Kevin Duffy: No element of shock with these Huskies
Updated 1:05 am, Sunday, April 6, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's been 15 years since Connecticut solidified its status, since one of the most celebrated teams in NCAA history saw its 32-game win streak snapped, since Jim Calhoun leapt into the arms of his assistant, Dave Leitao, and Khalid El-Amin leapt onto the scorer's table.
A decade and a half later, as Calhoun limped alone toward the UConn locker room, smiling and waving to the fans leaning over the rail shouting his name, as El-Amin looked on from the stands, you had to wonder¦.
Shock the world?
Nah, nothing should shock you anymore.
Not the 165-pound Ryan Boatright wrestling away a rebound from the cartoon muscles of Patric Young. Not a freakishly quick 11-0 run that injected doubt into what was unanimously predicted to be Florida's 31st consecutive victory. Not the seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies bouncing the two favorites from the tournament that the Connecticut Huskies just seem to own.
"This is what UConn has built for years," coach Kevin Ollie said in the wake of the latest should-be stunner, a 63-53 win over powerhouse Florida.
"I keep saying, the bigger the problem, the bigger the destiny," Ollie said. "We knew this destiny was coming."
Except Florida was the team of destiny, wasn't it? When the Louisville Courier-Journal asked 15 national writers for their title game picks Friday, every last one of them projected the Gators to advance to the final.
"People didn't even have us winning in the first round," said junior DeAndre Daniels.
As this college basketball season began to take shape, the Gators began to devour everyone. There hadn't been a team steamrolling into the NCAA tournament like this since '99 Duke. And no, the Gators weren't loaded with six first round picks; actually, they don't have any, but they did have a fiery group that proved mentally tough as it was physically imposing.
They had a 30-game win streak that began after Shabazz Napier's buzzer-beater -- oh, that lucky buzzer-beater -- dropped through the Gampel Pavilion net on Dec. 2.
They had gone 124 days without a loss. They were certain to bull their name into the conversation: You have 2012 Kentucky, 2007 Florida, 2005 Carolina and 2004 UConn. Somewhere, you'd have these Gators. Somewhere, you'd have the team that had breezed through the South regional, the team that had the Huskies in a death-grip as soon as the ball was tipped Saturday.
When it was 16-4 Gators, Ollie wrote on the white board, "Even now faith."
"Even now we're down 16-4, you're going to have faith in each other," he told his kids.
Napier told them to relax, told them to stay positive. He told them, as Amida Brimah recalled, "we've been in this position before."
That much is true. What hasn't happened before is 11 points in 1:43, a pair of DeAndre Daniels 3-pointers, a longball from Ryan Boatright and a layup from Terrence Samuel completing what must be the fastest 11-0 run ever. After it, Florida was never the same.
Perhaps it was the shock of uncertainty, a sure victory now a toss-up. Perhaps it was the defense -- the Level Five, as Ollie would say. Ryan Boatright, once again, was phenomenal. Scottie Wilbiken finished 2-for-9 with four points, his second-lowest output in the past two years. Sharpshooter Michael Frazier got three shots. Florida mustered three assists. For the game. It committed 11 turnovers.
"That's crazy," Wilbiken said. "All credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on us."
Napier hit a 3-pointer to start the second half. Then Daniels, who's been at Level Six or Seven or 20 lately, hammered home a thunderous dunk in the lane. Boatright added a dunk on a run out, and then snatched the ball from Young on a defensive rebound.
Florida's four-month grip on destiny was loosening. UConn had ripped it away.
"This is what we were supposed to do," said senior Tyler Olander.
It was a done deal after the Niels Giffey dunk, the senior hanging on the rim with 1:45 left and UConn up, 61-49. Napier exited holding his index finger high in the air. They've got one more to go, he said.
Before cameras rushed into the locker room, there was a brief celebration. Nothing too wild.
It was a low-key scene. Team managers kept to themselves, shoveling down post-game meals; players sat quietly at their lockers; Calhoun, beaming and leaning back in a swivel chair, entertained a mass of reporters seeking his reaction.
Three of his kids are here for a second time, Napier, Olander and Giffey the holdovers from that crazy 2011 championship run.
Olander recounted his giddiness from 2011. Remember that floppy-haired kid whipping his towel like a maniac when UConn won? Remember Giffey, the baby-faced small forward who gave Calhoun 24 stellar minutes versus Butler?
Now rocking a reddish playoff beard, there was Giffey at his locker Saturday, calmly discussing the magic, why it happens like this at UConn, what it feels like.
"It's amazing, it's unbelievable," Giffey said.
He paused, reflecting for a moment, as he often does.
"You know," Giffey said. "I feel like I should be more excited and happy about this."
It feels like the shock factor is gone.