Hartford-- There is no debate when it comes to UConn student preferences. They love certain things, free Buffalo Wild Wings, Pat Lenehan, National Championships, and despise others. For a long time, arguments over the validity of the XL Center as home has divided the fan base. The overwhelming majority of fans call for "Every Game at Gampel," basing the argument in the logic that college sports should be played on campus. Well, the fact of the matter is, UConn is committed to Hartford. And for this season at least, it has been a smashing success. The Huskies improved to 5-1 this season in games played at the XL Center.
Both SMU coach Larry Brown and UConn coach Kevin Ollie made mention of the impact that the XL Center crowd had on the game. "It's a phenomenal environment. I hope our program will be received like this one day," Brown said. "It was great to be apart of this." Afterwards, Ollie paid extended lip service to the UConn fans who came out to support the team in a must win game.
This afternoon's 81-73 victory was UConn at their absolute best this season. Rodney Purvis set the tone immediately for this team, stroking home a three pointer in the game's first possession. He went on to score a career high 28 points, shooting 7-7 from the free throw line. He also had the play of the year, throwing down a thunderous dunk that brought the XL Center to its feet. "I just knew I was going to be aggressive today. I knew we didn't have anything to lose, so I was just playing. I was letting the game come to me," Purvis said.
This was a top heavy performance from the Huskies. Purvis, Ryan Boatright and Daniel Hamilton combined to score 67 points. Hamilton, particularly, came alive in the second half to push UConn over the top. SMU made a run to take a 53-51 lead with 8:10 left in the game. Sensing the moment, Hamilton calmly sized up the defender and knocked down a three pointer to put the Huskies back on top. They never relinquished the lead after that. Hamilton finished with 16 points on the night, 14 in the second half. "In the second half, I came out with more confidence and took the shots that they gave me and had to knock them down," Hamilton said. "Earlier in the season, we probably would have lost that game. We're more mature as a team and have more composure."
Going forward, this win can be something UConn builds off. This was a marquee performance by a team that was missing a quality win on their postseason resume. With the conference tournament held at the XL Center, there should be no hesitations to believe that UConn can run the table. Even if they don't, with how impressive they've looked in that building, they could sway the selection committee. So, the XL Center may not be everyone's favorite venue, but it sure does have its moments. As Boatright said, they can have quite the impact.
"It ups the tempo, switches the momentum up. The crowd really got into it, we start to dig in defensively," Boatright said.