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Enjoy UConn’s performance for what it was: amazing

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NEW YORK – After 15 games and five grueling but gratifying days full of basketball, the Big East Tournament is finally over.

And UConn, after winning five games in five days and completing a task no one thought possible, will head back to Storrs as champions with a thrilling, 69-66 win over Louisville.

The trek isn’t over, however. With the NCAA Tournament just a half a week away, the Huskies now have to get ready to play whatever opponent in whatever location the Selection Committee assigns them on Sunday evening. Starting Sunday morning, the talk will turn from “what an incredible performance” to “was the performance worth it?”

“Now that the tournament is over I can tell you that I was definitely tired,” Big East Tournament MVP Kemba Walker said after the game. “With about 2 minutes left I was gassed, but I just wanted to win this game so bad that you know my heart took over.”

The NCAA Tournament will start either Thursday or Friday for the Huskies, but the turnaround for the event will be much quicker than that. Even if they play Friday, the Huskies have to be at their location on Wednesday, meaning that at most, UConn will have three days at home. That is assuming they headed back to Storrs Saturday night and not Sunday morning.

Jim Calhoun said that Kemba told him during the game that he couldn’t feel his legs. So when says that he was gassed after playing 190 minutes over the course of five days, I suggest you believe him.

And when you are that tired, two or three days is not a lot of recovery time, especially when you have an opponent to prepare for.

So tired legs are a legitimate concern. And they will likely be the reason that a lot of folks will be picking UConn to make an early exit when they fill out their brackets.

“As long as we’re in the tournament and we get a reasonable seed, you know, hopefully we take a day off and be ready to play,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said.

Let’s say they aren’t.

Let’s pretend that UConn gets bounced in the second round by a lower seed.

It goes without saying that it will be a disappointment. For UConn fans, for UConn players, for the UConn coaching staff.

But it won’t tarnish this team’s legacy. What they did this week won’t soon be forgotten. Not by those fans, not by those players, and not by that coaching staff.

This was one of the greatest championship weeks I can remember. There were buzzer beaters. There were upsets. Game after game went into overtime. The past four days were, without a shred of a doubt, the epitome of what turns March into March Madness.

And the Huskies were the stars.

After rolling through No. 16 seed DePaul in the first round, UConn knocked off heated rival Georgetown to advance to play No. 1 seed Pitt. In a back-and-forth battle, the Huskies won at the buzzer on a ridiculous step-back jumper from Kemba. UConn advanced to take on another heated rival in Syracuse where, in overtime, Jeremy Lamb spurred the Huskies to victory after Scoop Jardine erased a six point deficit with 40 seconds left in regulation.

And in the final, UConn survived blowing a 12 point first half lead to beat the Cardinals and win the title.

“What these kids have been through this week, it’s been as moving for me as anything I can possibly think of,” Calhoun said.

In the grand scheme of things, sports don’t matter. They are games. We play them for fun. We watch them for our enjoyment, and hopefully some excitement. We watch them because the athletes are incredible at their craft, doing things most of us only dream of. We pay absurd amounts of money to go to games because there is nothing more beautiful than a well run fast break, or a perfectly turned double play, or a well timed fade route. We cheer for our favorite teams because, for one reason or another, we have a special bond with that team. When they win, it makes us happy.

But sports won’t get you a job in this economy. The NCAA Tournament is not going to help you make your mortgage payments. The World Cup will not help solve the conflict in Iraq. Or the Sudan. The Olympics are not going to cure AIDS or help the people hurt by the Japanese earthquake.

What sports does give us is moments. Moments that will forever be trapped in time. Moments that you can look back on in 40 years, and still remember like it was yesterday.

For every UConn fan, every UConn player, and every member of the UConn coaching staff, this past week was one of those moments.

And if you truly are a college basketball fan, then it was for you too.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 5 Iowa, No. 12 SMU pick up road wins

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) passes around South Florida guard Jahmal McMurray (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
AP Photo/Brian Blanco
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GAME OF THE DAY: James Madison 98, Hofstra 95 (OT)

The Dukes managed to fight back at home against Hofstra, with a Ron Curry three-pointer forcing overtime. From there Matt Brady’s team took control against a Hofstra team with little depth thanks to injuries throughout the course of the season. Curry scored a game-high 31 for the Dukes, who forced a three-way tie for third in the CAA with this win (Hofstra and Towson are also 8-4). Brian Bernardi scored 22 points and Juan’ya Green became just the fourth player in Division I history to score 1,000 points at two schools (Niagara being the other) in the loss for Hofstra.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 5 Iowa 77, Illinois 65: The Fighting Illini got off to a slow start offensively, missing their first 11 two-point attempts, and they were unable to climb out of that hole against the Big Ten-leading Hawkeyes. Peter Jok scored 23 points and Jarrod Uthoff posted a double-double of 18 points and 12 boards for Iowa, which limited Illinois to 39.4 percent shooting from the field.

No. 16 Oregon 76, Utah 66: The Ducks maintained sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 with a ten-point win over the Runnin’ Utes in Eugene. The game changed in the first half when Jakob Poeltl was given his second foul, and from that point on Dana Altman’s team controlled the action. Dillon Brooks was outstanding in the win, setting new career highs in points (30) and assists (nine) while also grabbing six rebounds.

STARRED

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: 30 points, six rebounds, nine assists and two steals in the Ducks’ win over Utah.

Shake Milton, SMU: Milton shot 6-for-9 from three, scoring 22 points in the Mustangs’ 92-58 win at USF.

Ron Curry, James Madison: Curry scored 31 points and hit the game-tying three pointer late in regulation as the Dukes came back to beat Hofstra 98-95 in overtime.

Rachel Banham, Minnesota: Banham became the second woman in Division I history to score 60 points in a game, doing so in the Golden Gophers’ 112-106 double overtime win at Northwestern. Banham shot 19-for-32 from the field and 14-for-16 from the foul line.

STRUGGLED

Brandon Taylor, Utah: Taylor went scoreless in a loss at No. 16 Utah, going 0-for-4 from the field and committing four turnovers.

Nehemias Morillo, USF: Morillo scored three points on 1-for-7 shooting and committed four turnovers in the Bulls’ loss to No. 12 SMU.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 12 SMU picked up another win, as they blew out USF 92-58 in Tampa. Shake Milton led five Mustangs in double figures with 22 points, and Nic Moore finished with 17 points and eight assists.
  • No. 17 Miami moved to 7-3 in ACC play with a 75-68 win at Georgia Tech. Sheldon McClellan scored 22 points and Davon Reed 15 for the Hurricanes, who host Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • UConn has won each of its last three games by at least 18 points, as Sunday afternoon they handled East Carolina 85-67. Rodney Purvis and Shonn Miller scored 16 points apiece, and Daniel Hamilton chipped in with 12 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
  • Iona remained a game behind Monmouth in the MAAC standings as they won 75-61 at Niagara. Isaiah Williams scored 21 points and Deyshonee Much 15 for the Gaels, who are 10-3 in league play.
  • Jaylen Adams’ three pointer as time expired gave St. Bonaventure a 65-62 win at home over Saint Louis. Adams scored 19 points, Marcus Posley 15 and Dion Wright 14 (along with ten boards) for the Bonnies.
  • Also in the MAAC, Marist upset Siena by the final score of 79-73 in Poughkeepsie. Brian Parker scored 24 points for the Red Foxes, who won despite Siena’s Nico Clareth scoring a career-high 26.
  • Pat Birt scored 27 points to lead Tulsa to a 77-63 win over Houston. Damyean Dotson scored 23 points for the Cougars, whose three-game win streak came to an end with the defeat.

Milton, Moore help No. 12 SMU rout South Florida 92-58

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) defends as SMU guard Nic Moore (11) leaps to the basket for a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Dallas. SMU won 80-68.  (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Shake Milton scored 22 points and Nic Moore added 17 as No. 12 SMU rebounded from its second loss of the season with a 92-58 rout of struggling South Florida on Sunday.

The Mustangs (20-2, 9-2 American Athletic Conference) shrugged off a three-point road loss to Houston by matching their season high with 14 3-pointers and shooting 60 percent overall. They never trailed, scoring the game’s first 11 points. SMU hit its last six shots before halftime and then opened the second half with an 8-0 run to build their lead to 30 points.

Jahmal McMurray led South Florida (5-20, 2-10) with 18 points.

SMU, which had lost two straight on the road, has matched the best 22-game start in school history. The Mustangs won 26 of their first 28 games before finishing 26-4 in 1955-56.

The conference leaders have topped 20 wins in three of four seasons under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who was suspended for the first nine games of the season and will not be able to take the Mustangs to this year’s NCAA tournament because of multiple rules infractions.

Milton made 8 of 12 shots, including 6 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc. Five of Moore’s six field goals were 3-pointers, and the senior guard finished with eight assists.

Jordan Tolbert made all five of his shots on the way 15 points and Markus Kennedy came off the bench to contribute 10 points and grab a team-high nine rebounds for SMU.

South Florida clinched its second 20-loss season in three years under coach Orlando Antigua. Jaleel Cousins scored 13 points and Angel Nunez had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who trailed by as many as 36 points in the second half.

TIP-INS

SMU: The Mustangs improved to 2-2 following a school-best 18-0 start, stopping a two-game road skid included a nine-point setback at Temple and the three-point loss at Houston. SMU has won 27 games each of the past two seasons and its 74 wins since the start of 2013-14 are the most during a three-season span in program history.

South Florida: The Bulls haven’t beaten a ranked team since Feb. 19, 2012, when they upset No. 19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. They haven’t defeated a Top 25 opponent in the Sun Dome since a two-point win over No. 23 Seton Hall on Jan. 13, 2012. USF is 0-3 vs. ranked opponents this season, with two of the three losses to SMU. The Bulls lost to then-No. 1 Kentucky on Nov. 27.

UP NEXT

SMU hosts Tulsa on Wednesday.

South Florida is at Temple on Feb. 14.