Family, pride in what’s been built keep UConn on solid ground

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ARLINGTON, Texas — “We’re going to stand through this time and we’re going to be there for one another, and we’re going to extend everything we can extend to our family making sure that you come back and be with us.”

Those were the words of UConn head coach Kevin Ollie during his introductory press conference. And while they were partly in reference to former players returning to campus to complete their education, they also had a lot to do with making sure those players knew they would be needed to ensure that UConn would remain a power program.

There were many questions the program had to address during that time. The APR sanctions that resulted in a postseason ban, leaving the program with questions of who would be back to lead UConn through the 2012-13 season. The violations hanging over the program stemming from the recruitment of Nate Miles. There was also the issue of conference realignment, with UConn being one of the schools left behind in the race to land a “golden ticket” to one of the newly christened “Power Five” leagues. Add in a head coach who had no prior experience in said role, and there was quite a bit to be concerned about with regards to the future of UConn basketball.

Those fears have been laid to rest over the last two seasons, with Ollie’s Huskies winning 20 games in 2012-13 and following that up with a Final Four appearance this season. The coaching staff and the players, especially a senior class led by guard Shabazz Napier, gets most of the credit as their hard work and loyalty to UConn has allowed the program to embark on a new era in successful fashion.

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But there’s also something to be said for the power of family, with the coaching staff all having experience at UConn as either a player, coach or both. Add in the many former players who continue to return to Storrs, and that has helped the UConn “brand” endure in the face of the uncertainty that threatened to cripple the program less than two years ago. And with regards to the leader of the program, that pride makes the job of “selling” UConn that much easier.

“Recruiting is natural to me,” said Ollie. “Because I’m not making anything up. This is what I believe in. I sat in those same seats, I went to the same classes that [my players] are going to. It’s just a part of me and I love the university, and I want to be here for a long time.”

That aspect of the coaching staff, having members on board who already had a deep connection with the university, helped UConn get through a year in which there were no postseason trophies to play for and the conference in which they’d become a power splintering off into separate entities right before their very eyes.

For some the feeling of powerlessness would take over, resulting in a downward spiral for the program as a whole. That hasn’t been the case at UConn, with the pride in what has been built over the years sparking a refusal to allow that to happen.

“It’s invaluable. I can’t put a price tag on it,” Ollie said when asked about the importance of his staff’s connection to the school, with he and all three assistants having graduated from UConn. “Two of my coaches coached me. Glen Miller coached me my freshman and sophomore years, when I didn’t know anything. Coach Hobbs came in after Glen left and he coached me my junior and senior year. That’s when I really started taking off as a point guard and really establishing myself as a basketball player and a point guard.

“So my coaching staff, I tell them they’re the best in America because they’re young but they’re all UConn guys. They all got their degrees from UConn. It’s a beautiful synergy that we have because we all have that common denominator that we played for UConn. We know what it takes to put that jersey on and the pride that we are playing for each and every night.”

It’s a pride that was first established by Jim Calhoun, who in his time at the school transformed UConn from a program without much of an impact outside of New England to one of the most powerful programs in college basketball. And he’s certainly enjoyed watching his former point guard make the program “his” while also making sure the players understand what’s been built for them.

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“I’m so proud of Kevin and I’m so proud of the guys who coach with him, because they have an integral part in this too,” Calhoun told NBC Sports. “Glen Miller, Kevin Freeman and Ricky Moore, and Karl Hobbs. It’s ‘UConn, UConn, UConn’. And Kevin’s done an incredible job of making sure it’s his team, 101%. His fingerprints are more than evident and yet he’s maintained the past of the program.”

What happens Saturday night when UConn faces top overall seed Florida remains to be seen, with UConn looking to move one step closer to its fourth national title. But if these last two seasons under Ollie have proven anything, it’s that the pride he and his staff have in UConn will continue to motivate them as they look to not only sustain what’s been built but add on to it.

S. Hauser, Anim lead No. 11 Marquette past Providence 76-58

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sam Hauser had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Sacar Anim scored 18 and No. 11 Marquette raced past Providence 76-58 on Saturday.

The Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2 in the Big East) led by 11 points at halftime and showed no signs of letting up, shooting 53.6 percent in the second half to finish at 54.9 percent for the game. Anim went 8 for 12 and Hauser 7 for 10 for Marquette, which got 14 points on 2-of-12 shooting from leading scorer Markus Howard.

Alpha Diallo had 19 points and six rebounds for the Friars (15-13, 5-10 Big East). Providence went from shooting 27.6 percent in the first half to 50 percent in the second half, yet Marquette proved too tough a cover on a day that the Golden Eagles had five players in double figures.

Joey Hauser had 15 points and Markus Howard added 14 for Marquette.

Marquette put the game away after Providence moved to within 40-33 early in the second half. On three straight trips to the basket, the Golden Eagles connected from deep, with a 3-pointer from Howard allowing the visitors to take a 58-37 lead with 10:54 remaining.

The Golden Eagles shot 10 of 21 from 3-point range while the Friars went 6 of 20.

TOUGH OUT NO MATTER WHERE

Marquette is 16-1 at Fiserv Forum, matching the most home wins in a single season since the 2012-13 team finished 16-0. Saturday saw the Golden Eagles pick up their sixth road win in league play versus one defeat. The six road wins against conference foes represents the most in a single season since Marquette joined the Big East in 2005.

TAKE A BOW

During halftime, Providence honored a dozen former student-athletes who were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. Included in the Class of 2019 was Jamel Thomas, who played a key role on the team that came close to reaching the Final Four in 1997. Thomas ranks sixth on Providence’s all-time scoring list (1,971 points).

STIFF COMPETITION

The Big East entered Saturday’s action as the only Division I conference in the nation with every team owning an overall winning record.

UP NEXT

Marquette travels to defending national champion Villanova on Wednesday. It will be a rematch of a game the Golden Eagles won 66-65 on Feb. 9 in Milwaukee.

Providence is at Butler on Tuesday. The Friars and Bulldogs have yet to play each other.

Without Tremont Waters, No. 13 LSU beats No. 5 Tennessee for first place in SEC

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Playing without their star sophomore point guard Tremont Waters, No. 13 LSU got 29 points, five boards, five assists and three steals from freshman Javonte Smart and 23 points from Skylar Mays as they outlasted No. 5 Tennessee, 82-80, in overtime.

The win did not come without some controversy, which only makes sense given that it is LSU that is involved. In the final seconds of overtime, after LSU tied the game at 80, Lamonte Turner missed a shot and in the ensuing battle for a rebound, Smart came up with the ball and was fouled by Tennessee’s all-american, Grant Williams with 0.6 seconds left on the clock. It was a tough call for Tennessee to take, but it was the right call. Smart made both free throws and the Tigers got the win.

And that is a win of significance, too.

LSU entered the day a game out of first place in the SEC standings behind Tennessee, and with No. 4 Kentucky’s blowout win over Auburn in Lexington on Saturday, there is now a three-way tie for first place in the conference title race. Next Saturday, the Wildcats make a return trip to Knoxville for a rematch with Tennessee.

The most impressive part of this win for LSU is that it not only came without Waters available, but with Naz Reid playing one of the worst games of his basketball career. He spent much of the first half in foul trouble and finished the afternoon 0-for-9 from the floor with just a single point.

Who saw that coming?

And it reinforces something I think that we all have figured out about this LSU team: There is not a team in college basketball that can combine a ceiling as high as their ceiling and a floor as low as their floor. The talent is, unquestionably, there. If you can win in Rupp Arena against this Kentucky team, if you can pick off a top five team and SEC title contender while getting essentially nothing out of your two most talented players, you are dangerous.

But we cannot overlook the fact that, in between those two wins, LSU very nearly lost at Georgia and then did take a loss at home to Florida.

That’s just who they are.

When they get up for a game, they are dangerous, and it’s hard to imagine a situation where they are not up for games in March.

Hunter Rallies No. 3 Virginia Past No. 18 Louisville 64-52

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — De’Andre Hunter scored 19 of his career-high 26 points after halftime, and No. 3 Virginia rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat No. 18 Louisville 64-52 on Saturday.

The Cavaliers (24-2, 12-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) trailed early in the second half before regrouping to hold the Cardinals (18-10, 9-6) to 6 of 30 from the field (20 percent) and 31 percent shooting overall. Virginia also found its offense, shooting 59 percent and using a 12-1 run over 4:36 for a 55-48 lead it stretched to 12 for its fourth consecutive victory.

Hunter was perfect after the break, making all six shots to finish 9 of 11 from the field. Mamadi Diakite added 14 points, while Jay Huff came off the bench to score 12. The Cavaliers maintained at least a share of the conference lead in the process.

After making 10 of 16 from long range in the first 20 minutes, Louisville managed just 2 of 17 afterward and lost for the fifth time in seven games.

Jordan Nwora had 17 points and reserve Ryan McMahon scored 12 for the Cardinals.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Virginia continued its push toward the top of the AP Top 25 with the victory. Louisville figures to fall out of the poll with its second double-digit loss this week.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers improved to 8-2 against ranked foes and won their eighth in a row over Louisville. While they shut off the inside throughout the game, their patience in letting the Cardinals shoot themselves out paid off as they won on the boards 39-28 while dominating the paint 38-4.

Louisville: The Cardinals needed this victory for reasons beyond conquering their nemesis. They instead continued their freefall in the standings, and their failure to generate anything inside was a key factor.

UP NEXT

Virginia: hosts Georgia Tech on Wednesday in its lone regular-season meeting with the Yellow Jackets.

Louisville: visits Boston College on Wednesday night, seeking a season sweep of the Eagles after winning the earlier matchup 80-70 last month.

Bubble Banter: All of the weekend’s bubble action in one place

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Now that conference play is just about done and the NCAA tournament is right around the corner, it is time for us to get fully invested in the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Ole Miss, Ohio State, Auburn, Wofford, Baylor, Minnesota, St. John’s, Syracuse.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

CLEMSON (NET: 44, SOS: 31): Beating Boston College (123) at home isn’t going to change all that much for the Tigers, but for a team that is currently sitting at one of the First Four Out in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection, that’s a loss that would have been TOUGH to survive.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 38, SOS: 13): Have the Sooners figured things out? After snapping a five-game losing streak last Saturday at TCU (41), they turned that into a winning streak by beating Texas (41) at home this Saturday. The Sooners are 17-10 on the season and 5-9 in the Big 12, but with a couple of good wins — Wofford (24) at home, Florida (31) on a neutral, at TCU (41) — they are in a good spot considering the state of the bubble this year.

TEMPLE (NET: 54, SOS: 63): Temple picked off a Tulsa team that has been playing better of late, but the issue the Owls are currently facing is that there isn’t really a way to drastically improve their profile until the American tournament starts. As it stands, we have them in a play-in game. Essentially every game they play is a must-win at this point.

LOSERS

TEXAS (NET: 35, SOS: 9): Playing without Kerwin Roach, Texas went into Norman and lost to Oklahoma (38), 69-67. That’s the seventh Q1 loss for the Longhorns this season. On the season, they’re 15-12 overall with four Q1 wins and an 8-11 mark against the top two quadrants. Throw in a home loss to Radford (130) and Texas is nowhere near safe despite the fact that they have a neutral court win over North Carolina (9), home wins over Purdue (11) and Kansas (15) and a win at Kansas State (28). This team is the perfect example of why the bubble is so soft this season.

LEFT TO PLAY

No. 19 Iowa State at TCU (NET: 41, SOS: 33), Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
George Washington at VCU (NET: 37, SOS: 32), Sat. 2:00 p.m.
GEORGETOWN (NET: 69, SOS: 75) at Creighton, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)
No. 15 Purdue at NEBRASKA (NET: 46, SOS: 92), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (BTN)
Missouri at FLORIDA (NET: 31, SOS: 29), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
WOFFORD (NET: 24, SOS: 152) at FURMAN (NET: 45, SOS: 232), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
UTAH STATE (NET: 36, SOS: 123) at Boise State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
Vanderbilt at ALABAMA (NET: 51, SOS: 27), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
SIU-Edwardsville at BELMONT (NET: 53, SOS: 217), 6:00 p.m. (ESPN+)
SETON HALL (NET: 64, SOS: 51) at St. John’s, 8:00 p.m. (FS1)
SMU at UCF (NET: 39, SOS: 72), Sun. 12:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
East Tennessee State at UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 60, SOS: 148), Sun. 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Wake Forest at N.C. STATE (NET: 32, SOS: 208), Sun. 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
Cal at ARIZONA STATE (NET: 66, SOS: 69), Sun. 6:00 p.m. (Pac-12)

Iowa Play-By-Play Man Suspended For Calling African Player “King Kong”

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin has been suspended for the rest of the season for referring to Maryland’s Bruno Fernando as “King Kong” during a broadcast.

Hawkeye Sports Properties, the multimedia rights manager for Iowa’s athletic, announced the move just hours before the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes hosted Indiana.

No. 24 Maryland beat Iowa 66-65 in Iowa City on Tuesday night. Fernando had 11 points and 11 rebounds, including a go-ahead putback with 7.8 seconds to go.

In describing the game’s closing moments, Dolphin said that Fernando — a 6-foot-10, 240-pound African-American player who was born in Angola — “was King Kong at the end of the game.”

This is the second time that Dolphin has been suspended this season.

He sat out two games after being caught on a microphone criticizing Iowa guard Maishe Dailey in a win over Pittsburgh in November.