored 27 of the last 33 points in the game _ against one of the nation’s top defenses.

Although Young was able to have his way inside for much of the second half and the Husky big men continued to rack up fouls, the Gators couldn’t mount a successful charge.

They pulled within three on a pair of free throws by Young with 8:03 to go made it 43-40, but the Huskies scored eight of the game’s next nine points. Terrence Samuel started the spurt with a drive to the basket, Napier followed with a steal and flip to Boatright on the break, then Daniels caught a pair of lobs behind the Florida zone to make it 51-41.

That essentially sealed the Huskies’ win, and their usually steady hands at the free throw line didn’t fail them. UConn went 6-for-6 from the line down the stretch.
UConn is now 7-1 in games at the Final Four, including 5-0 in the state of Texas.

As he walked off the floor, Napier raised one finger toward the UConn fans, indicating he’d like his career to end with one more victory, one more fluke.

“Just simple,” Napier said in explanation, “one more to go.”

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NOTES: Return trip to Texas

331 huskies p42

UConn guard Ryan Boatright hoists the NCAA regional trophy as coach Kevin Ollie and teammate Lasan Kromah flank him after Sunday’s game in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

By Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

NEW YORK _ Kevin Ollie swears he always believed his 2013-14 UConn basketball team was capable of making a Final Four. But the Huskies’ head coach is also a big fan of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

So when Ollie took his Huskies to visit AT&T Stadium _ the Cowboys’ home field and the site of this year’s Final Four _ when they were in the Dallas area to play SMU in early January, some of the players joked that they weren’t really sure what Ollie’s motivation was to stop by.

“We always kept believing in ourselves that we’d get there. And going there (to visit), it was great,” UConn forward DeAndre Daniels said after the Huskies beat Michigan State Sunday to earn a return trip to Arlington, Texas. “I feel like a lot of guys probably didn’t want to go because Kevin Ollie is Cowboys fan and people thought he wanted to go because of that.

“But he took us there and when we were walking around, taking the whole tour, it was amazing how big the place was and that big-screen TV. We told ourselves it would be crazy to play in here, and now we’re finally here. It’s a dream come true.”

Though the players had a difficult time imagining what a basketball court might look like on a field that was designed for football, they obviously saw it as a goal to make such a discovery.

“It was a good way to motivate yourself and have a vision of what lies ahead and what you can accomplish,” forward Niels Giffey said. “It’s crazy to go back there.”

The trip to AT&T Stadium wasn’t the only time this season when Ollie professed a belief to his team that they could make it this far. He told them and anyone else who was still in Gampel Pavilion after the Huskies’ home finale much the same thing.

After the Huskies beat Rutgers March 5, Ollie took to the P.A. system and told the fans they could have another celebration in Gampel “after we get back from Texas.”

“He definitely showed his confidence in this whole team,” Giffey said. “I think it’s very important that a coach has a certain demand for greatness. And he really demands greatness.”

NET MINDERS

Surrounded by a sea of friends, family and former UConn players _ including Richard Hamilton, Cliff Robinson, Khalid El-Amin, Taliek Brown and Andre Drummond _ the Huskies one-by-one cut down the net under one of the Garden’s baskets.

When it came time for Ollie to make his way up and take the final piece down, he took his time. The 41-year-old coach paused on nearly each step to cheer, thrust his arms in the air or just smile.

“That was just a great experience. It’s a great time when you can get on that ladder, but I was really taking my time. One step at a time,” Ollie said. “And that’s what you’ve got to do to get up top of the ladder. You can’t skip no steps. And the last two years we didn’t skip no steps. We took one step at a time.”

Ollie was still in high school when it occurred, but the celebration on this particular floor was similar to one that took place by the Huskies in the same spot 26 years to the day earlier.

On March 30, 1988, UConn beat Ohio State 72-67 at the Garden to win the NIT Championship. It was the first major championship for the Huskies and was in many ways the catalyst for the program’s move onto the national scene.

Like Ollie is now, UConn had a head coach in Jim Calhoun who was just finishing his second season at the helm.

Calhoun, who was in attendance Sunday, shared a big hug with Ollie shortly after the game ended.

THE BOSS APPROVES

When Phil Nolan’s dunk gave UConn what appeared to be an unsurmountable lead in the final seconds, UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel couldn’t help himself.

“I was ecstatic. When that dunk went in, I…I try to sit there calm and I try to be collected, but I just erupted. It was probably the wrong etiquette but I don’t know,” Manuel said.

Given that a year ago the Huskies were banned from the postseason and given some of the other hurdles Ollie has cleared, Manuel was elated for his coach and the program.

“Everything we went through, everything this program has gone through, to have it continue to drive forward and move forward under Kevin, with coach Calhoun around supporting him and supporting me, and the leadership of President (Susan) Herbst and all the things we do as a university and the belief that we have in greatness and pushing forward, this is an unbelievable moment for us in our history,” Manuel said.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Ollie has taken a page out of Calhoun’s book in some ways in the manner he coaches.

“I like what Kevin did. He learned from Jim. His teams play the same way: hard, tough,” Izzo said. “You can tell it’s part of their DNA over there.”

NAPIER BY A NOSE

For the second weekend in a row, UConn guard Shabazz Napier had to leave the action in the second half to deal with an injury. Against Villanova last week it was Napier’s shin. On Sunday it was a bloody nose suffered after a collision with Michigan State’s Gary Harris.

“I was trying to go for the steal. He (Harris) wasn’t looking and I kind of tipped it, and he was going to the ball and then he went to go push me away and just so happened to hit me in my face, in my nose. It just started bleeding,” Napier said.

Much like in the Villanova game, Napier relied on the work of UConn trainer James Doran and was quickly back on the floor.

Napier heaped praise on Doran for his abilities, and certainly harbored no ill will toward Harris.

“It’s part of the game. I didn’t think he did it on purpose,” Napier said.

D-FENSE

UConn guard Ryan Boatright may have scored a modest 11 points in Sunday’s regional final, but his contributions to the win went much deeper. The junior also had four steals and helped drive Michigan State guards Keith Appling and Travis Trice crazy with his defense.

“I take pride in my defense, picking them up 94 feet, the entire length of the floor. Even if I can’t pick up a steal, just turning them and turning them and getting them uncomfortable so they can’t run offense so smoothly, it helps the team,” Boatright said.

Appling, a senior who entered the game averaging 11.4 points and 4.5 assists per game, had just two points and two assists to go along with four turnovers against the Huskies. Applying was also in foul trouble for much of the game.

NUMBERS OF NOTE

In something of a statistical anomaly, the Huskies are the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the field expanded to 64 teams. No. 7 seeds had been 0-7 in regional finals before Sunday.

UConn also broke its own geographical jinx, of sorts. UConn had been 0-5 in “East” regional final games. All four of their previous Final Four trips had come via “West” regional runs.

MORE NUMBERS

When teams make surprise runs to the Final Four, it’s sometimes because other upsets in their brackets helped make the road to the semifinals a little easier.

That wasn’t the case for the Huskies this time.

UConn beat three of the top four seeds in its region _ No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan State _ to reach the Final Four.

According to ESPN, only three other teams had done that in the 64- and 68-team field era. LSU did it in 1986, Florida in 2000 and Butler in 2011.

Actually, there are now five in that category because UConn wasn’t the only team to pull off such a feat in this tournament. Kentucky beat No. 1 Wichita State, No. 4 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan.

SCHEDULING OUT

The Huskies continue to try and beef up their non-conference schedule, given the lack of RPI-power the American Athletic Conference portion of their slate seems to pack. And they’re doing so with one of the beefiest opponents of all.

There may be a Duke-UConn game in the greater New York area as early as next season, several sources said Sunday.

The two schools are in discussions over a game between their basketball programs in a site such as Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn or even the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Huskies have also been in talks with Georgetown officials about a series between the two former Big East rivals, but those discussions are apparently on hold until the Huskies determine if they have a game with the Blue Devils set first.

Among the non-conference games UConn already is scheduled to play in the 2014-15 season are ones at Stanford, at Florida and at home against Texas. UConn will also participate in the Puerto Rico Tip-off against a field that includes Boston College, West Virginia, Dayton, College of Charleston, George Mason, New Mexico and Texas A&M.

EXTRA POINTS

Napier scored 25 points Sunday to move past Ray Allen (1,922) and into fourth place on UConn’s all-time scoring list. Napier now has 1,925 points. Napier also broke the school’s record for career free throws. He sank nine on Sunday to give him 506 in his career, five more than the previous all-time leader, Kemba Walker. … Ollie was glad to celebrate his team becoming the first from the American Athletic Conference to make a Final Four, and in the first year of the league, no less. “We’ve got our American flag waving out our window going down to Texas,” Ollie said. … UConn is 6-1 in games played at the Final Four (the best winning percentage in NCAA history among teams who have played as many games), winning two games and the title in 1999, 2004 and 2011. Its lone loss came to Michigan State in 2009. … Keith Appling and Adreian Payne became the first four-year Spartans not to make a Final Four in Izzo’s tenure. … Napier (MVP) was joined on the All-Regional team by teammate DeAndre Daniels, Michigan State’s Payne and Harris, as well as Iowa State’s Dustin Hogue.

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For Huskies, a 5th trip to Final Four

331 napier p44

Shabazz Napier smiles after cutting the net after a regional final against Michigan State Sunday at MSG. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

By Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

NEW YORK _ On a whiteboard inside the UConn basketball team’s locker room at Madison Square Garden, one of the keys listed on the Huskies’ game plan against Michigan State Sunday was underlined multiple times in red.

“Toughest team will win this game.”

That certainly turned out to be true. It just happened that the tougher bunch wasn’t wearing green, as most had expected.

Using its toughness, especially on the defensive end, UConn beat Michigan State 60-54 Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional Final, earning the school its fifth trip to the Final Four and the seniors on the current team their second.

The Spartans entered the game as the perceived tougher squad, but the Huskies more than held their own.

“We’re physical, too. Don’t get it mixed up,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who is 4-0 in tourney play and is in the Final Four in just his second season at the helm of his alma mater. “We are predators out there. And we’re going to go in and do a great job. We’re going to use our physicality with our muscle, we’re going to use our physicality with our mind.”

The Huskies (30-8) will face Florida _ which has won 30 straight games since the Huskies beat them back on Dec. 2 _ Saturday night in the national semifinals in Arlington, Texas.

To get there, UConn prevailed in a game that featured a myriad of lengthy runs by both teams. UConn took an early 10-point lead, fell behind by nine, rallied to go back up by double digits and hold off one final charge from the Spartans.

As is often the case this season, Shabazz Napier came through in the clutch. Napier scored a game-high 25 points, giving him 93 in the tournament so far.

His jump shot with 1:39 to play in a two-point game gave his team some breathing room, and he sealed the victory with another late 3-pointer.

Napier’s triple with 30.6 seconds to play and his team still nursing a 53-51 lead wasn’t made in the usual fashion, however. He was fouled by Michigan State’s Keith Appling while hoisting a long jumper and sank all three of the ensuing free throws.

“When I shot the ball, he hit my wrist which made me air-ball it. So at the end of the day, I thought it was a great call,” said Napier, who was named the region’s MVP.

Gary Harris led Michigan State (29-9) with 22 points. Adreian Payne added 13, but the 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior and his frontcourt teammates weren’t able to do very much damage in the paint against the Huskies. Michigan State scored just six points in the paint to UConn’s 16, despite the former having a significant size and strength advantage.

“They definitely tried to force me out and to take jump shots,” said Payne, who made three 3-pointers but also missed seven from that range. “It was just, they did a great job in the post of sending backside help. So it was kind of hard to get the ball down low.”

In all, Michigan State took 29 3-pointers and only 17 from inside the arc.

The Huskies didn’t exactly dare the Spartans to shoot all day from the outside and hope they’d miss, but they were determined to keep from being bullied in the middle.

“My coaching staff came up with a great design out there and the defense was amazing,” Ollie said.

Once again, UConn was sharp from the foul line. Napier made all nine of his freebies and the Huskies were 21-of-22 as a team. They’ve hit at least 90 percent of their free throws in three of their four tournament victories.

A Spartan miss followed Napier’s clutch free throws, and Phil Nolan provided the exclamation point for the victory with a breakaway dunk to stretch the lead to seven with 14 seconds to play.

Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander will be making their second trip to the Final Four as players.

Much like their run three years ago with Kemba Walker leading the way to the Final Four and a national crown, these Huskies also created some magic at Madison Square Garden. Some 70 percent of the 19,499 fans in attendance Sunday screamed themselves hoarse in cheering for UConn.

“Yeah, it’s kind of unfair,” Napier said. “We feel the intensity from our crowd. We feel the intensity from the overwhelming sensation when you first walk in here. It’s just a special feeling to continue to create our history and win games here.”

Michigan State missed eight of its first nine shots and sprinkled in four turnovers as the Huskies stormed to a 12-2 lead. UConn made five of its first eight shots from the field, including a breakaway dunk by Ryan Boatright and a 3-pointer by Napier.

“They got off to that great start and we looked like we were walking in quicksand there for a little while,” Izzo said.

But Michigan State stormed back as the Huskies went cold. UConn made only three of its final 21 shots and the Spartans closed the half on a 23-9 run to take a four-point lead at the half.

“Coach told us to keep our composure. They made their run and it was time for us to make ours,” Napier said. “And when coach looks at me a certain way, I just know that I got to be more aggressive.”

The Huskies refocused and, once again, got tough. They used a 23-7 run regain control of the game. Napier’s step-back 3-pointer, a breakaway dunk by Giffey and Boatright’s long 3-pointer to beat the shot clock highlighted the spurt, which was aided by six of Michigan State’s painful 16 turnovers.

One last surge from the Spartans pulled them within a single score of UConn in the final minute, but the predators had more fight left in them as well.

The prey, in this case, saw it coming. Napier apparently would not be denied.

“His will to win. You could just see it. He wasn’t going to let his team lose,” Harris said. “He was the one making the big plays for them at the end, and that’s why he’s such a great player. Because you could just see by playing against him, he’s a winner and he willed his team to victory.”

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