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Roundtable: Storming the court after an era-defining win for UConn men’s basketball

UConn fans and students brought their A-game Tuesday night and were rewarded with a quality win worth storming the court for.

Isaiah Whaley celebrates during UConn’s 71-69 win over Villanova at the XL Center.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The age-old court storming debate made its way to UConn Tuesday night, as students rushed the court following the Huskies’ 71-69 win over No. 8 Villanova. With everything the program, players and students have been through over the past few years, The UConn Blog staff weighed in on the impact of this game in terms of the Dan Hurley era and the students storming the XL Center floor for the first time in recent memory.

Patrick Martin: Right after the win, I texted a college hoops group chat not thrilled about the court storming. After some healthy roasting, it took all of five minutes to realize my mistake. It was UConn’s first win against a top-10 team in the regular season since 2013. The pandemic and AAC did a number on fans and students alike. This was one of the best college basketball games of the year. It was Villanova, the class of the new Big East. Dan Hurley was ejected in one of the most controversial calls ever. The XL Center looked as rowdy as it has been in years. There was something symbolic to it all; a changing of the guard after having finally toppled UConn’s kryptonite. You could also see how much it meant to the players who have never been in this moment before. Let them have their fun.

Shawn McGrath: I agree. I attended UConn from the 2014-15 season, during which the right corner at Gampel Pavilion resulted in two 3-pointers to end two consecutive games, to the 2017-18 season, when Kevin Ollie was fired and the program reached its rock bottom, in terms of on-court product, off-court dysfunction and fan interest. The Class of 2018 missed the dual national titles, had a three-quarters court Jalen Adams prayer give the team its only NCAA Tournament appearance, and an NIT loss to Arizona State at home. The kids that were seniors in high school when I graduated are now in their final semester at UConn. Aside from a singular highlight, the Huskies haven’t been truly nationally relevant since the current crop of students were in middle school.

This program has been rising since Hurley was hired and this win is the culmination of that. It’s been a long time since UConn was “back” and it’s been nearly a decade since the Huskies beat a top-10 team. Don’t make a habit of it, but this was this era’s sliding door moment. Hurley has been building toward a massive win at a sold-out building against a highly-ranked team and they finally got it. This was for all the graduating classes between mine and theirs that experienced too many 9 p.m. Tuesday night tip-offs against Tulsa on ESPNU, with both teams battling in an ugly game to maybe put themselves in tournament position, not the No. 8 team in the nation and longtime rival with large NCAA Tournament implications.

Ryan Goodman: I also had the same reaction as Patrick right after seeing the court storming but quickly went back on this when I started to think of truly how important this win was for UConn as a program. A fanbase that hasn’t seen a conference game this meaningful since the old Big East days. Yes, they went on that magical run in 2014 behind the wizardry of Shabazz Napier, but I could argue after that, this Villanova game was the most important single game that this program and fanbase has experienced since then. To grind out a win like this against a top-10 rival who you haven’t beaten in over eight years, and who has flat out dominated this conference ever since the restructure, is nothing short of spectacular.

Dan Madigan: Fifteen years ago, beating Villanova wasn’t a miracle so much as an expectation. But a lot of things have changed since then, and I originally felt how Patrick and Ryan did before trying to take a step back and see the bigger picture. So many of the UConn students in the stands today have had their college experience impacted tremendously by COVID-19. It’s not out of the question to think that this was the first big game with a rocking crowd that they were able to attend as students.

For the full 40 minutes, the student section and crowd as a whole brought a ton of energy and enthusiasm to a building that has sounded pretty lifeless at times since the last title in 2014. They fully deserved the opportunity to celebrate with a court storm, and the return of the loud, passionate fan base is one of the biggest signs that Hurley has this program rising up once again.