Yesterday was nothing short of insane. The 14-2 run in the final 3:40 to complete UConn's 47-42 victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane capped off one of the most exhausting, excruciating and redeeming games of the season. The loss essentially knocked Tulsa out of the field of 68 with this loss. UConn's resilience and refusal to lose are why we love this team and why, after such an up and down season, the Huskies are one win away from achieving a bid to the NCAA tournament.
The one thing standing in their way? Top seed SMU, a team that has just about everything.
Playmaking point guard? Check.
Nic Moore is the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, averaging 14.6 points, 5.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. SMU's offense runs through the 5-foot-9-inch facilitator, and the hobbit-shaped man is easily the team's most significant outside threat. He's hitting threes at almost a 42 percent clip. Luckily for UConn, Moore has yet to play a great game against the Huskies, combining for 19 points on just 6 of 22 shooting in both of the match ups earlier this season. Ryan Boatright is an elite defender, and if he can once again slow down SMU's captain, UConn can certainly pull off this upset.
Depth inside? Check.
This is SMU's biggest advantage over UConn and the reason SMU blew out the Huskies in an 18-point win at home on Valentine's Day. They are led by 6-foot-11-inch Yanick Moreira, averaging 11.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and Markus Kennedy, averaging 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Moreira starts along with Ben Moore, and Kennedy comes off the bench with Cannen Cunningham. Moreira has a stellar touch that kept SMU in the game the last time these two teams met in Hartford. Kennedy, who is built like a Chevy pick-up truck, had 18 points and nine rebounds that nearly allowed SMU pull off the comeback. If Amida Brimah is in foul trouble, UConn could be in trouble. With no Kentan Facey, this front court could prove too much for Phillip Nolan and Rakim Lubin.
Hall of fame coach? Check.
Larry Brown is the only coach in the history of the sport to win both an NCAA championship (Kansas, 1988) and an NBA championship (Detroit Pistons, 2004). The 74-year-old coach was just informed that his program is in danger of NCAA sanctions after alleged academic violations. At his age, and under this circumstance, this could potentially be his last run as head coach. With his ability to motivate and his unending knowledge of the sport of basketball, this SMU team is going to be that much harder to beat.
But, if there is one thing Kevin Ollie's club has proven these last two days, and these last two years for that matter, it's that counting these Huskies out is a terrible idea. What UConn did yesterday, a late-game comeback that actually ended in a W, was something that UConn seemed unable to do all year. Whether it was against Yale, Temple, at Tulsa, at Houston or at Memphis, UConn would find itself in a hole and, after late runs in each of these games, would come up just short. Finally, this team showed the championship resilience that has become a trademark of Connecticut basketball.
UConn is going to win today. Its offense has struggled in the past two games against Cincinnati and Tulsa, but defensively, this team is peaking. UConn's defense will keep itself in the game late enough for the rocking XL Center to become the sixth man. Jim Calhoun said on "SportsCenter" this morning that at UConn, their players believe the NCAA tournament is "a rite of passage." The only thing standing in UConn's way is a talented SMU team, but just like last year's NCAA champs, it wasn't talented opponents that stood in the way of this program. It was talented opponents that brought out the edge needed to achieve their goal.
Here's to the journey continuing.
Prediction: UConn 59 - SMU 58