Ladies and gentlemen, the UConn Huskies are back.
At least, that is the feeling after UConn's performance in an 81-73 win over No. 21 SMU Sunday at the XL Center.
Everything seemed to be clicking for the Huskies. Rodney Purvis scored a career-high 28 points and Ryan Boatright added 23. Daniel Hamilton's 16 points were almost an afterthought, even though he combined with Boatright and Purvis to score 46 of UConn's 49 second half points.
Purvis looked like the Ferrari UConn has been hoping for all year, getting the crowd worked up every time he had the ball.
And, of course, he had this dunk that nearly made the XL Center collapse.
Our experts – Tim Fontenault, Matt Gionfriddo and Elan-Paolo DeCarlo – had a lot to say after an exciting game in Hartford Sunday, especially about Purvis, the upcoming conference tournament and what to expect down the stretch, starting with Memphis Thursday.
Matt Gionfriddo: So that was unbelievable. Like wow. Obviously there is a lot to talk about (Rodney), but I want to start with the XL Center. I understand why people want every game at Gampel and I may be bias but I am perfectly fine with the split between Gampel and XL. I grew up going to games when it was still the Civic Center and while fans may show up late and leave early (which I don't condone), when it really matters, they show up. From what I can remember, every time there is a big game, the fans have come out and been loud and it really showed today. From the start, the place was electric and all of our players fed off that energy from the crowd (especially Rodney).
Yes Gampel may be better for students, but the fans that come out for games at XL are just as big of a part of Husky Nation as anyone else and I cannot WAIT for the AAC tournament because these fans are going to bring it over and over again. I expect every game that we play in the conference tournament to be like this, and it is going to be really really difficult to beat all of UConn Country fighting for our lives.
Ok, that is my rant about Hartford being better than what people give it credit for.
But yeah, Rodney, can't say enough good things about him today with all he's been through. Just played with so much confidence.
Tim Fontenault: Quick rebuttal on Hartford. That crowd was awesome for most of the game. There were times when I wanted more, but they rose to the occasion.
The fans are going to help UConn drastically in the tournament. Markus Kennedy jokingly told Ryan Boatright that it's not fair that the tournament is here this year, according to Rodney Purvis in postgame interviews. I think UConn can win this thing for sure.
My fear is long term. I don't think XL Center is viable. It certainly isn't as it is today. But to do what they want there, UConn would likely have to become an actual tenant. That terrifies me. That means less games at Gampel than there already are. It will likely become more difficult to recruit because of that. It's an unknown, but a really terrifying one.
Anyway, oh my goodness, Rodney. In case anyone forgot, Ferraris are better than Mustangs. That kid was out of control today. From the first possession, you knew it was going to be a good day.
Most impressive about his game Sunday was his foul shooting. It was perfect. That opened everything else up. He said he wasn't afraid to drive because he knew he could make those shots at the line. Incredible performance.
Gionfriddo: He was just so aggressive from the start. After knocking down those two three-pointers early, SMU had to respect it which allowed him drive into the lane pretty easily at times and do things like that ridiculous dunk. He was also extremely in it defensively, getting into the passing lanes at times to create turnovers. I know he's been extremely inconsistent at times, but I don't see him dropping off too much after that performance. I'm not saying more 28 point games, but I just feel like his confidence is now through the roof which is huge for him.
And then there was Daniel Hamilton in the second half, hitting big shot after big shot including that behind the back pull up jumper in the lane over Nic Moore which led to a Larry Brown timeout and caused the raucous crowd to follow Big Red's lead. And then there was Ryan Boatright's defense on Moore, holding him to just 3-for-13 shooting. (Boatight on offense was also absolutely fantastic).
Just so many good things from the game that this team now has to fully believe they can do what it takes to get to the NCAA Tournament. Proved it to us fans and more importantly, to themselves.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Daniel Hamilton is going to be a UConn megastar. That three he hit to bring the score to 54-53 was a legit NBA three. He just sized up his man and let that shot fly. He was beyond impressive in that second half, maybe even more so than Purvis. Just all over the floor, he was a menace.
Gionfriddo: We've been saying all season how we need a second scorer, and today showed what it looks like to have two "second scorers!" The ball could have gone to either Boatright, Hamilton or Purvis at the end of the shot clock and each one would have made a play. It was really something to watch. Also Phil's foul line jumper!?!?
We showed our ultimate potential today and it'll be interesting to see if we can maintain it in our last two regular season games against Memphis and Temple. I'm not as worried about Memphis since it is Senior Night and I expect Gampel to be pretty rowdy (it is a Thursday). Plus, Boat has to go out with a win. But yeah, I'm with you Tim, if we can duplicate this level of play, then wowzers, watch out.
Fontenault: Memphis was a game where UConn was the victim of two rarities: a surprisingly quiet game from Ryan Boatright and a career game from Kedren Johnson. Temple, Boatright was out for the last 25 minutes. Both are winnable this week.
Boatright seemed relieved after the game. He finally has help. This is around the time in the year when Kemba started getting help from Lamb and Oriakhi. Boatright is getting more of that and from a deeper team. Look out.
Gionfriddo: Also with Memphis, not sure about the status of Austin Nichols. I know he got hurt in their loss to SMU last game, but even if he plays, Phil shut him down in the second half. So basically Thursday can't come soon enough.
Fontenault: I like how UConn matches up with Nichols. The Huskies were not locked in early at FedExForum and it hurt them.
There is a greater focus now, it seems. Stupid turnovers have been down. Shots are going in. The team looks like it's enjoying its basketball. There's no way they send Boatright and Pat Lenehan out of Gampel Pavilion on a losing note. Not a chance. Everyone knows what's up right now. I expect the Gampel faithful to be at pre-Holmes Texas levels Thursday.
DeCarlo: It seems like the tide has turned with this team. Fans are starting to come around, the team itself seems happier and looser and obviously playing their best ball of the season. The crowd at Gampel needs to match the team's intensity.
I hope the standing ovation Ryan Boatright gets never ends. He isn't Kemba, he isn't Shabazz. He's Boat. And soon enough, No. 11 will be in the Huskies of Honor.
Gionfriddo: Couldn't agree more. He has matured and become a great leader for this young team and he deserves the same applause and appreciation that Kemba and Shabazz got during their final seasons.
Fontenault: He reminds me of Shabazz a lot. They both came in with a bit of an ego that they had not earned. Over time, they matured into leaders and all-time great Huskies. I think one of the things that makes me love Boatright so much is the situation his freshman year. The Huskies were at Notre Dame, and the night before the game, Jim Calhoun had to tell him he was not playing because of the investigation into his eligibility, which had re-emerged. According to accounts of the situation, Boatright broke down in front of Calhoun, who consoled him. That was a real moment from a player who loves the game and loves this team.
Boatright chose UConn late, remember. He was committed to USC. He ended up in Storrs, and he has said many times that this is where he belongs. I don’t think that has been obvious with some players like it has been with him.
Gionfriddo: Wow I had no idea that he/anyone broke down in front of Calhoun, but that just shows his passion for this program and for the game of basketball which you have to respect. I, along with all of Husky Nation, will certainly miss him next year but he has without a doubt left his mark on this program in a positive way.