Kevin Ollie, DeAndre Daniels, Tyler Olander

UConn men’s basketball team visited Newtown on Thursday

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There were no grand announcements, and media were asked to keep their distance. But December 27 will go down as the most important day of the season for the Connecticut Huskies, and the reason has nothing to do with what they’ll accomplish on the court.

Head coach Kevin Ollie, his players and former head coach Jim Calhoun made the trek from Storrs to Newtown, Connecticut, which two weeks ago was a the scene of a terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School that resulted in the death of 26 people, 20 of which being children.

The goal was to bring smiles to the faces of children and adults who experienced the unfathomable, something many still struggle to comprehend to this day.

The Huskies visited with about 150 children at the Newtown Youth Academy, spending their time signing autographs, taking pictures and playing games such as “knockout” with the kids. There was even a birthday cake, as both Ollie (now 40 years young) and Ryan Boatright (20) were born on the 27th.

“We know that this community is coming together and will prevail,” Ollie said according to the Hartford Courant, “and we just wanted to go there and show our support, show them that our team and the whole state of Connecticut is behind them.

“It was great for us to be able to see some smiles on their faces and to spend some time with them and do what we could. It was a great experience for our kids. We were proud and honored to be able to help.”

The school established the Sandy Hook School Memorial Scholarship Fund in the days following the tragedy, which will assist those affected (the siblings of the children and the dependents of the adults who passed, as well as any child who attends Sandy Hook Elementary) with their college tuition when the time comes.

There are more games for the Huskies to play, both at home and on the road, beginning with Saturday’s game against Washington. But no road trip will be as important as UConn’s bus ride to Newtown.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.