Who knew that after the two losses at the beginning of March to West Virginia and Notre Dame to end the regular season that this team would go on the most historic run ever by any UConn team? It was on that practice after the loss to the Irish that they first sowed the seeds to the stellar defense that they would show during crucial stretches in both tournaments. Who knows what turned on the light switch or why this team plays differently in a tournament format, but they became a different team. One that limited its turnovers, protected the fast break, and made plays in crucial stretches.
Entering the Big East tournament, they dismantled DePaul, nearly dropping a hundred on them. They then took on a reeling Georgetown team and beat them with a combination of Lamb and Walker and the Hoyas couldn’t match. It wasn’t until they took on Pittsburgh and went toe to toe with the best team in the conference, beating them on Walker’s amazing buzzer beater, that this team first felt like they had something special brewing. But they still had a major issue to overcome in the zone and there stood Syracuse and their vaunted zone defense. It was a tough fought game with UConn pulling away in overtime to escape and exorcised their zone demons. With tired legs they then took on Louisville and their unrelenting pressure defense and zone. Again it was a great game and UConn made the plays down the stretch to become Big East champs. They limited their turnovers and were effective against the zone. With a ton of momentum on their side they headed into the Big Dance.
Playing five games in five days turned around UConn’s seeding from what looked to be a seventh seed or worse into a three seed. They also drew a great bracket where they had miss-matches with size and speed. They started out with Bucknell where many pundits thought that UConn might be a potential upset, but they dismantled them and left no doubt that there wasn't any rust from their Big East run. They then had to go up against Cincinnati and played a tough Big East battle but proved to have to much firepower and moved on. San Diego State was an enigma. No one was sure how they stacked up talent wise against UConn, because they didn’t have a great litmus test other than BYU. It was another great game where UConn took control and led throughout to only withstand a late run.
Arizona was a tougher test. They were athletic, long, and offensively potent. Again UConn controlled the pace of the game and clamped down defensively, making just enough plays to sustain their offense. They survived two three pointers as the clock ran out and escaped to move into a rematch with Kentucky. Be it the raised floor, unforgiving rims or great defense, the offense in Houston was hard to come by. Kentucky, VCU, Butler, and UConn struggled to get the ball in the basket. Kentucky and UConn battled it out for ways to get easy buckets. Walker and Lamb were able to find just enough offense to keep them in the lead and Napier sealed the deal with key free throws late in the game to put Kentucky away.
The Butler game was lackluster and both teams struggled early and couldn’t get jumpers to fall. UConn used its length to frustrate Butler’s smaller front court and made enough plays to take the lead for good to cut down the nets. It was a magical month and a quarter and one for the ages. Once this team caught fire, there was no stopping them. Be it a tough nosed Pittsburgh team, A talented Syracuse zone, pressure filled Louisville, athletic filled teams in Kentucky and Arizona, and underdogs looking to take down a powerhouse programs like Butler and San Diego State, UConn found ways to beat them all and did it in different ways. Talent wise, this team will not stack up historically with other more NBA laden UConn teams, but the way they turned things around and went on the run that they had is simply amazing and not seen from any previous UConn team. That alone puts this team on the UConn Mount Rushmore.
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