The Huskies from the University of Connecticut and their spirited fans made Madison Square Garden their home court and Shabazz Napier put on a display of great point-guard play reminiscent of former UConn guard Kemba Walker three years ago as they defeated Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and Michigan State in the Elite 8 to advance to the Final Four.
Unable to play in their final Big East Tournament before moving to the American Athletic Conference, UConn and their fans made the most of their return to Madison Square Garden, creating a home-court advantage that was easy to decipher. Napier scored 19 and 25 points, respectively, including a heat-check three-point shot with a defender on him in the last five minutes of the game Sunday that will live in highlights forever.
UConn took a lead early, but the Spartans roared back and held the lead that seemed to clear the path for them to return to the Final Four. Then UConn head coach Kevin Ollie called a timeout. “Coach told to us they made their run and it was time for us to make ours. And when Coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I got to be more aggressive, and I got open shots when my teammates got me the ball and we just kept running. And guys were just making shots. Guys were just feeling the intensity that the fans were bringing, and we just were fortunate enough to get the W,” Napier said after the win.
It was a spectacular performance in the NCAA in its return to Madison Square Garden, something that hadn’t happened since 1961. I spoke with Earvin Magic Johnson about its return. “It’s fabulous. First of all this is the mecca of basketball,” and added that MSG is a “beautiful arena, what they’ve done, all of the improvements” as he marveled at the renovations. He also discussed the joy it brings to alumni of schools like his alma mater, Michigan State. “I think people love to come to New York, the fans and hang out, have a good time while they also see great college and NCAA basketball.”
UConn will face the Florida Gators on Saturday at 6pm, a team they defeated earlier this season. In the nightcap, the Kentucky Wildcats, who became the first team ever to knock off three teams who were in the Final Four last year (Wichita State, Louisville, and Michigan), will face Wisconsin. If the action that takes place Saturday and Monday are anything like what we’ve seen thus far in the tournament, it is must-see television.
I had the opportunity to speak with former New York Knicks head coach Larry Brown, a native New Yorker, about returning to Madison Square Garden with SMU to compete in the NIT, which takes place Tuesday and Thursday at MSG. “It’s great. Half of my team has never been here.” Brown then reminisced about personal experiences at the Garden. “I grew up watching the (Harlem) Globetrotters and the NIT when it was bigger than the NCAA. I have never walked in the place and wasn’t in awe.” Brown has not publicly disparaged the selection committee for the Mustangs missing the big tournament. “All four teams here were hopeful of getting in (the NCAA tournament) but we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Brown later expressed his thoughts on the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. I’ll be “rooting for Connecticut like crazy. We are in the same conference and (UConn head coach) Kevin (Ollie) is family.” Many in the New York region are with Brown and his rooting interests.
Below is the interview with Earvin Magic Johnson