Three Thoughts on Washington and Duke from Madison Square Garden

Posted by mpatton on December 12th, 2011

The DukeWashington game on Saturday was an interesting look at both teams. Here are three thoughts, for each team, that I garnered from each team that will be interesting to follow going forward.

Duke was much better with Tyler Thornton on the floor. Thornton’s stat line at the end of the first half: 18 minutes, 0-0 from the field, two assists and two turnovers. But there’s a reason he played more minutes than any other player: He locked down Abdul Gaddy and the Husky offense. There’s no other reasonable explanation for why Washington’s offense looked so stagnant at that time. Thornton is a sparkplug for this Duke team. He may not fill up the stat sheet, but the team visibly has more energy when he’s on the floor. His on-ball defense also covers up Duke’s mediocrity at defending dribble penetration. The offense also played very well, despite his apparent lack of production. Don’t be surprised to see Thornton start for Duke going forward.

Tyler Thornton

Tyler Thornton is Duke's Leader on the Defensive End (Eugene Tanner/AP).

On a related note, Washington’s offense is almost entirely based on its backcourt’s ability to utilize dribble penetration. Tony Wroten was really the only effective offensive weapon the Huskies had in the first half; luckily, he was a one-man scoring machine then. Wroten is the real deal. He was by far the most talented player on the floor. It remains to be seen whether he just took advantage of a huge mismatch with Duke (he’s a 6’5″ wing with boatloads of athleticism; no one that gets playing time at Duke fits that description), or whether he can be the go-to guy for the Huskies this year. But one thing I do know is that he’s an NBA talent.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume IV

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 12th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED… Tom Crean taking a giant step forward with his Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday. Having taken over a disastrous situation in Bloomington, no one deserved that finish more than Crean against the Kentucky Wildcats. Christian Watford’s rainbow swish as the buzzer sounded is one giant recruiting tool for the future, and the only thing better would have been Gus Johnson’s voice on the call. What a game, and what a relief for Crean after several years of frustration.

Christian Watford's Game-Winner Represents IU's Renaissance

I LOVED… seeing Madison Square Garden for the first time. I made it to MSG for Saturday’s Washington/Duke matchup, and there is a different type of atmosphere in that historic arena that takes hold the moment you get your ticket scanned and step inside. Players on both teams were bouncing up and down as soon as they stepped on the floor, which isn’t something you always see at a neutral location. The crowd is basketball-savvy, and you can’t help getting caught up looking at the retired Knicks greats in the rafters. As Coach K said after the game: “I love playing at Cameron, but outside of Cameron, Madison Square Garden is the place.” Very cool.

I LOVED…UCLA coach Ben Howland making a gutsy call by getting rid of Reeves Nelson. It’s a tough situation when one player is setting a terrible example, but your team is still probably better off with him on the floor. We talked about Nelson a couple weeks ago and I questioned whether Howland was going too easy on him, but this is a decision that obviously places principles ahead of short-term benefits. It could be a rough year in LA for Howland, but the Bruin program will be better off in the long run.

I LOVED… trying to decide about Washington freshman guard Tony Wroten. I actually got to watch Wroten play in high school because he went to my alma mater in Seattle, and he’s been a top-5 prospect in his class since about age 14 (he likely would have been top-3 without a football knee injury as a junior, but he seems to have fully recovered). Anyone who caught Washington/Duke saw what I’m talking about – Wroten is usually too showy, at times the best scorer on the floor, at times the best passer on the floor, at times the most selfish on the floor, often times the most unmotivated on the floor, the most exciting, the most excited, and almost always a turnover waiting to happen.

It can be mesmerizing to watch though (when it’s not infuriatingly aggravating), and it will be interesting to see how Lorenzo Romar will develop this uber-talented frosh. If he refines his game and focus, he could be up there with the best in the nation.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 11.18.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on November 18th, 2011

  1.  In case you missed the marquee Big 12 contest of the night on Thursday, ESPN posted a quick review of Texas A&M‘s loss to Mississippi State in the 2k Sports Classic. For those of us who turned the game off after MSU took a 20-plus point lead in the first half, it’s hard to believe the Aggies eventually lost by only nine points. They were outclassed in almost every way without star Khris Middleton, but they at least deserve credit for battling all 40 minutes. After such an atrocious start, Billy Kennedy has to be pleased at his team’s effort to cut the lead to eight points late in the second half.
  2. If you’re an ESPN insider, here’s another look at the 2012 recruiting classes in the Big 12. Once again, it’s worth mentioning the Texas schools are completely dominating the recruiting trail lately within the conference. John Stovall ranks Texas first overall in these rankings, and interestingly, he points out that UT only has one player taller than 6’8” right now. That’s why Barnes hauled in a talented group of forwards, all of which should form the nucleus of his program in the near future.
  3. Speaking of Texas, the play of J’Covan Brown has been ridiculous this season. It’s early, of course, but Brown has played like the star Rick Barnes needs him to be. If he keeps up the pace, he’s easily a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate; but again, it’s only been two games. So what do we make of the hot start? There’s one thing we can all agree on: Brown can play. The former sixth man was productive last season and looks like a budding star, and he’s the key to this team’s success this year.
  4. Oklahoma may not be the most notable team in the league, but the Sooners have a decent core of players in Cameron Clark, Andrew Fitzgerald and others that get their names in the paper a lot. Calvin Newell almost never gets his name in the paper– until now. He’s starting to get a little more attention for his scoring ability, and he looks like leading-scorer material down the road. For now, he’ll have to settle for being a spark off the bench, and we’re guessing coach Lon Kruger won’t complain about that.
  5. The folks over at Big 12 Hoops have published their first “Conference Call” of the year, and they hit on a variety of topics. One of the more interesting discussions centers around Kansas and its decision to play Kentucky during the first month of the season. They wondered out loud whether or not it was worth it to lose a game so early, but we don’t see any sort of problem here. If you’re a program like KU, why not play more games like that at Madison Square Garden? Any exposure is good exposure, even in a loss.
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The Big 12 Week Ahead: Nov. 14-17

Posted by dnspewak on November 14th, 2011


Kansas at Kentucky, Tuesday 7:30 PM CT

In the premiere event of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, these two blueblood programs hit the court under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. It’s all a part of the Champions Classic, a new event designed to grab national headlines for college basketball in the month of November. Although the game is slated for a Tuesday night, that won’t hold back the rabid Kentucky and Kansas fan bases from making the trip to the Garden. Both squads feature all sorts of new faces, especially on the UK side: As usual, coach John Calipari has the task of molding a young group together. For the first time, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and the rest of the crew will showcase their skills to a national audience. The Jayhawks don’t have as many true newcomers, but coach Bill Self is trying to retool a relatively inexperienced team with just one returning starter. Several players are taking on new roles, including Thomas Robinson, who’s no longer a bench player but instead one of the team’s stars. Robinson looked comfortable in a 100-54 win over Towson on Friday, recording a double-double.

Bill Self's Program Is In the National Spotlight Again

The key individual match-up is… Anthony Davis vs. Thomas Robinson. Robinson is the more experienced player, and he’s primed for a breakout season because of his new opportunity in the starting lineup. The preseason All-Big 12 selection will have his hands full with Davis, however. The 6’10” freshman scored 23 points and grabbed 10 boards in his debut against Marist this weekend, and he’s one of the most physically gifted players in the nation.

Kansas wins if… Tyshawn Taylor controls the offense. The senior point guard dished out four assists in the season opener and turned the ball over just one time. That’s the kind of performance the Jayhawks need out of their leader.

Kentucky wins if… It crashes the glass and gets those forwards involved. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones only took seven shots against Marist, scoring eight points. His guards have to get him the ball, and he needs to form a ferocious trio with Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist. These Wildcats are fast, strong and athletic, and they’ve got an advantage on any team if the offense runs through them.


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ESPN’s Toughest Arenas Survey: Analyzing Coaches’ Responses

Posted by rtmsf on September 7th, 2011 had an interesting series of stories that went up today regarding various folks’ favorite college basketball arenas to visit and the toughest ones to play in.  As always when you read blurbs of primary source information, it’s enlightening to see the reasoning behind their choices.  For example, we never knew that NC State’s old home was such an ACC snake pit, but ESPN commentators Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis both independently cited Reynolds Coliseum as the toughest arena they ever played in. Davis even claimed that he never scored “on the opposite basket away from our bench in the first half” due to the flustered situation he found himself in all four years he visited Raleigh.

A number of media types also weighed in with their favorite places to experience a game, and several of the old faithfuls represent well here — Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (3 votes), Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse (2 votes) and the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden (2 votes) — along with a few other tried-and-trues including Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, Penn’s Palestra, and UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion (1 vote each).  But it was the list provided by Dana O’Neil (excellent usage of “sepia,” by the way) from her interviews of several head coaches back in July on the recruiting trail that really caught our eye. First, here’s her list:

Fifteen prominent coaches chose nine different arenas between them.  Three of those are already retired to the dustbin of history, and three others are clearly a personal house of horrors to specific coaches.  Not many people in this business will choose a place like Murray State Arena over somewhere like the Kohl Center or Breslin Arena, but Big Ten coach Bruce Weber did.  The remaining joints are again places we’re all familiar with as incredibly difficult to walk out with a win, but we quickly noticed that there was something peculiar about the responses among O’Neil’s interviewees.  Take a closer look — of the 15 coaches, only one of them gave an answer that includes a site where his team must regularly play games.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XIII

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 28th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse pumps up Harrison Barnes, weighs in on Cheerleadergate (and no, that doesn’t refer to any of Seth Greenberg’s offspring), and tells you what he thinks about BYU as a 1-seed.

The Five things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..a different way of watching college basketball. I found myself on a treadmill at the gym on Tuesday, and alas, the one TV with ESPN was as far away as it could possibly be and still be in the same room. Naturally I tried to watch the Tennessee/Vandy game anyway, but could only see tiny players moving around the screen and a dot for the ball. You should try this out – since you can’t always tell the score or know if the ball goes in the hoop, you find yourself guessing who is winning by the flow of the game, fouls, spacing, etc. It’s good for 30 minutes of entertainment, plus you almost forget that you’re…running on a treadmill.

I LOVED…..Two minutes worth of “How do you like me now??!!” from Harrison Barnes against NC State. There is nothing, I repeat, NOTHING better than sticking it in the face of a big-time rival on the road. And when you do it with two consecutive rim-rattling putback dunks, followed by a deep dagger from three, you’re just tacking on style points to what was already a perfect 10.

It Will Be Interesting To See How Far Everyone Has Barnes And the Improved Tar Heels Going In March

I LOVED…..seeing the look on Seth Greenberg’s face Saturday night after the Duke win. For whatever reason, I’ve always liked the guy. I think it dates back to that time he got thrown out of the game at Cameron Indoor. But mostly it’s because he’s stuck it out at a school where football is really all that matters, and basketball is just something people follow in the late winter and spring. The guy coaches his butt off against the basketball royalty in his conference, and he 100% deserved that monster win to push his injury-ravaged Hokies into the tournament (knock on wood, but they have to be in).

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ATB: Coaches vs. Cancer Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2010

We’re going to make this one fairly quick as it’s a travel day here at the RTC west coast compound.  Gotta get to Maui…

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Talib Zanna.  The Pitt freshman is making the most of his opportunity to start, going for 14/12 in the first double-double of his young career.  He’s now averaging 10/9 in four games and proves once again that Jamie Dixon really knows how to find recruiting diamonds in the rough.  This guy wasn’t even a top 150 player on Rivals (although he was listed as the #10 center on Scout).
  • Coming Out Party of Harrison Barnes.  In a mere half of action, Barnes showed everyone watching why he is considered the top amateur talent in the world right now.  He hit all four of his trey attempts en route to a 19/7 first half that allowed UNC for at least a game to look like the dominant force they usually are under Roy Williams.  If the Heels destroy Minnesota as easily as they did “Hoftra,” then we may want to re-assess our preseason ranking of them.
  • Dogus Balbay & Tristan Thompson.  Balbay’s late game defense on Illinois’ Demetri McCamey allowed his Longhorns to seize control of the semifinal game of the CvC, while Thompson did just about everything else — 20/7/4 assts/3 stls/5 blks for the budding superstar.  It’s never too early for UT to tank, but so far this team seems to like playing together a lot more than last year’s team did.
  • Georgetown Guards.  The Hoya trio of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark scored 54 points and dropped 17 assists in an easy win over Coastal Carolina at the Charleston Classic.  This is all fine and well until the guards go cold from outside — they hit 14 threes tonight, but we seriously doubt that’ll be the norm.

…and Misses.

  • K-State Looking Ahead.  Here’s how you know that you’re a top-shelf program.  You don’t look past teams like Presbyterian because you’re playing Gonzaga and Duke next.  If you feel that you’re on par with those programs, there’s no reason to look ahead.  KSU was only up 69-65 against the Blue Hose with 2:30 remaining.  That level of effort won’t work in the CBE Classic on Monday/Tuesday.
  • Madison Square Garden.  It’s difficult for us to believe that MSG is the self-described Mecca of College Basketball when New Yorkers don’t fill the seats for four quality teams such as Texas, Pitt, Illinois and Maryland.  We’ve been there a few times ourselves and even when local favorites Syracuse and UConn were playing, there were still seats available.  Give us a college arena with people packed in like sardines to the rafters any day.
  • Missouri’s Late Start.  As the last team in the country to play its season opener, Mizzou looked terrible.  How bad was it against Western Illinois?  For the first time in 59 years, the Tigers won a game without a single double-figure scorer.  Ugh.

Tweet of the Night.  This one didn’t have to do with any of tonight’s games, but it’s an 8.8 on the unintentional comedy scale.  Have at it, UNC fans…

RTC Live. We were back at the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer for the second year in a row, and we got to see two pretty good games.

#5 Pittsburgh 79, Maryland 70.  Maryland hung tough with a very good Pitt team on Thursday night. The Panthers’ focus coming in was slowing down Maryland’s Jordan Williams, and they did a pretty good job of it for the first 35 minutes of the game. With Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs both playing subpar basketball, Talib Zanna stepped up to the tune of 14 points and 12 boards. In a closely contested first half, Jordan Williams picked up two fouls early on. After he would come out of the game, Pitt hit the Terps with 22-8 run. And while Maryland’s back court — Cliff Tucker, Terrell Stoglin, Adrian Bowie — led the charge back, Pitt threw a counter-punch with Nasir Robinson’s three point play. Maryland never threatened again.

Texas 90, #16 Illinois 84 (OT). Texas got a dominating performance out of Tristan Thompson. The talented big fella went for 20 points, seven boards and four assists. Jordan Hamilton, the Longhorns’ best player, went for 21 points.  After watching Illinois suffer a disappointing, 90-84 overtime loss to Texas in the nightcap of the Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals at Madison Square Garden, I can’t help but ask those same questions of Illinois. The Illini are a talented team. There is no questioning that. Demetri McCamey is a scoring guard that became the nation’s leader in assists last season. Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, known last year as a promising but inconsistent freshmen duo, are back for their sophomore seasons as McCamey’s sidekicks. Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, and Meyers Leonard provide a long and versatile front court, while Bill Cole and Jereme Richmond are combo-forwards that give Bruce Weber the option of playing really big or really small. On paper, this is a team that is good enough to contend for the Final Four. But projected success on paper is far from a sure thing once the teams take the court.

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Morning Five: 08.17.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 17th, 2010

  1. Let us introduce you to the Crossroads Classic, a new four-team event beginning in 2011 that will feature the major college basketball programs in the state of Indiana in a made-for-TV doubleheader — Purdue, Butler, Indiana and Notre Dame.  The 2011 and 2012 events will take place at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, with IU playing Notre Dame and Purdue taking on Butler in the first edition.  Indiana and Purdue will switch opponents in 2012, presumably leading to a back-and-forth matchup cycle for the life of this event.  We’re not old enough to remember the original Hoosier Classic that featured these four teams from 1948-60, but we do recall the “Big Four Classic” event in Indy from the late 80s/early 90s that matched IU and Notre Dame against Kentucky and Louisville in alternating years, and that was pretty cool.  Let’s hope this becomes a new annual holiday tradition with some staying power as well.
  2. Former Purdue head coach Gene Keady has been chosen as one of the 2010 recipients of the Joe Lapchick Character Award, annually given to coaches who have shown character traits over their career mimicking that of the former St. John’s legend.  At Purdue, Keady won six Big Ten championships and was invited to seventeen NCAA Tournaments, but he was never able to push through to the promised land of the Final Four, twice reaching the Elite Eight and losing in that round.  Still, he is widely regarded as a man of great integrity, pushing his players to a 90% graduation rate throughout his career, assisting USA Basketball and acting as president for the NABC at one point.  Bob Hurley, Sr., head coach at Jersey City St. Anthony’s, and Jody Conradt, women’s coach at Texas, will join Keady in accepting the award at the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York on November 18.
  3. In a cost-savings measure, the NCAA announced yesterday that it would be cutting some of its drug-testing program to more effectively target the higher-risk sports and athletes for testing.  In other words, profiling.  Translation: if you play football, baseball, run track or lift weights, expect to see more of those nerdy-looking people in the white coats asking for urine samples.
  4. We hope to have more up on the ESPN 24 Hours of Hoops spectacuganza soon, but what if Transformers/The Rock/Armageddon director Michael Bay got his hands on the direction of this event?  Andrew Sharp of SBNation takes a look, and if nothing else, the photoshops are kinda funny.  Especially the one involving Bruce Pearl (paging Tyler Smith…).
  5. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin is already thinking outside the box, in that he actually wants his team to have a nice locker room at its home arena, Madison Square Garden.  Imagine that!  Apparently the Red Storm have traditionally used an auxiliary locker room at MSG, but officials are exploring the possibility of allowing Lavin’s team to use the Knicks’ locker room for their home games.  And how long has it been since the Red Storm has been relevant?  We probably shouldn’t be amazed by this news, but we kinda are.
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March Moment: The Garden in ’71

Posted by jstevrtc on March 24th, 2010

Few college basketball fans are born with their love for the game. For most aficionados, at some point on the way from infancy to college hoops fan, there is a moment. A single play, shot, player, game, or event at which point they say to themselves, “I will always have this in my life.” Because it is the time of the season that carries the most gravitas, these things often happen in March. We asked some of our friends and correspondents: what was the thing that turned you into a lifelong college basketball fan? What was your…March Moment? We’ll be posting some of their answers for the rest of the month.

In this edition, RTC correspondent Ray Floriani remembers a New York City night in 1971 that altered his perception of winning and losing, how he was affected by both, and how it all cemented his love for our game:

NEW YORK CITY – The intensity, excitement and general myraid of emotions packed into that March evening will probably never be duplicated. It was the ultimate heartbreaker. At the same time, this was the one. The game and experience that certifiably had yours truly hooked on basketball, notably college basketball, as the favorite sport. One that transformed a casual observer into a devout follower.

Mention “the Georgia Tech game in the NIT” and any St. Bonaventure fan who can remember gas being under a buck a gallon will recall the year (1971) , the date (March 25), the circumstance and how it played out.  A little background…

The 1970-71 season was my freshman year at St. Bonaventure. The previous March the Bonnies made it to the Final Four and if Bob Lanier hadn’t been injured late in the East Regional final against Villanova, who knows? UCLA’s national championship run might have been interrupted.

Larry Weise, St. Bonaventure coach from 1961-73

The team lost Lanier and a top notch lead guard in Billy Kalbaugh. There was optimism though as the returnees had experienced winning and approached the season with a positive mindset. Among the veterans returning for coach Larry Weise were Greg Gary, Matt Gantt, Dale Tepas, and Paul Hoffman. Gantt, at 6-5, was the big man.  An incredible leaper, Gantt was the prototype “frequent flyer” who could make life miserable for opponents five (or more) inches taller. Sophomore Carl Jackson was up from the freshman team (they had them back then). Overall, there was talent.

I had the good fortune to get into the program as one of the team managers.  It was a job I did four years in high school and would do four years at Bonaventure. The season went extremely well with the Bonnies, ranked high as 11th at one point, finishing 18-5.  Back then 25 teams made the NCAA tournament and with the East basically a group of independents, as Bonaventure was, you needed a great record to get in.  The Bonnies accepted an NIT bid. Again, in that day it was a 16 team field with all games contested at Madison Square Garden.

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Floriani Finds Husky Spirit In The Garden

Posted by jstevrtc on December 9th, 2009

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences, covers all levels of basketball in the New York City area, and is at Madison Square Garden for the Jimmy V Classic.

NEW YORK CITY – Think of the University of Connecticut and the images of excellence, outstanding coaching and regular post-season appearances come to mind.  For the men, women and cheerleaders.  The UConn Spirit program website proclaims the program purpose and mission statement with the headline “University Spirit, Pride, Tradition.”

The program is under the auspices of new coach Sarah Mickels.  A 2006 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Sarah was on the dance team and has 20 years of experience in dance.  In addition, she is an accomplished veteran in coaching, with experience at the youth, high school and collegiate levels.  And, as she indicates with a smile, any possible UT-UConn matchup in women’s basketball would be quite interesting from an emotional allegiance standpoint.

Even the loss to Duke doesn't dampen their enthusiasm.

Even the loss to Duke doesn't dampen their enthusiasm.

One of the major changes in the program was combining the cheer group.  In the past there were two groups.  One cheered the men’s team, the other cheered the women.  Now the squad is one 24-person unit.  “I think it’s great (the change),” said senior co-captain Heather Heimann.  “I love it.  It gives us a chance to work with everyone, meet new people and teach the younger cheerleaders in the program.”  A native of New Rochelle, New York, Heather is a marketing major who cheered four years in high school. She has an extensive background in gymnastics which is vital to make it on the college level.  You don’t simply go out on the floor during time-outs and automatically do back flips the length of three quarters of the court.

At UConn, besides the mandatory two-to-three-hour practices several days per week, cheerleaders have specific academic requirements.  “We must maintain a 2.5 GPA,” Heather said.  “We have grade sheets filled by our professors and submitted (to the coach).”  In preparation for travel to New York for Wednesday’s Big East-SEC matchup with Kentucky, Samantha Strumbolo, another senior co-captain, echoed the academic emphasis noting,  “I’m glad we have the late class because we won’t miss class before heading to New York.”

Overall, the squad change was for the better.  Last year Heather cheered for the women but attended the men’s game as more of a fan.  Now she has the opportunity to be on the floor and cheer both programs.  Football is also part of the cheerleading experience.  For Heather a major highlight was the recent Husky win at Notre dame in overtime.  “Cheering in front of 80,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium was great,” she said.  “Winning in overtime was unbelievable.”  It’s just a few weeks between the storied Notre Dame Stadium to “the world’s most famous arena,” at Madison Square Garden  — an exciting agenda on the cheer schedule.

For their part, the UConn cheerleaders and the Husky provide their own excitement and keep the crowd involved.  “One of the big changes this year allows us to go into the stands and get the fans really involved.  It is a whole new tradition.”

In the UConn cheer program, a tradition that has not been altered is one of representing the school in a classy and entertaining manner.  Excellence —  the expectation, not just an objective.  The same as it is for the programs for which they cheer.

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