Lietkabelis narrowly misses LKL playoffs

The 2013-14 Lietkabelis season officially came to a close Saturday afternoon. Needing a victory in their final regular season game to clinch a playoff berth, Lietkabelis was forced to play the waiting game after coming up short April 23rd. Sitting at #9, with the top eight clubs advancing to the playoffs, Lietkabelis needed #8 Nevezis to lose two in a row to squeak into the postseason. Although the two clubs shared identical records, Nevezis won the tie breaker by just a two point differential. To make matters worse, Lietkabelis missed a three at the buzzer in the final meeting between the two. A thirty-one game season, spanning seven months, came down to two points and one missed shot.

Lietkabelis almost got their wish as #2 Neptunas defeated Nevesis Wednesday on a last second buzzer beater (top play). Unfortunately, Nevezis final regular season game came against #5 Zvaigzdes, a club whose playoff fortunes were already sealed. As a result, Zvaigzdes rested many of their starters and Nevezis capitalized with an 80-66 victory, claiming the eighth and final playoff spot. Lietkabelis finished the LKL season at a 12-22 mark, an improvement from last year where they finished #11.

The team was led by American center Ryan Olander, who finished the season with averages of 11 ppg and 6 rpg. His complete stat line can be found below:

Games

Points FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA Rebounds Blocks Efficiency Minutes
31 11.1 141-261 10-50 6.0 0.5 10.2

27.7

It is also worth mentioning that Olander was the lone representative for Lietkabelis at the 2014 LKL All Star Game played on March 3rd in Klaipeda. Olander suited up for Rytai (Eastern Division) with the likes of former Dallas Mavericks draft pick Reynaldos Seibutis and Louisville Cardinal Juan Palacios. The West squad featured former Georgia high flyer Travis Leslie, Duke Blue Devil Martynas Pocius and Dallas Maverick Justin Dentmon. Olander finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes in his All Star debut as the East lost to the West 113-108. Below is Olander’s All Star jersey:

East All Star Jersey

East All Star Jersey

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NBA Draft Update: Niels Giffey at the Portsmouth Invitational

From portsmouthinvitational.com

From portsmouthinvitational.com

The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) invites 64 of the best college basketball seniors each year to play in a four day showcase in front of NBA scouts and GM’s. Former NBA greats from John Stockton to Scottie Pippen have graced the tournament’s floors on their way to NBA stardom. Niels Giffey participated in the 2014 PIT last weekend and continuing with the recurring theme of UCONN basketball, won the championship. More importantly, Giffey put forth a strong showing that should guarantee him at least a few workouts for NBA teams. Measuring in at 6-7 1/2 in shoes with a 6-10 wingspan, Giffey has the size of a NBA small forward. He also has the game to back it up. In 3 games, Giffey shot 5-8 from deep and came up with numerous big defensive plays for the eventual champions. Coming off a season in which he hit 48% of his 3-point attempts, Giffey was able to showcase other facets of his game including sneaky athleticism and high basketball IQ.

Here are his complete stats for the tournament:

Game Points FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA Rebounds Steals Blocks Minutes
First Round 9 4-12 1-4 5 4 4 31
Semis 11 4-5 3-3 4 1 1 21
Championship 5 2-2 1-1 3 2 0 31

To watch Giffey’s performance for yourself, here are the links to the games (in order):

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/4527774/events/2926233

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/4527774/events/2931102

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/4527774/events/2931208

Best of luck to Niels and stay tuned for more updates…

 

Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright NBA Draft Update

The deadline for NCAA underclassmen to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft is April 27th. For Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright, this means a decision will be announced in the next few days. As a Husky fan, I would love to see these two back in blue and white next season but with millions of dollars at stake there are many more contributing factors. Here is how I think it will all play out:

Ryan Boatright

Ryan Boatright would benefit from another year in school. Helter-skelter at times, another year under the tutelage of a former NBA point guard would seem to be the rational decision. However, this was not a rational year. Boat is coming off a courageous NCAA tournament performance that drove his stock to an all-time high. Critics allude to his size and decreased statistical performance as indicators he should return for his senior season. I do not understand the size argument, Boat will be the same height next year if he stays and enters the 2015 draft. He will be as undersized then as he is now. The difference is, now his stock is at its peak (barring a repeat). His size will remain the same but his stock can only drop. To address the statistics argument, Boat averaged 12.1 points/3.5 rebounds/3.4 assists this season down from 15.4 points/4.4 assists a year ago. Ok, yes, that’s a drop off of 3 points and 1 assist, but, if you take a deeper look, you will see he took 2 less shots, grabbed .5 more rebounds and committed 1 less turnover per game. Also, we won the National Championship. Boat’s production didn’t drop off, he found his place in the winning formula. Protecting the ball, crashing the glass and accepting a diminished role offensively was what we needed from Boat and that’s exactly what he gave us. He put the team over individual performance, demonstrating his maturation from freshman year. A non-basketball factor to take into account is the death of Boatright’s cousin, Arin Williams, who was shot to death in January outside Chicago. I am sure the desire to move his family to a safer location will play a role in his decision.

To Stay or Go?

Prediction: Enters NBA Draft, mid to late second round pick

 

 Deandre Daniels

Deandre Daniels is another player who could benefit from one more year under Coach Ollie. Standing at 6’9 195 lbs, another year in the weight room seems appropriate as well. On the other hand, Daniels is coming off a NCAA Tournament that saw him play his best basketball in a UCONN uniform including 27 points/10 rebounds vs Iowa State and a 20/10 game vs Florida. Daniels’ length, athleticism and skill set are all highly coveted by NBA GM’s. Does he stay or does he go? As in the case of Boatright I believe Deandre will cash in on his high stock. The opportunity is too hot to pass up. In a draft loaded with talent at the small forward position- Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Cleanthony Early-  Deandre has something none of them have, a ring, the mark of a winner. Another case to consider is that of former UCONN big man Alex Oriakhi, who played a similar role to Daniels on the 2011 National Championship team. After much deliberation Oriakhi chose to remain in Storrs, a move you cannot blame him for but ultimately led to his demise. Oriakhi picked school over stock and is now fighting his way through the D-League to get back to the promised land. Rest assured his decision will be weighing in the back of Deandre’s mind throughout the process.

To Stay or Go?

Prediction: Enters NBA Draft, late 1st round to early 2nd round pick

The Sixth Man

This is the watch my close friend gave me a week before he found the burden of life too difficult to carry at the age of 23. A fellow lifelong Storrs resident and Husky fan, our best memories come from National Championship runs ’99 to the present. From childhood we have idolized the same jersey with the same friends, only the names on the back have changed.

As graduates, with work schedules creating scattered availability, UCONN games were the one constant. Almost every game that I did not attend in person this season, I watched with Nate. The last time I went to his house we watched UCONN beat Rutgers in late January. The last time I saw Nate we watched Louisville embarrass UCONN in the final regular season game and a month ago last night I received the shocking news during halftime of the Memphis game. My 2014 UCONN experience was intertwined with Nate, and now, the aftermath of his passing was to be intertwined with the remainder of the season.

Picture featured on NBC CT

I hadn’t yet worn the watch when UCONN was announced as the No. 7 seed in the East Region. Overcome with sadness I struggled with the idea of not being able to share this experience with Nate whom I had watched games with all year. Then it occurred to me- he can share this. I decided to travel to every game and bring him with me on my wrist.

There was just one possible combination in the entire tournament field that would draw two sites in driving distance. The probability of that happening was 8%. The first two sites- Buffalo and Manhattan- were both driving distance.

The stars were aligning.

I attended the St Joe’s game with two friends and the sixth man. It worked. We won. The next day we drove 7 hours home to attend his service in Mansfield. That night, gathered with 40 friends -some reunited after as long as 6 years- we watched UCONN beat Villanova on a night dedicated to celebrating Nate’s memory. Needless to say it was a fitting end to a great night.

UCONN – St. Joe’s

UCONN – Villanova

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to Madison Square Garden, a building that hadn’t hosted a NCAA Tournament game in 53 years. And this happens to be the year. And the No. 7 seed, UCONN, has advanced.

Stars continue to align.

Tickets to the East Regional soared to unprecedented highs and out of my price range, but I was able to get Tyler Olander’s last two tickets.

Stars aligning.

Everything that needed to go right was going right. Big 12 Champion? We won. Big 10 Champion? We won. Many say the crowd was the sixth man that weekend at the Garden. In my opinion, the real sixth man wasn’t even in the building.

UCONN – Iowa State

UCONN – Michigan State

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding this wave of faith I bought a round trip ticket to Dallas with no game tickets. I couldn’t rationally justify my decision, I just knew it was the right one. Faith. I knew I had help from above. I knew I had the sixth man on my side. On Saturday night I was in AT&T Stadium, the largest single-day crowd  in college basketball history filing in from the bottom up. There was no way I could finagle myself into better seats, right? While sitting in section 400, I noticed an opening three rows behind the UCONN bench next to family friends. I began my descent. 10 minutes later I had infiltrated three levels of Final Four security into a seat that got me on the front page of the Dallas Morning News- without so much as a single question. It was as if someone had turned their heads as I approached each level. We won.

Stars aligning.

On Sunday, a good friend who flew in for the championship game happened to have an extra ticket. It was not discussed, it was not planned, it just happened. Hours later I found myself back at AT&T Stadium sitting behind NBA star Andre Drummond in a row that included former Husky greats Charlie Villanueva and Jerome Dyson. As Kentucky surged I took peace in knowing we had the sixth man on our side. I knew we would win. And we did. National Champions.

On the floor after the game I was adopted by Coach Ollie’s family and ushered into the locker room where I was able to congratulate KO in a room with Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton. Security, reluctant to let me pass noting the obvious difference in skin tone between Coach Ollie’s family and myself, finally let me through as if they were instructed to from above.

Stars aligning.

After a month of searching for answers, UCONN was the only definitive answer I had.

Front Page in Dallas

Kevin Ollie Post-Championship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned earlier the last time I saw Nate we watched UCONN’s blowout loss to Louisville. Following the loss, Coach Ollie was asked why his team was not playing together this late in the season:

“We’ve been playing good basketball so we have faith in ourselves,” Ollie said to reporters. “We’re at the bottom right now. This is the worst we could ever play. But guess what? As bad as we played, we can turn it around. So I’m not giving up on the season. I’m just talking about right at this moment, we didn’t play together. This season is not over yet, but I told them if we play like this we have two games and then they can go to spring break.”

UCONN was at the bottom. In a final tune up before postseason play we were held to our lowest scoring output of the season. What’s worse? No one was passing. No one played together. There was no camaraderie. Individual agendas over the good of the team. Coach Ollie insisted that he wasn’t done with the season. They didn’t play together that one game but they still had time. Or, they could fall apart. Give up and go home. Two choices, one much easier than the other. They had the faith, they just needed to play together.

Recently I revisited the quote in a search for significance of our last encounter. Reading through the lines from a basketball perspective, it made sense- but from a life perspective- it gave me chills. My friends and I were at rock bottom. Shock barely numbed the sadness of failing one of your closest friends when they needed you most. Distractions lasted momentarily as the mind fixated on what you could have done differently, things you could have said or ways you could have shown you were there. The longest periods of relief came from reminiscing with close friends and sharing common experiences, such as this championship run. Put simply, being together with those who mattered most. It is through these experiences you start to realize that you have not failed. It hurts every night to have missed this chance but there will be many more chances I will not miss. Failure is a refusal to learn from this tragedy and miss an opportunity to make a difference in the future. Failure is becoming so engrossed in mourning that you forget to carry on the legacy of a great young man. Failure is neglecting to spend as much time as possible with those who matter most. Failure is not paying it forward.

The aftermath of Nate’s passing only heightened the sense of camaraderie within the Storrs community. When you see how quickly a life can be lost it gives you a greater appreciation for not only what you have, but what you had. Through this experience I have been able to reconnect with friends I  had lost touch with for years. We toasted to Nate with a former high school classmate in Buffalo. We did the same before the Villanova game with a collection of old high school friends so odd I couldn’t have put it together better myself. A former classmate in Dallas graciously opened up his apartment to anyone making the trip. Tyler gave his last ticket to our friend in Austin, allowing him to partake in the experience. Middle school friends from Florida flew in. Others journeyed from Boston, Houston and Minneapolis. It’s awful it takes tragedies such as these to bring to light what is most important in life but the real tragedy is not taking advantage of the sacrifice made. At least you know we made it count and will continue to do so. 2014 has been a dream season defined by faith and togetherness. I had the faith, we just needed to do it together. Well Nate, we won the National Championship and we won it together.

UCONN – Kentucky

UCONN – Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a tribute to Nate and his love for animals, I have decided to donate the proceeds of my faith -aka March Madness winnings- to the Mansfield Animal Shelter. Together, with another friend who  reaped the benefits of faith, we have a combined $240 in winnings.

To anyone else who won money on faith, loyalty or just appreciate the cause, donations can be made to: Mansfield Animal Shelter, c/o 4 South Eagleville Rd. Storrs, CT 06268. Thank you in advance.

I have just finished writing this in the midst of a lunar eclipse.

The stars have officially aligned.

Dallas: A Run For The Ages

The University of Connecticut has won the 2014 NCAA National Championship. 4 months ago, after knocking off Florida in December, I had a conversation with Skip Olander about a spring trip to visit his son (my friend) in Lithuania. We had previously discussed plans to check out the European Basketball scene but after the Florida victory, plans changed. We already had big wins under our belt on neutral courts (Indiana/Maryland) but this was a statement win. My first post, and motive behind starting this blog, originated from what I saw during the Florida game. In that post, I predicted a return to the Final Four referencing elements of the winning formula that would ultimately lead us to Dallas. Let’s see how these keys played out in the 2014 Final Four:

Games will be won/lost in Shabazz Napier’s hands

Shabazz  was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 NCAA Tournament and for good reason. In the National Championship game he dropped 22 points/6 rebounds/3 assists and knocked down clutch shot after clutch shot to discourage any Kentucky run. The most important plays his hands made however were not the 3 pointers swishing through the net but rather the rocket passes they flung to Deandre Daniels and swarming pressure they put on opposing guards (more below). Deandre could not have gone off for 20/10 in the semifinal without his point guard actively looking to get him involved with the right plays at the right time. Shabazz Napier not only made all the right plays in the 2014 NCAA tournament, he made winning plays.

Chemistry

Throughout the season one of my biggest concerns was the Boatright/Napier relationship on the floor. Too many times it became a back and forth between the two with the rest of the offense stagnant, watching. I worried role players would not be able to establish themselves or get into any type of sustainable rhythm. North Texas is a testament to the substantial progress this team has made throughout the year. Boatright was a pest defensively and his one-on-one move in the closing minutes on Julius Randle was nothing short of Kemba. Most importantly? He played within himself and let the game come to him yet was not afraid to rise to the occasion when the moment called. Giffey also came up big with 10 points/4 rebounds vs Florida and two huge 3’s vs Kentucky. The Nolan/Brimah duo got it done against much larger centers (more below). Olander came off the bench to provide relief. Lasan Kromah pulled down 5 rebounds in the championship game. Terrence Samuel gave big minutes. Yes, UCONN breeds NBA players but most importantly, UCONN breeds WINNERS.

Ability to win close games

How do you win close games? Foul shooting. Continuing with the trend of the tournament, in two Final Four games we shot a combined 87% (20-23). Our two primary ball handlers- Boat and Bazz- were a perfect 12-12 from the line. That is how you win close games. Kentucky? A measly 54% (13-24). When the opponent knows putting you on the line is an automatic 2 points it adds pressure to late game situations that young teams (Kentucky) typically mismanage (they did). Defense. UCONN held both Florida and Kentucky to under 40% with stifling on ball pressure resulting in a barrage of 3’s instead of working the ball inside. In short, we forced them out of their game plan. Boat/Bazz played with unmatched defensive intensity harassing the potent Florida backcourt of Wilbekin/Frazier into just 7 points on 3-12 shooting. Kentucky will beat us though right? With James Young/Harrison brothers standing at 6’6, they will see over our smaller defenders and feed the post, right? Wrong. Boat/Bazz (with help from Kromah) held the Harrison brothers to just 15 points on 6-16 shooting and combined for more steals than the Harrison brothers giving up over a foot in height. When NBA scouts knock Shabazz for his size (as they did Kemba), remember this game (he turned out just fine).

Will to battle for every rebound

If you were to squish together Daniels/Brimah/Nolan into one person you still could not equal the girth of Patric Young. The same could be said for Julius Randle. How then were we able to out rebound two physically imposing teams analysts projected to destroy us inside? Team Rebounding. Everyone crashed the defensive glass in Dallas. At 5-10 Ryan Boatright ripped down 6 rebounds vs Florida, Daniels 10 and Giffey 4. On Monday, given their tough defensive responsibilities, Boat/Bazz combined for 10 rebounds, Kromah 6 and Brimah 4 looking like a stick figure defending the NBA-ready Randle.  Where there may have been a potential weakness in a one-on-one matchup – aka Young or Randle- even they were no match for a one-on-five. UCONN recognized a potential weakness and worked as a collective unit to aid a disadvantaged teammate. The result? A 62-60 rebounding advantage for the weekend.

Faith in Leadership

The most important element on the list. If you ever doubted Kevin Ollie you are a moron. That was not the question. I mean damn, players stayed with him/top recruits gave commitments even with the uncertainty haunting the basketball program. Yes, Shabazz Napier had already won a National Championship yet he was still an unproven leader. Similar to a catcher in baseball and quarterback in football, the point guard in basketball assumes leadership of the entire team. But, just because you assume leadership does not mean you are automatically instilled with leadership qualities. That comes with time, with effort and with faith. Niels Giffey told reporters that after the loss to Louisville in the AAC Tournament Finals, Shabazz promised the team they would cut down the nets in Texas. Giffey’s response? “I looked into his eyes, and I really believed him.” That is faith.

What to take away from 2014

Statistics/rankings/matchups are glorified in college basketball and debated fiercely among analysts and fans alike. It dominates the media and ripples throughout the country causing one team to be viewed as a “favorite” while another a “Cinderella” based on seeding. Taking a look back at UCONN’s run, there are many statistics attributable to our national championship- free throw percentage, defensive field goal percentage, rebounding margin- but the only statistic that accurately describes the 2014 National Champions is not quantitative, but qualitative: faith. Faith in an idea, faith in ability, faith in a coaching staff, faith in teammates and faith in being a small part of a bigger picture. Kevin Ollie instilled a sense of faith in his players from Day 1. Shabazz Napier got it-he stayed, Niels Giffey got it-he stayed, Tyler Olander got it- he stayed, and now, their hands are heavier for it. You see, faith is contagious. Faith allowed me to follow the Huskies around the country as funds were running thin, faith allowed my friend to quit his job for a week in Dallas and faith allowed the UCONN Huskies to win the 2014 National Championship. So now, the next time a sibling, friend, analyst or Kentucky fan calls us a Cinderella respond: we’re not a Cinderella, we are UCONN.

Road to Dallas: A Fan’s Story of March Madness

Road to Dallas

A Fan’s Story of March Madness

The phrase March Madness is typically used to describe the craziness that ensues when the 64 best teams in college basketball battle for their chance to be a part of history. After attending three Final Fours, this phrase can be extended to describe the scramble that is fan travel. Within minutes of our victory over Michigan State, I received a text from a close friend that he and his family had already booked their tickets to Dallas. Minutes later I had texts from five other friends expressing interest in Dallas. Tickets? Accommodations? Flight vs Driving? Duration of stay? By Monday night flights from Hartford to Dallas had jumped to $620, which after a weekend celebrating UCONN in Manhattan was more than I could pay. As a young alumnus, without the funds to travel as freely as I would like, it was time to get creative. This is what it takes to make the Final Four happen. I am not writing this to prove my fandom, but instead, bring to light the sacrifices young alumni/students make to support their alma mater in the hopes someone who can make this process easier in the future will make a change.

Note: 2014 Final Four accommodations were made possible by a good friend and Husky fan who moved from Storrs to Texas in high school (thank you Kevin Barry!) eliminating one of the more difficult/costly parts of trip.

2014 Final Four Objective: Get to Dallas in the cheapest way possible with time to enjoy Final Four attractions.

Monday, 3/31: Coordinating with friends from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Minneapolis and Houston we begin talking logistics. Ideally we are looking to find flights arriving in Texas on Friday and flying out Tuesday however with everyone in the Northeast looking at the same timetable, other options must be explored. With flights getting more expensive by the minute we look into driving 25 hours to Dallas. With 3 people and a car with good gas mileage, we figure it saves $200 on a flight. However, when work schedules get in the way, that plan is nixed. Next option: fly from Boston to Houston ($170) Friday night then get driven by a fellow Husky fan studying in Houston to Dallas for a 10pm Dallas arrival. Then, fly from Dallas back to Boston ($160) Wednesday morning at 6am (add in $60 for parking at Logan). OR, fly Boston to Minneapolis ($130) on Thursday and drive the 12 hours to Dallas for Friday afternoon arrival. Then, take the same Wednesday morning flight back to Boston. All of these conversations, mind you, are taking place with no ticket security and prices only rising. With student tickets only available to active students and stubhub prices skyrocketing to $320, young alumni don’t quite fit into the Final Four equation. Unable to secure a ticket the search continues…

Tuesday, 4/1: Glued to the phone/computer all day with prices continuing to rise (round trip to Dallas from Hartford up to $700, game tickets at $370) my friend from Minneapolis is told by his supervisor he can either work Final Four weekend or resign. Plans immediately shift to Houston as the cheapest option knowing I will probably need to spend close to $300 on a game ticket to the semifinal alone. But alas! Just as I’m booking my flight to Houston I am able to land a ticket. Around the same time my friend from Minneapolis calls to tell me he resigned from his job and is flying to Dallas on Wednesday (if you know of anyone hiring in the Minneapolis/ St Paul area please email jesse.jaber@gmail.com). With a ticket secured and friends en route to Dallas, my search shifts to Dallas from Houston. Frugality the objective, I used a tactic called hidden city ticketing (see below) to sift through potential routes. When this option returns few results I begin researching flights to Austin ($190), taking UT shuttle to University of Texas ($0) and MegaBus to Dallas ($20). However flights to Austin/Houston were only available from Boston which would incur the $60 parking fee (also a Thursday night on 6th street in Austin would inevitably lead to a large tab). Finally, at 7:00pm Tuesday night I find a round trip flight from Providence to Dallas Wednesday, 4/2 – Wednesday, 4/9 for only $350 and no associated parking costs (thanks mom and dad). 51 hours after UCONN beat Michigan State I had a week long trip to Dallas set for $350. Objective Complete.

Wednesday, 4/2: 63 hours removed from the Elite 8 my road to Dallas begins at TF Green Airport in Providence, RI with an 11:25am flight to Philadelphia then on to Dallas for a 5:00pm arrival. Stay tuned for more March Madness travel stories, Florida preview and updates from Dallas…

Safe travels to everyone who will be meeting me out here and GO HUSKIES!

Husky Nation stops at nothing…

Hidden City Ticketing: buying a one way flight from a small airport (Hartford) to a major airport (LA) with a layover in your destination (Dallas). Then simply get off at your destination (Dallas) while your flight continues on (LA). You can use kayak.com to search routing options by layover city. Also, Dallas/Fort Worth is an American Airlines hub so many flights will connect through there.

Caveats

  • Must book 2 separate one way tickets as your round trip ticket will be cancelled once you miss your connector
  • You must carry on bags or else you will be at the layover destination (Dallas) and luggage will arrive at final destination (LA)
  • Airlines (besides Southwest) do not encourage this tactic so it is advisable to only employ it a few times per airline per year

A Look Back At MSG

KO cuts down net

Sweet 16 Recap

I took the 2pm express train from Darien to a Grand Central Station packed with UCONN fans. As early as 4pm there was a definite buzz in the city and you could hear the chants ring out on the walk down 7th.  Inside, the Garden didn’t feel like 40% UCONN fans, not to say it didn’t get loud but Virginia orange was the dominant color in my opinion. Not say UCONN’s presence wasn’t felt- we dominated section 109 behind the Husky bench from family members in the first few rows up to the student section in 209.  As for the game, Deandre Daniels played like a man and we benefited, plain and simple. Shabazz came out and knocked down 4 early three’s but instead of focusing solely on his hot hand, was able to get Deandre into the flow of the game. Niels provided relief on the glass with 7 rebounds and knocked down a Rashad Anderson dagger with two minutes remaining for a 7 point advantage. Terrence Samuel once again stepped up with quality minutes and clutch free throws in his return to NYC.

Defensively, we were able to control Deandre Kane, forcing him into a 6-18 night. Our rotation of guards were able to tire Kane-who played the entire 40 minutes- evidenced by his 2-9 performance from the line (64% on the season, 5-7 vs UNC). Big 12 POY Melvin Ejim was also frustrated into a 3-13 night. Hogue once again played like a monster finishing with 34 points and 6 rebounds, in part perhaps to the defensive focus on Kane/Ejim. Hogue couldn’t beat us single handedly- Kane/Ejim were the players we had to shut down and we went out and shut them down. Another key to the game was UCONN’s superiority at the foul line. UCONN shot 91% (20-22) while Iowa State combined to go 40% (6-15). 5 of those 9 misses make up the difference in the game. Free throws win games and this team makes free throws. We are gaining confidence as the stage gets brighter and need this trend to continue to advance.

Elite 8 Recap

Keys

Deandre Daniels

If Shabazz is Kemba then Deandre Daniels is Alex Oriakhi. Although their styles of play are drastically different, Daniels is providing the boost Alex gave during the stretch run in 2011. Rebounds. Big Blocks. Dunks inciting the crowd. Intensity. Deandre has emerged as the big man scoring option UCONN desperately needed. When Deandre is on, pressure is off Shabazz to score and he is able to get into his own flow and facilitate the game. One of the most telling signs occurred with 12 minutes to go in the second half. With a much smaller Appling defending, Deandre posted up and went to work delivering the bucket through contact for an AND-1. He did not hover around the three point line like earlier in the season but instead saw a mismatch and worked to exploit it. He wanted the ball and delivered, the sign of a scorer finally recognizing his abilities. Watch out Florida.

Atmosphere

In 10 years of attending UCONN games at MSG, this is the first time in my life UCONN controlled the Garden. As I walked towards the Garden Sunday afternoon, UCONN chants rang out far before 34th and 7th. This was one of the best college games I have ever attended solely due to atmosphere. The Garden was electric and filled with Husky Blue. You could tell from the first possession of the game UCONN was in the building. Michigan State’s Adreian Payne could not get past Husky big Philip Nolan who ultimately forced the star forward to travel accompanied by an immediate uproar from UCONN Country. Michigan State could not get comfortable, UCONN fed off the energy and MSG was capable of willing the Huskies to victory. At times it felt like Michigan State was intimidated by the environment and it caused them to stray from their game-plan. In a game of runs, UCONN jumped out to a 12-2 lead largely due to crowd energy. Boat set the tone defensively from the start with tight on ball pressure forcing Michigan State turnovers. Niels break away dunk with 8 minutes left set the crowd into a frenzy and the noise never ceased. Nolan’s dunk to close the game was the second loudest I’ve ever heard a UCONN crowd at the Garden (Kemba’s stepback). Dallas is much farther than New York but hopefully UCONN can ride the momentum created at MSG on Sunday afternoon.

Defense

Defense wins the big games and UCONN brought it on the defensive end Sunday. Credit Philip Nolan/Amida Brimah for their efforts on MSU big man Adreian Payne. A 6’10 240 pound bruiser, UCONN was able to body Payne and keep him floating around the perimeter. As a result, Payne settled for ten 3 pointers as opposed to establishing an inside game. In fact, we held a much larger, more physical Michigan State team to only 6 points in the paint. Six points in the paint were the second fewest for any team in the past five NCAA tournaments. How did we do it? Toughness. Determination. Team Defense. UCONN wanted it more and it translated on the court. From Nolan’s inital stop to Boat/Bazz defensive pressure in the opening minutes, we brought it. Instead of answering with physical play, MSU settled for jump shots which is a testament to UCONN’s defense. Not only do our players believe no one will get by them but now opposing players are starting to believe it.

Free Throws

UCONN shot 95% (21-22) from the line.

X Factors

Role Players

Nolan came up huge. Giffey did not shoot well but crashed the boards. Boat’s defensive tenacity got the crowd involved early. Brimah gave quality minutes. Different players are stepping up when their name is called. It doesn’t matter who it comes from we just need to piece it together each game.

Confidence

Middle of the season this game would have gone much differently. Nolan would not have stopped Payne. Deandre would not call for the ball in the post. Giffey would not recover from early missed shots. Why the different outcome? CONFIDENCE. UCONN has it and it’s not going away.

Notes

To anyone feeling sorry for Michigan State having to play in UCONN’s backyard, don’t be. The 2009 Final Four against UCONN in Detroit was a home game for MSU as they packed Ford Field with green and white. Justice has been served.

A big thanks to Tyler Olander for tickets to both games making this all possible.