Huskies will be remembered despite postseason ban
The 2012-2013 UConn men's basketball team will not be remembered for their dominance nor success on the court, but rather the heart the team showed each game, knowing they would not have a chance at the national title.
Head coach Kevin Ollie repeatedly said he wants his team to be "the hardest working team in America." A team that was supposedly playing for nothing might have proved that this season meant everything for the UConn men's basketball program.
Ollie took over the men's basketball program just 17 months removed from its third national title but at a low point in UConn history. Ollie filled the shoes of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, who retired in September after 26 seasons in Storrs. The Huskies were banned from the 2013 NCAA Tournament and Big East Tournament due to poor APR scores dating back to 2007-2008. As a result, Roscoe Smith and Alex Oriakhi transferred, both were starters on the 2011 national championship squad. Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb left for the NBA.
UConn also saw its conference, even the Big East name, crumble around them as long-time rivals left for the ACC, Big Ten and a brand new Big East conference formed around the seven remaining Big East Catholic schools that will become official in July. As of today, UConn remains left out.
Ollie was originally given just a seven-month contract until he signed a five-year deal in late December.
Despite these obstacles, the UConn players suited up and played every game like it was their last. They finished with a 20-10 overall and 10-8 conference record. Ten Big East wins are the most since the 2008-2009 season.
Led by junior Shabazz Napier and sophomore Ryan Boatright, UConn kicked off the college basketball season on the international stage from the U.S. Air base in Ramstein, Germany against a seasoned Michigan State team. Behind Napier's 25 points, the Huskies upset the No. 14 Spartans 66-62.
UConn returned home to defeat Vermont in the home opener then flew down to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament. UConn played three games in four days defeating Wake Forest 77-71 then Quinnipiac 89-83 in double-overtime but losing to New Mexico by six in the championship game.
"I knew I had something special," Ollie said of the Quinnipiac game. "We had a double overtime then we came back and played that championship game and had a chance to beat New Mexico...They showed resolve, resilience, dedication through the up and downs."
UConn's only other bump in the road in the non-conference schedule was a 69-65 loss to NC State in the annual Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. UConn handily won the next four games before playing one of the oddest games in the Big East opener at Marquette.
Boatright rattled home a long jump shot from straight away to put the Huskies up three with just 5.9 seconds remaining. Marquette's Junior Cadougan drilled a 30-foot shot, Marquette's first three of the game, at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Even stranger, Napier scored UConn's first points of the extra period on a goaltending violation but the referees had lined up the teams in the wrong direction. The points were wrongfully taken off the board and the Golden Eagles cruised to a six-point win.
DeAndre Daniels had a breakout game scoring 26 points in a 99-78 stomping of DePaul to earn the Huskies' first conference win of the season. UConn followed with an upset win over ranked Notre Dame 65-58 on the road in large part due to a career-high 16 points from junior Tyler Olander, highlighted by a high-flying, Napier-to-Boatright alley-oop.
Freshman Omar Calhoun averaged 17 points and emerged as a scorer in consecutive losses to Louisville and Pittsburgh.
UConn won the next three games as Napier found overtime to be his time to shine in wins over Providence and South Florida. Napier scored 55 points in a school-record seven overtime games this season.
On Feb. 13, rival and sixth-ranked Syracuse came to Connecticut for the final time as Big East foes. It was expected that the long Orange squad would use its patented 2-3 zone to disrupt UConn, who were without junior Enosch Wolf for the remainder of the season after his arrest. The Huskies used six second-half three-pointers, including three from Omar Calhoun, to please an energetic XL Center crowd and send Syracuse to the ACC as Boatright put it, "with a bad taste of UConn in their mouth."
On Feb. 27 Georgetown came into Gampel Pavilion for the last time as a Big East rival. UConn capped a 14-2 run with Calhoun's game-tying three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation that sent the game into overtime and the sell-out crowd into a frenzy. Otto Porter Jr. and the Hoyas turned the tables in the last two minutes of the second overtime as they scored the final seven points to win 79-78.
Daniels recorded UConn's only double-double of the season with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
The season took a turn for the worst with frustrating losses on and off the court. UConn had a chance to tie or go ahead late against Cincinnati but turned the ball over twice, then were run off the court in a 65-51 loss at South Florida. Napier missed both games due to a foot injury. He would return for the final game of the season but Olander, Calhoun and Niels Giffey would not recover from each of their injuries suffered over this stretch in time.
March 9 against Providence, the final game of the season set in stone since October, quickly came and Ollie was left with just seven scholarship players, only four of which had seen significant playing time throughout the season. Despite three straight losses, fans packed Gampel Pavilion to watch UConn beat New England-rival Providence 63-59 in overtime behind 23 points from Daniels.
"The light bulb has just turned on for DeAndre. He has a special season coming up next year and I can't wait for him to come back," Ollie said.
Daniels averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and has emerged as one of the most versatile players in the conference entering next season.
Daniels and Boatright are both likely to return for next season but the same cannot be said for Napier.
Napier finished the season as UConn's leading scorer at 17.1 points per game including a 39.8 three-point shooting percentage and was named to the All-Big East First Team. Napier is not considered a lottery pick in June's NBA draft.
Whether one remembers the opening game in Germany, Boatright's halftime buzzer beater to help sink Syracuse, Napier's overtime brilliance, the thrilling games against Marquette and Georgetown, or the final win over Providence despite a handful of injuries, everyone will remember that this UConn team took the stairs.
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