When UConn and Miami tip off in the 2023 Final Four on Saturday, it will mark yet another meeting between two former conference foes in a series that dates back eight decades. The two schools, coming and going out of the Big East for very different reasons, will meet in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Even though it's the first time between the two schools in NCAA tournament play, Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga has his own history in March with the Huskies.
It’s been basically 20 years since Miami, a Big East conference member since 1991, bolted for the ACC in one of the first major rounds of conference realignment. While the Hurricanes came to the Big East for football purposes — and left for the same reason — the basketball team held its own as a formidable competitor in one of the best conferences in college basketball.
Between those 12 years in the Big East, the Canes and UConn had their fair share of battles in a series that first began in 1956. The Huskies edged out Miami on the road on Dec. 27, 1956, with UConn winning 74-70. Thirty-six years later, the two schools met again as conference members.
The Canes and Huskies last played as conference mates on Feb. 18, 2004, but met as recently as 2019 in the third-place game of the Charleston Classic. Dan Hurley and UConn won that game comfortably, 80-55, which served as one of the first major turning points of Hurley’s reclamation project. Canes star Isaiah Wong, along with Harold Beverly and Anthony Walker all appeared off the bench in that game, combining for 16 points.
Overall, UConn and Miami have squared off 25 times, with the Huskies holding a 17-8 all-time advantage. While the Huskies have beaten the Canes at a better than 2-to-1 clip, some of Miami’s wins have come during UConn’s most iconic seasons.
During the 1998-99 season, Leonard Hamilton and the No. 15 Canes upset No. 2 ranked UConn at Gampel with a 73-71 victory in Storrs. The win snapped the Huskies’ 16-game home win streak and dropped the Huskies to 23-2 on the season. It would be the last time UConn lost in 1999, as the Huskies would finish the season on an 11-game win streak to claim the program’s first national title at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida.
Miami was not only the last team to beat the national champion Huskies but the only team that consistently played them close. UConn narrowly escaped with a win earlier in the season in Florida, needing overtime to secure a 70-68 victory.
“I said they were good when we played them the first time,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, “but I guess nobody believed me. They’ll believe me now.”
UConn’s last loss to Miami came in 2003 as the Canes defeated UConn in Miami after an epic duel between Darius Rice and Ben Gordon. Miami erased a four-point deficit with under nine seconds left to steal a 77-76 victory out of the hands of the Huskies. Rice stole an inbounds pass from Shamon Tooles to drill a three as time expired, giving him 43 points on the night. Gordon did everything he could as part of a 32-point effort and helped UConn erase a 14-point first-half deficit, but the Huskies’ offense couldn't keep up late as the Hurricanes scored 13 points in the final minute. The loss to the Canes was one of 10 in the season before the Huskies’ second national title, where they would bow out in the Sweet 16 to Texas.
And then there’s Larrañaga. Before leading Miami to its first-ever Final Four, Larrañaga led 11-seed George Mason on an improbable Final Four run in the 2006 tournament, taking down arguably one of the most talented UConn teams in program history in the process. Larrañaga’s Patriots erased a 12-point deficit to force overtime, then won 86-84 against a 1-seed UConn team that featured five NBA draft picks. George Mason would eventually lose to 3-seed Florida in the Final Four, and Larranaga stayed with the Patriots for five more seasons before swapping the George Mason green and yellow for Miami green and orange. Exactly 17 years after shocking UConn to get to the Final Four, Larrañaga did the same with the Hurricanes, defeating Texas in the Elite Eight to become just the 15th coach ever to lead two different schools to the Final Four.