What stung so much about that first round NCAA tournament loss to Iowa State almost 2 years ago was knowing that UConn basketball wouldn't play another post season game until March of the 2014 season. We didn't know who was staying, who was leaving, who coaching, and the uncertainty was almost unbearable. Today, though, it feels like it may have all been worth it. Watching the Huskies last night felt like this team is due for something special. UConn dominated the Tigers in all facets of the game- the Huskies shot 53% from the field, held the Tigers to 26%, had a +1 rebounding marign, and had 15 assists to 6 for Memphis, a team that is 3rd in the nation in that category.
Tonight, UConn has a rubber match with the number 1 seed in the tournament, Cincinnati. the Bearcats only won by 3 against 13-18 UCF, but expect them to have an edge tonight after Sean Kilpatrick missed out on winning AAC Player of the Year to our own Shabazz Napier. Cronin had been openly campaigning for his shooting guard all year and Kilpatrick, after admitting his disappointment in not winning the award, said, "you just have to use it as motivation and keep going." Napier added to the drama a bit last night, "[Kilpatrick] cares so much about the MVP... He can have it. I'm not interested in individual accolades."
Kilpatrick is the key to Cincinnati's offense. In the first meeting between the two teams, a 63-58 loss for the Huskies, Kilpatrick had one of his best games of the season with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. In the ensuing dog fight in Hartford, Kilpatrick was held to 16 points on just 4 of 16 shooting, along with 7 turnovers. If UConn guards him like they did just 2 weeks ago, Cincinnati shouldn't be able to score much of the basketball. And if UConn can continue to shoot like they did last night, a win is more than possible.
With a loss tonight, UConn would be looking at a 5 seed in the NCAAs. With a win though, it should push UConn even closer to the 4 line with a chance to solidify a 3 or 4 seed by winning the AAC tournament. I don't think the difference between a 4 and a 5 seed is very significant, but as we learned in 2011 it is the momentum that comes with winning a conference tournament that can take this UConn team to the next level.
In an interview with Andy Katz after the game last night, Kevin Ollie said the keys to tonights game are to defend the ball and make shots. No Ollie-isms here, just KO telling it like it is. If UConn defends and makes shots, it will equate to a victory and a matchup with Houston tomorrow night. Jk, probably not Houston.
UConn 67 Cincinnati 62