How Connecticut Advanced to the National Championship GamePosted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014
Seven-seed Connecticut completed its incredible run to the National Championship game by defeating favored Florida, 63-53, in Saturday night’s first national semifinal. The following are three factors that led to the Huskies advancing to its fourth appearance in the title tilt since 1999.
- DeAndre Daniels has picked the right time to play the best basketball of his career. The junior forward had a nice regular season, averaging 13.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, but there were several times when he failed to produce when Connecticut needed his production. The most notable of Daniels’ poor games were in a January 8 loss to Louisville where he scored just three points on 1-of-9 shooting, and in a February 23 loss to SMU when he finished with just six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Since the NCAA Tournament has began, though, Daniels has shown those phantom nights are things of the past. In the Huskies’ overtime victory over Saint Joseph’s in the round of 64, the junior turned in 18 key points on a very efficient 6-of-11 shooting. In the Huskies’ next win over Iowa State, Daniels was the best player on the floor and his 27 points and 10 rebounds were instrumental in helping Connecticut fend off a late Cyclones run. After a steady 12-point, eight-rebound effort in the Elite Eight victory over Michigan State, Daniels again showed he can be the best player on the floor in Connecticut’s stunning semifinal victory over Florida. He finished with 20 points and 10 boards, while being part of a strong defensive effort that held the Gators to just 53 points on 38.8 percent shooting. It is completely unexpected that Kevin Ollie’s squad will be playing for the national title on Monday night, but considering how good Daniels has been in this Tournament, it makes a lot more sense. If the junior can turn in another game-changing effort Monday, there is no reason to think the Huskies will not cut down the nets at the end of the night.
- Connecticut has turned up its defensive intensity. In the Elite Eight victory over Michigan State, Connecticut made things extremely difficult for the Spartans all game long. Tom Izzo’s team shot just 39.1 percent from the field and was forced into taking many difficult shots throughout the contest. The Huskies’ suffocating defense also played a big role in forcing the Spartans into 16 turnovers. That defensive ferocity accompanied Connecticut on its trip from Madison Square Garden to AT&T Stadium, as it was once again on display in the win over Florida. After a blistering start, Florida was flummoxed offensively. The Gators hit finished at just 39 percent from the field, and after making their first three-pointer of the night, they missed their final nine attempts from behind the arc. The Huskies’ backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were relentless in forcing Florida guards Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II, and Kasey Hill into a combined eight turnovers. For a team that can get game-breaking offensive performances from Napier, Boatright, and Daniels in any given game, Connecticut has shown it is more than capable of dictating the game on the other end of the court.
- What Kevin Ollie has done is incredible. When Jim Calhoun retired in September 2012, Kevin Ollie took over a program that was ineligible for 2013 postseason play due to APR sanctions. Also working against Ollie was the fact that he was only working on a one-year contract. Soon after the 2012-13 campaign began, it became evident to the Huskies’ athletic department that the rookie head coach can “coach, lead, coordinate, relate, and organize a program,” so he was rewarded with a five-year contract extension. After getting a team that had essentially nothing to play for to finish 20-10 in the 2012-13 season, Ollie returned a much more experienced unit this season. While there were ups-and-downs and inconsistencies throughout the regular season, Ollie has shown his obvious coaching prowess in the tournament. No one picked the seventh-seeded Huskies to be in this position, but Ollie was able to get his players to focus on success and here we are. What Kevin Ollie has done in his two seasons in Storrs is incredible and it something that will not soon be forgotten in the world of college basketball.