Despite having followed in the footsteps of a legend (Jim Calhoun), Connecticut Huskies‘ head coach Kevin Ollie may have a leg up on his former coach in the toughness department.
After the second national semifinal was over and Kentucky had punched it’s ticket to the championship game, Wildcats’ head coach John Calipari passed Calhoun and said, “Let’s go at this again.” If you recall, back in 2011, the Huskies edged Kentucky in the Final Four, 56-55, to advance to the title game against Butler. UConn eventually won the title thanks to the stellar play of Kemba Walker.
Though Calhoun no longer mans the bench for the Huskies, he is still very involved in the program, a program he built. He’s at every single game — home and away — and television cameras hone in on him at least a dozen times a game.
Back to Calhoun and Calipari’s meeting after last night’s game. Calhoun responded with, “Yeah, except the other guy’s tougher than me.” Boom!
Jim Calhoun said John Calipari said to him last night, "Let's go at this again." I said, "Yeah, except the other guy's tougher than me."
— David Borges (@DaveBorges) April 6, 2014
Ollie has needed every ounce of his toughness to keep this team together after a one year ban from postseason play thanks to the NCAA’s APR rule, which punished the 2012-13 Huskies despite none of them being responsible. That’s for another day.
So Calhoun has given fair warning to the Wildcats that though they may be the Cinderella of this tournament, UConn has more going for them than a duo of talented guards (Napier and Ryan Boatright) and a forward who’s been lighting it up (DeAndre Daniels). They have a coach who — despite having only two years of head coaching experience under his belt — has instilled a toughness into a team that many didn’t pick to get past St. Joe’s in the second round of the tournament.
In fact, the Huskies have taken down a 1, 2, 3, and 4 seed — a quartet that includes two teams (Florida and Michigan State) that PreGame.com determined were two of the three favorites to win it all (the other, Louisville, beat UConn three times this season).
To say their road to the title game hasn’t been difficult because Villanova was the 2-seed they defeated in the third round is nonsensical. They’re one of the last two standing because they’re a direct reflection of their head coach.
And naturally his team respects him, as Daniels put it, “Everybody listens to him no matter what. He is a great coach. Like I always say, he is like a little version of coach Calhoun.”
It takes one to know one, and UConn has a head coach who’s made a name for himself in just two seasons. Never underestimate a team in which every player has ‘ten toes in,’ as Ollie said after disposing of the top-seeded Gators (for the second time this season).
Pundits were adamant that the Huskies beat the Gators earlier this year when the Gators weren’t the Gators but not that they beat the Gators when they were the Gators, can we start giving credit where credit is due?
Kentucky is a 2.5-point favorite, meaning it’ll be the fifth time in six tournament games the Huskies will be the underdog.
If you’ve learned one thing about UConn this tournament, it’s that you can never count them out. Not as long as Ollie has any thing to do with it — and he will.