Kevin Ollie

Brown, Zach

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

College names surface in reports regarding Lakers coaching vacancy

Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has a word with guard Rodney Purvis (44) during an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Paradise Island, Bahamas. (Brad Horrigan/The Courant via AP)
Brad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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With some NBA head coaching jobs opening up, it’s that time of year when the names of prominent college basketball head coaches get mentioned for such opportunities. Of course we’ve all become used to the annual rumors involving Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who has yet to move away from one of the top jobs in the sport.

His name is one that has come up in recent reports surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers’ opening, with Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie and Villanova’s Jay Wright among those being mentioned by various outlets as well.

Ollie, who led his alma mater to a national title in his second season at the helm, was mentioned in reports by both Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.

Ollie told ESPN’s Andy Katz on Monday that he has had no contact with the Lakers. He said he will always listen if called but it would take “something very special” to pull him away from UConn.

Ollie’s contract, which was signed after he led the Huskies to the national title in 2014, has a clause that would allow him to terminate his contract without penalty “on or after the one-year anniversary” of the departure of either athletic director Warde Manuel or UConn president Susan Herbst. Manuel left UConn in January to take over as athletic director at Michigan (his first official day was March 14), so a departure now would not meet the one-year requirement.

The buyout to leave for an NBA job would be $4 million until May 31, with the buyout amount dropping to $1 million after that date.

The latter report also named Wright, Calipari, Tom Izzo and Roy Williams as names the Lakers could consider for their opening. Wright led Villanova to its second national title earlier this month, and his Wildcats have won the last three Big East regular season titles.

NBA franchises have been more willing to look at successful college coaches in recent years, with Fred Hoiberg and Billy Donovan making the jump to the pros last season. Hoiberg took over in Chicago, but things didn’t go as planned for the Bulls as they missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. As for Donovan, he’s running the show in Oklahoma City where the Thunder are up three games to one on the Mavericks.

Both coaches took jobs with (at first glance) the talent needed to be successful, which is a far cry from the jobs Calipari and Rick Pitino took with the Nets and Celtics respectively during the mid-1990’s. Does the Lakers job fit that mold? Having won a total of 38 games in their last two seasons, not to mention needing to fill the hole left by the retirement of Kobe Bryant, one can argue that this would not be an optimal job for a college coach to take.

But with the Lakers being a franchise that’s won 16 titles, the appeal of leading such a storied franchise can’t be denied even with the recent struggles.

UConn beats Cincinnati in four overtimes in critical bubble battle

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The stakes in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal between No. 4 seed Cincinnati and No. 5 seed Connecticut were high to say the least. How close (or far) the two teams were to an NCAA tournament bid depends upon who was providing the opinion, but regardless of the conversation the best thing a team can do is live to fight another day.

The Bearcats and Huskies fought for a total of 60 minutes before determining a winner, with UConn winning by the final score of 104-97. And the win came five game minutes after one of the wildest sequences you’ll see in basketball, with Cincinnati’s Kevin Johnson hitting a three with eight tenths of a second remaining, only to have UConn’s Jalen Adams hit a 70-footer (a shot that some, most notably Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, did not think should have counted) as time expired to force a fourth overtime.

Whether the shot was luck or skill, all that matters is the fact that it went in. And UConn took advantage of that extra life, with Adams and Daniel Hamilton leading the team to a much-needed win and a date with top seed Temple in Saturday’s semifinals.

Hamilton finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and Adams scored 20 of his 22 points after halftime. And for the Bearcats guard Troy Caupain was sensational, as he countered with an AAC tournament record 37 points while also grabbing ten rebounds and dishing out five assists. Each team had five players in double figures, but in the end UConn was able to use the momentum gained from Adams’ miraculous shot in the fourth overtime.

UConn had just three RPI Top 50 wins entering the game, so this was a critical win in that regard. The RPI isn’t the only metric the selection committee uses, but it certainly is a factor in the process. Just as importantly, with the win UConn gets to continue to make their case for inclusion into the field and can still eliminate all doubt by winning the conference’s automatic bid.

Will fatigue be an issue? That’s certainly possible, and Kevin Ollie’s team will need to make the most of their recovery time before Saturday’s semifinal matchup with Temple. Just as big of a concern for UConn is figuring out how to get over the hump against a team that beat them twice during the regular season. That’s the same situation the Huskies were confronted with going into their matchup with Cincinnati, and thanks to the heroics of Adams and Hamilton they found a way to win.

No. 24 SMU beats UConn 80-54 on senior night for Nic Moore

SMU seniors guard Nic Moore (11),  Markus Kennedy (5) and Jordan Tolbert watch the final seconds of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut on Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Dallas. SMU won 80-54. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) Sterling Brown scored 20 points and No. 24 SMU beat Connecticut 80-54 on Thursday night in the final home game for seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, the only players with coach Larry Brown for all four of his seasons during an incredible turnaround for the Mustangs.

Moore had 16 points and four assists in his 99th career game for the Mustangs, while Kennedy had only four points but a career-high nine assists. Jordan Tolbert, another senior in his final SMU home game, had 14 points and seven rebounds.

SMU (25-4, 13-4 American Athletic Conference) remained tied with Temple for the conference lead. The Owls, who on Jan. 24 handed the Mustangs their first loss after an 18-0 start, beat Memphis earlier Thursday.

Sterling Gibbs had 20 points for UConn (20-10, 10-7), while Daniel Hamilton had 12.

While the Mustangs can still win or share their second consecutive AAC regular-season title, they are ineligible for any postseason play because of NCAA sanctions handed down in September.

Hamilton’s 3-pointer with 8:13 left in the first half tied the game at 16-all, but UConn had only one more field goal while SMU finished the half with a 22-4 run.

Kennedy made a tiebreaking tip-in with 7:46 left before Sterling Brown hit a 3-pointer and eventually a layup that made it 26-16. Moore also had a layup high off the glass in that spurt of 10 consecutive points for SMU in just over 3 1/2 minutes.

Hamilton ended the Huskies’ scoring drought when he made two free throws with 4 minutes left, but SMU then had a 10-2 run capped by Moore’s three-point play in the closing seconds. Moore made an off-balance shot when stumbling forward after being fouled, and added the free throw.

There was an appropriate stretch early in the game when Moore had assists on consecutive baskets. First came a nifty pass to Kennedy for a two-handed slam, and then one to Tolbert for another score.

Tolbert sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech. The only other senior player recognized was David Nelson, a former practice player who was put on the roster the second half of this season and appeared briefly in only four games, including a layup in the final minute Thursday.

Moore and Kennedy both had to sit out 2012-13, Brown’s first season, after transferring to SMU. Moore came from Illinois State with his head coach Tim Jankovich, who is Brown’s top assistant, and Kennedy arrived from Villanova.

SMU hadn’t been ranked in 29 years before breaking into the Top 25 in February 2014, late in Moore and Kennedy’s first season. While left out of the NCAA Tournament that season, the Mustangs made it to the NIT championship game.

The Mustangs won the AAC title last season, with Moore the league’s player of the year, and then advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. Their season ended in a loss to UCLA after a questionable goaltending call in their tournament opener.

If not for NCAA sanctions handed down in September, the Mustangs would be a sure bet to be in the NCAA Tournament field again this season. Instead, their season will be done after Sunday’s regular-season finale at Cincinnati.

PRESIDENTIAL GREETINGS

Just before tip, Moore went to the sideline seats near midcourt to greet two presidents – former U.S. President George W. Bush and R. Gerald Turner, SMU’s president. The rest of the Mustangs starters followed him with some handshakes and hugs.

TIP-INS

UConn: The Huskies lost for the third time in their last four games. … UConn beat SMU 68-62 at home earlier this season, but is 0-4 in the series when the games are in Dallas.

SMU: The Mustangs shot 52 percent (32 of 62) from the field. … SMU had a 42-12 scoring advantage in the paint, and 11-1 on second-chance points.

UP NEXT

UConn hosts UCF on Sunday.

SMU is at Cincinnati on Sunday.

Former Big East foes set to renew acquaintances?

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In the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, Syracuse and Connecticut met for the first time since the programs left the Big East in 2013. Of course the game, which the Orange won, made many nostalgic for the days when that game would be a conference matchup with far higher stakes. And apparently, fans may not have to wait too long for the next meeting between the two programs.

Obviously UConn head coach Kevin Ollie used the word “hopefully” when discussing the possibility of there being a UConn/Syracuse matchup on next season’s schedule, so nothing’s set in stone. But hopefully the two sides can some to an agreement…maybe a home and home with a neutral site meeting at Madison Square Garden?

That wouldn’t be a bad deal at all, especially when considering the number of important meetings in the series. Both programs have made efforts to get former conference foes on their respective non-conference schedules, with Syracuse having already played Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova since their move to the ACC.

UConn will play the first game in its home and home series with Georgetown this weekend, and adding another former Big East to the mix would help their non-conference résumé in future years given the strength of the American Athletic Conference compared to its last conference home.

Hamilton leads UConn over Central Connecticut 99-52

Connecticut's Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Daniel Hamilton posted the 11th triple double in UConn history as the Huskies rolled to a 99-52 victory over Central Connecticut State Wednesday afternoon at the XL Center.

The 6-foot-7 sophomore finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to become the 10th player in school history to accomplish the feat. Former UConn guard Shabazz Napier, who now plays for the Orlando Magic, is the lone Husky to do it twice.

Shonn Miller added a team-high 25 points to lead the Huskies (8-3), who head into the holiday break on a three-game win streak.

UConn was playing its second straight game without injured 7-foot center Amida Brimah.

Rodney Purvis added 16 points, Sterling Gibbs 12 and Kentan Facey 10. UConn shot over 60 percent from the field for the third straight time, finishing at 60.3 (38-for-63).

UConn played with a short bench minus Brimah (broken finger) and reserve guard Sam Cassell Jr. (sprained ankle). Brimah sat out Sunday’s win over UMass-Lowell with a testicular contusion, but returned to practice Monday where he broke his right middle finger. He was scheduled to have surgery Wednesday afternoon.

The Blue Devils (1-9) took advantage of Brimah, who ranks ninth in the nation with 3.0 blocks per game, being out in the first half. CCSU used a 15-6 run to pull within five, 30-25, with 4:46 to go in the first half.

UConn answered with a 16-1 run to close the half. Miller scored 14 points and the Huskies shot 58 percent from the field to grab a 46-26 lead. They also scored 15 points off 10 CCSU turnovers.

Miller stayed hot to open the second half and helped UConn pull away with an 18-8 opening run to lead 64-34 with 13:52 to play.

The fifth-year senior Miller sat the final 13:10 as UConn went to the bench.

Hamilton reached 10 assists and 10 rebounds early in the second half, but had only two points. He quickly caught up in the latter category before heading to the bench for the final 6:15.

The Blue Devils were led by 16 points from Austin Nehls.

The 47-point loss was the worst of the season for the Blue Devils, who are coached by former UConn assists Howie Dickenman.

TIP-INS:

Central Connecticut: The Blue Devils snapped an eight-game losing skid to open the season with a win over UMass-Lowell. … . The Blue Devils were just 4-for-17 from 3-point range.

UConn: The Huskies outscored CCSU 56-22 in the paint.

UP NEXT

CCSU is home against Yale on Wednesday.

UConn plays at Texas on Tuesday.