Despite all the injuries, the winter storm and cancelled classes in Storrs Friday, the Connecticut basketball team managed to hold its final practice of the season at Gampel Pavilion Friday afternoon.
Sounds weird, huh?
This is that strange moment in the season that everyone had wondered about since the schedule was released. What would it feel like for the Huskies, knowing they were about to play their last game? That isn't a normal predicament in college basketball – with the exception of a tournament championship game.
But that postseason ban from the NCAA, a result of past poor APR performance by the program, was extended last year by the Big East to include the conference tournament in New York. So UConn's season ends Saturday (noon, ESPNU) at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs when the Huskies (19-10, 9-8 Big East) play Providence (17-12, 9-8).
And with the Big East formally announcing Friday that there will be a split of the conference, with the seven Catholic schools leaving to form their own conference, this will be the last time the Huskies and Friars meet as Big East opponents.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie has expressed his sadness over the demise of the Big East many times. On Friday, the first-year coach had no time for sentimentality. UConn remains in a conference, yet to be named, with the other football schools from the Big East.
"My thoughts about the Big East are that [UConn president] Susan Herbst and our athletic director, Warde Manuel, are going to get us in the best position," Ollie said. "If they think this is the best position for us, we're going forward.
"I have to coach a team whether we're in the backyard, or playing in the ACC or the Big East, or whatever they call it. That's my job. Their job is to put us in the right direction. I'm in their boat. I'm ready to go wherever they take us. It's going to be a great ride, a great journey. UConn basketball is going to be here forever. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Ollie met with reporters by conference call Friday afternoon, a decision that was made when the UConn campus received close to 20 inches of snow in Friday's storm.
Here are some of Ollie's thoughts.
Looking back on the season: "I've seen this group make great strides and progress, and sticking together. With all the ups and downs, with people leaving, people coming in different situations academically. They've been standing pat. I'm proud of this team. These last games [three-game losing streak] are not putting any damper on our parade. Other people can write that but we're not writing that in this locker room. We're together, we're confident and, of course, things happen in life but we're making our own meaning out of them. This will be my favorite group forever, how they battled and how they played with each other. Nobody expected anything but the guys in this locker room. If we get beat by 50 tomorrow, that's not going to change anything about the sentiment I have in my heart for these guys. We're going to play hard and when that last buzzer goes off, we're going to have heads high and our chest out."
On injuries to Shabazz Napier (foot) and Omar Calhoun (wrist): "Shabazz is feeling better. Don't know if he's going to be available. Omar's wrist is still hurting really bad. Hopefully he can play through it. If not, we're going to have find somebody else. Leon [Tolkdorf] will fill in and Brendan [Allen] will fill in."
On Tyler Olander's season ending with a fractured foot: "We wanted more production [from Tyler] and I know he wanted to have a better year. But he stayed in the fight. That's the main thing. We're not worried about individual stats. We're worrying about a team that stayed and fought. He did a wonderful job in practice and in the games he tried hard. . . . He's going to have a great senior season. Hopefully he can get over this injury and come back for an even better senior year."
On guard R.J. Evans, graduate student who played one season after transferring from Holy Cross, and will be honored on Senior Day: "He meant a lot. I call him our unpaid coach. He was an energy-giver, not an energy-taker. Every day, he's ready to play and ready to perform. That's sitting on the bench 40 minutes, or playing like he has been playing now for 30 minutes. He's right there with me. He knows his role. He has been a great addition to this program and will always have a special place in our heart."