When it comes to March Madness, the saying is not U. Conn, but U. Can. The Huskies men’s basketball program has been to five Final Fours, winning four championships, sixth-most all-time. It has appeared in 33 NCAA Tournaments.
And we haven’t even talked about the women’s program yet.
This year Coach Dan Hurley’s men’s program got a five seed in the West Region. They open Thursday at 6:50 p.m. with a first-round game against WAC champion New Mexico State. The Huskies are 23-9 and coming off a Big East Tournament semifinal loss to Villanova.
Looking for a good omen? Four of the five times the Huskies have reached the Final Four, they were placed in the West Region. U. Conn men’s basketball has an incredible legacy in the NCAA Tournament. Coming up with the best moments isn’t easy, but like U. Conn, we can do it.
By George, he’s done it
The Huskies were still emerging as a national power in 1990 when it took on Clemson in the 1990 East Regional semifinals at The Meadowlands in New Jersey. Clemson led 70-69 with one second left and all looked lost.
Tate George had other ideas.
Scott Burrell fired a perfect full-court pass to George who caught the ball on the right side of the lane. George turned and fired in a soft jumper that hit nothing but net and a dramatic 71–70 win.
What happened in the Huskies’ next game…we will get to that in a bit.
The Hamilton fall-down
The Huskies were a two-seed in 1998, but had trouble with a bigger, burlier Washington team in the Sweet 16. The Huskies gave up a 64-55 lead when Donald Watts made a three to put the Washington Huskies up 74–73 with 33 seconds to go.
Coach Jim Calhoun called time out to set up a play. Khalid El–Amin drove the lane, fired a pass to Jake Voskuhl (a drive-and-dish) but Voskuhl’s shot rolled away.
- Mad Scramble No. 1. The ball was swatted, tipped and eventually grabbed by Richard “Rip” Hamilton but his put-back rolled off.
- Mad Scramble No. 2. Everyone surged near the basket with the ball ricocheting all over. Somehow it ended up back in Hamilton’s hands.
He lofted up a jumper in the lane, then fell backward as the ball went in. Calhoun would later call it the ‘second most famous shot in U. Conn NCAA History.’
Now, it’s time for some Duke Revenge
The Huskies were the top seed in the West Region in 1999, but everyone thought the tournament was a formality.
This was one of Duke’s signature teams with Elton Brand, Shane Battier, and Trajon Langdon.
While everyone focused on Duke, the Huskies rolled through the tournament, beat Iowa, Gonzaga, and then Ohio State in the Final Four.
Oddsmakers weren’t impressed, installing U. Conn as nine-point underdogs in the final against the Blue Devils. The University of Connecticut was undeterred. In a game with 14 ties and seven lead changes, the Huskies led by six with eight minutes left. Duke tied it at 66. Hamilton made a big three.
U. Conn led by one with 19 seconds left when Landon drove the lane and clearly traveled. El-Amin made two free throws, but Duke had one more chance. For some reason, Langdon never hurried with the basketball, seemingly unaware of the clock.
He fell down at the buzzer and U. Conn had scored a 77–74 upset.
How about some more Duke Revenge?
So back in 1990, the game after the George shot, Duke beat U. Conn 79–78 on a buzzer–beating double-clutch jumper by Christian Laettner.
In 2004, it was Duke and U. Conn again in the Final Four. The Blue Devils led 75-67 but suddenly went ice cold and Huskies center Emeka Okafor took over. He stole the ball from Luol Deng with 26 seconds to put U. Conn up 76-75. Rashan Anderson made two free throws. JJ Redick missed a three. Okafor made a free throw. Chris Duhon made a three for Duke at the buzzer.
Final score? U. Conn 79-78. The same score as the Laettner game 1990. This time with the Huskies on top.
U. Conn would win the national title two days later over Georgia Tech.
Huskymania is Born
The year was 1964. U. Conn was a simple agricultural school. Princeton was not.
The Huskies were coached by Fred Shabel, who took over for beloved Hugh Greer, who had died suddenly of a heart attack in the off-season.
The Huskies ended the season 15-10, edged Rhode Island to get a bid in the NCAA Tournament, and upset Temple in Philadelphia in the next round.
That brought on Princeton and basketball legend Bill Bradley. Tied at 50, Dom Perno, who would later coach the Huskies, made the two biggest free throws of his life to put U. Conn ahead. Bradley got the ball next, had it stolen by Perno and the Huskies ran out the clock of their biggest basketball win to date.
The Story of 76
Coach Dee Rowe’s Huskies were 19-10 and had to beat Providence to get into the NCAA Tournament. In the first round, they met Hofstra. The Flying Dutchmen led by 13 at halftime as U. Conn starts Tony Hanson and Al Weston each had three first-half fouls. Yes, this is a Bad Ref game.
Hofstra led 70-57 with seven minutes left when U. Conn went to a full–court press. It turned the game around. U. Conn rallied and took the lead.
Then with seven seconds left, U. Conn freshman center Jeff Carr was whistled for a technical foul for arguing a call. (Can you believe it?) Hofstra converted to send the game to overtime. In the OT, U. Conn prevailed 80-78 sending them to North Carolina for the Sweet 16 to face undefeated Rutgers.
The Luckiest Number Seven
U. Conn won the NCAA title in 2011 behind Kemba Walker, but was caught up in a grades–fixing scandal and banned from March Madness in 2013. In 2014, they got a seven seed and then they got even.
The Huskies survived a first-round scare beating St. Joseph 89-81 in overtime after trailing by three with 49 seconds left. Then Shabazz Napier went on a run. He led U. Conn to wins over Villanova, Iowa State, and Michigan State.
In the Final Four, the Huskies spanked Florida, 63-53, and took on one of those trademark young-and-talented Kentucky teams in the finals. Grit and Napier carried the day. The Huskies never trailed in the final. Napier had 22 points and six rebounds and was named Most Outstanding Player.
U. Conn was the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA title since Villanova (an eight seed) in 1985.