A GARDEN PARTY: Outside of playing at the XL Center or Gampel Pavilion, there was not a better postseason scenario the UConn Huskies could ask for than playing at Madison Square Garden in front of 19,314 fans.
The Huskies made sure they didn’t waste the “home” game either, beating Iowa State 81-76 to advance to Sunday’s Elite Eight against Michigan State.
“It was tremendous,” UConn junior Ryan Boatright said. “Just being out there with that crowd and with that UConn Nation behind you. When you’re tired or you just feel like you’re dead, that intensity and that cheering, it helps you get to those loose balls, those 50/50 balls or those rebounds that you need.”
Boatright and Shabazz Napier both fed of the crowd early, going a combined 6-for-6 on 3-pointers (Napier had four) to open the game.
“It just felt like a home game,” Napier said. “Like Ryan said, when you have that crowd behind you pushing you, good things will happen, and that’s what happened today.”
UConn coach Kevin Ollie acknowledged the crowd support, which also had a fair number of Iowa State fans, to open his press conference.
“First I just want to thank all the fans that came out and supported us,” he said “We can really hear them cheering for us, but then we could also feed off them. We can also draw off their energy. They just did a wonderful job.”
X-MAN JR.: DeAndre Daniels is normally known as the “x-factor” for the Huskies in games, but he passed the title on to freshman Terrence Samuel after the win over the Cyclones. Samuel scored all of his 10 points in the second half, including 4-for-4 at the foul line.
He shot 3-for-4 from the field, added three rebounds and dished out two assists in 23 minutes.
“I think the guy who was the X-factor tonight was Terrence once again,” said Daniels, who scored 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds.
Samuel had 10 of the Huskies’ 14 points off the bench. He also received a playful smack from Ollie after the coach’s interview with TBS following the game.
NOT SO FAST: The Huskies are 40 minutes away from going to Dallas to play in the Final Four, but Napier is not letting the team getting ahead of itself.
“With every game you win, you realize the closer you are, but I said this since the beginning, since my freshman year, I’m the type of person that don’t look towards the future too much,” he said. “I don’t want to miss out what’s going on in front of me. I just want to take it game by game, day by day and that’s what’s got us here so far. … We don’t want to think too far ahead. We want to visualize what’s in front of us and go from there.”
COACH TO COACH: When Ollie left the floor after the game his mentor and former coach Jim Calhoun was there to give him a big hug.
“Coach just said “congratulations”, and I love coach and I love him being around,” Ollie said. “He’s always a sounding board for me. If I ever have a question he’s always there to answer it. He’s like a second father to me. He really gave me an opportunity to take over this program, and he’s built this program on pride and tradition. And I just want to continue to keep the torch alive.”
With a trip to the Elite Eight in just his second season as the UConn head coach, Ollie seems to have become a quick study.
“He’s passed me the baton, and I’m just trying to run with it the best way I know how,” Ollie said. “The best way I do know how is to keep our team together, keep us fighting, no matter what situation we’re in, negative, positive, we’re going to always see the bright light. And that light is shining bright now and we got to keep it shining. Hopefully we can play another 40 full UConn style of basketball (minutes), and hopefully we can get to Texas.”
When the Huskies were in Dallas back in January, Ollie and the team toured the AT&T Stadium, site of the Final Four, on an off-day before playing at SMU.
NOTES: The Huskies are off to their 11th Elite Eight. The game is scheduled for around 2:20 Sunday afternoon at MSG. … Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim fouled out with seven points in 34 minutes. He had 30 double-figure scoring games this season. Junior Dustin Hogue, from Yonkers, N.Y., scored a career-high 34 points for ISU. … UConn shot 52 percent (26-for-50) for the game and was 9-for-19 on 3-pointers (47.4 percent).