PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- As Kevin Ollie strolled to the podium at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, he gave two quick tugs to his suit, exhaled once and neatly summed up Thursday's 82-79 thriller over Providence.

"Guys," Ollie said. "I don't know what to tell you."

For years, no matter how many lottery picks were stacked on Jim Calhoun's roster, the slogan at the Dunkin' Donuts Center has been "Providence runs on UConn." And no matter how low they dropped in the league standings, the Friars always ran UConn out of this tiny gym. That's the script.

Last year, it was a 15-point lead that evaporated, a dynamite frontcourt that was thoroughly outplayed. In the aftermath of a 33-10 eruption that cost the Huskies the game, it was Roscoe Smith with his go-to line -- "Congratulations to Providence; they have a great organization" -- and Shabazz Napier with a gem of his own.

"No disrespect to them, but this is one of the games that you put a `W' by before you even play it," he said.

Last year, UConn's Dunkin' Run put a blemish on an already shaky tournament resume. That Feb. 28 collapse had the Huskies on the outside looking in, under the dreaded "work to do" category.

Last year, UConn qualified for the NCAA tournament when it looked like it didn't care about going. Today, UConn -- on the wrong end of a historically embarrassing rebounding margin -- deserves to be there. It really does.

And it's a damn shame that the Huskies' season has a hard end-date of March 9.

Big East commissioner Mike Aresco put the case to rest on Monday -- by no surprise. The odds of the league presidents reversing the ban were always minuscule. This whole time, UConn has operated under the presumption that there is no postseason. The whole year, they've listened to chants and seen signs in the crowd like one Thursday: "A.P.R. -- Almost Passed Reading."

Truth is, these kids aren't the culprits. Aresco acknowledged that the Huskies' grades have improved. If the NCAA really wanted to, it could have used the most recent NCAA data, which would have made the Huskies eligible. Fair or unfair, it's a battle that UConn has finally surrendered.

"I know a lot of teams are pretty happy they don't have to play us," said UConn sophomore Ryan Boatright. "We can be real scary."

Almost as scary as Thursday's box score: Providence (we're not talking Kansas here) held a plus-31 edge on the boards. 55-24. Eighteen on the offensive end ... in the first half. Twenty-eight for the game.

"I've never seen that in my whole life," Boatright said.

Guess TV stations in Aurora, Ill., didn't pick up that Seton Hall/St. John's showdown from '97, the last Big East contest featuring such a ridiculous margin. St. John's topped The Hall 64-33 on the glass that night. As you'd imagine, the Johnnies were victorious.

And that begs the question: Before Thursday, has there ever been a team -- at any level -- that was outrebounded by 31 and still won?

Furthermore, has Kevin Ollie ever envisioned finishing a game -- a win, nonetheless -- with Niels Giffey at center?

"I didn't have a five man or a four man left, but we had each other," Ollie said.

That's a classic Ollie line. This was truly a classic 2012-13 UConn game.

As we get deeper into the conference schedule, the bracketologists will make their projections. A Hartford Courant story this past week pegged UConn as a No. 8 or 9 seed, right where it was a year ago when it succumbed to that 33-10 Providence run.

"When it got tough like that, when they made all those runs, we would have folded last year," Boatright said Thursday.

This time around, there isn't enough newspaper space to describe the Huskies' resolve: DeAndre Daniels securing the ball in traffic and connecting with Boatright for a fast-break layup that tied it, 43-43. A Daniels 3-point play with 4:17 left, tying it again at 59 apiece. A Napier 3 after Bryce Cotton evened it at 61. An Omar Calhoun foul-line jumper late in regulation. And, of course, Calhoun's dagger from the right corner with 42 ticks in overtime.

And isn't that what postseason basketball is all about?

The most captivating teams in March aren't necessarily the ones with NBA big men or multiple lottery picks. They're the ones that gut out wins by any means necessary, the ones that get destroyed on the glass, overcome some truly horrific officiating, leave the floor with a 6-foot-7 back-up small forward at center and still -- somehow -- leave with a win.

This UConn squad has some magic in it. Maybe not Final Four magic, but this is the type of team -- pesky in the backcourt, electric in transition -- capable of pulling off an upset or two. We've already seen it with Michigan State. They were right there with N.C. State, too.

"The closer you get to March, man," Boatright said, "And I was just talking to the team yesterday (about that). I honestly feel like if we could have gotten into the tournament, we could have made some serious noise."

By night's end Thursday, the noise in the Dunkin' Donuts Center was minimal, Friar fans shuffling out, clutching their "Almost Passed Reading" posters. For this UConn squad, that'll have to suffice.; @KevinRDuffy