UConn trying to match Duke '91, '92

Originally Published: March 15, 2005
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Connecticut was in the same predicament a year ago, right?

Last season, the Huskies were a No. 2 seed and won the title.

This year, the Huskies are a No. 2 seed and could ... should ... will win the title?

The Huskies certainly think it's plausible.

For whatever reason, UConn's repeating hasn't been a focal point of discussion this season. Our best guess is because the Huskies lost the two players who are competing for Rookie of the Year in the NBA – Emeka Okafor (drafted No. 2 overall by the Bobcats) and Ben Gordon (No. 3 to the Bulls).

The biggest hurdle to repeating, though, isn't the Huskies' talent, but rather the bracket the selection committee put UConn in this week.

A year ago, the Huskies were downgraded to a No. 2 seed only because of a few hiccups during the season when Gordon broke his nose and Okafor hurt his back. Those Huskies lost six games, four in the Big East.

But the committee put them in the same bracket with the second weakest No. 1 (Stanford) and UConn proceeded to blitz through the bracket to the Final Four (Alabama beat Stanford in the second round and then Connecticut beat Alabama in the Elite Eight).

This March, the selection committee gave the Huskies a favor by putting them the closest to home of any team in the bracket (including the four No. 1 seeds) by placing the Huskies in Worcester, Mass. – only 48 miles from their campus in Storrs, Conn.

But looming in this bracket is a potential dangerous second-round game against either Charlotte or N.C. State and possible Sweet 16 and/or Elite Eight matchups against Kansas and then either North Carolina, Florida or Villanova.

"We're picked to go to the Final Four with North Carolina and Kansas in our bracket," said sophomore Josh Boone. "But we can compete with anybody to get back to the Final Four."

Why?

"We're one of the best rebounding teams in the country and block shots and that says a lot about our frontcourt and our guards," Boone said. "We have one of the best young point guards in the nation in sophomore Marcus Williams. He's been sensational down the stretch and is the leader we were missing early in the year."

This has been an odd year in Storrs. The preseason got off to a rocky start when assistant coach Clyde Vaughan was arrested for solicitation in Hartford. He was dismissed.

Preparation was disrupted by the jarring news that incoming freshman A.J. Price was fighting for his life after a brain hemorrhage. Price fought through the illness and is expected to make a full recovery.

Then, during the season, Rashad Anderson had an infection on his thigh that got into his lungs and kidneys and nearly killed him. He has returned to play in the last week.

"It wasn't that we just lost Emeka and Ben but we lost our assistant coach that worked with the big men and then losing A.J. and Rashad made this a difficult year," Boone said. "But we came back and tied with Boston College for the Big East title. It's a huge accomplishment and a great feeling that we have been able to make it back. To get to the Final Four would be absolutely incredible."

The Huskies didn't have the look of a defending champ earlier in the season, losing to UMass and falling at home to Boston College and North Carolina.

Things have changed. UConn had won 10 of its previous 11 games before losing to Syracuse in the Big East tournament semifinals. During that stretch, the Huskies won at Syracuse and Pittsburgh and beat Villanova and Notre Dame. The only loss was a close game with the Tar Heels, without Anderson.

"The Pittsburgh game was the one that showed we could," Calhoun said. "We didn't play well in New York. [Now] we've got arguably the toughest road to get to St. Louis."

A year ago, Calhoun said he believed the Huskies were the best team in the field. He said the Huskies were the best team entering the tournament since the 1996 Kentucky team that won the title.

He's not about to go there with this group. But winning consecutive crowns isn't a reach, either.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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