It was a celebratory afternoon at Gampel Pavilion as the UConn men’s basketball team concluded the regular season.
The Huskies took care of business against an overmatched UCF to cruise to a 67-46 victory on Senior Day.
The Huskies bid farewell to Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun, Nnamdi Amilo, Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller.
“First of all, I just want to thank our seniors. They’ve been with mehere from day one, through all the ups and downs. Through a ban, through a change of conference, through a change of coach. They stayed loyal to us and to the program,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said.
The pregame ceremony was a touching tribute to the five seniors and served as a reminder of the accomplishments they each brought to the program.
As for the actual game, well, the two sides played 40 minutes and there was a winner and a loser. Truth be told, it was one of the sloppiest games of the season, but it was a nice return to form for the UConn (21-10, 11-7 The American) defense.
The Huskies held UCF (12-17, 6-12 The American) to 34.8 percent shooting and allowed just 16 made field goals. Coming off a 26-point debacle at SMU, UConn’s defensive effort was key.
“We were just playing hard,” Ollie said. “Our pick-and-roll defense was great. I just think people been putting us in a lot of pick-and-rolls and we haven’t been covering them up to our abilities…I thought we did a good job today. We really showed out on the pick-and-roll and really squeezed the paint.”
Offensively, it was a group effort for the Huskies. Five players had at least seven points, with forward Daniel Hamilton leading the way with 12. Hamilton struggled through a scoreless first half before catching fire in the second. He was even benched to start the second half, a strange sight to see.
“(Hamilton) responded the right way…he came on and played wonderfully,” Ollie said. “We put a couple more plays in there for him that got him going a little bit then he got himself going. That’s all we want. That’s the type of production we want.”
Sterling Gibbs had 10 points, the only other UConn player in double figures.
Tacko Fall, UCF’s 7’6” freshman center, paced the Knights with 13 points.
The Knights were able to hang around throughout the first half, thanks to some sloppy play. UConn committed six turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, leading to seven points for UCF. UConn led by just six heading into the locker room.
“I thought our team got off to a good start which was important coming into this atmosphere,” UCF coach Donnie Jones said. “We knew there was going to be a lot of emotion in here today.”
The Huskies were able to rally in the second half, exploding to a 15 point advantage to seal the victory.
UConn has wrapped up the regular season and are locked into a matchup with Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Bearcats swept the season series this year.
For the second consecutive year, the Huskies remain firmly on the bubble for NCAA tournament consideration.
UConn needs to have a substantial presence in the conference tournament next week to solidify their tenuous position.
Ollie knows the precarious situation his team is in right now.
“I feel good. We had our ups and downs. I’m going to look at this game and feel really, really good. I like how we’re playing. We had some up and downs, hopefully we learn from it and continue to grow from it. 21-10, we had some great wins. Hopefully every that’s making decisions out there see the quality wins we do have,” Ollie said.
UConn is next in action on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament to face Cincinnati.