The UConn men’s basketball team ended its regular season on Sunday afternoon. It was a nice way to finish off the regular season for the Huskies.
Before the game, the team honored its five seniors — Nnamdi Amilo, Sterling Gibbs, Shonn Miller, Phil Nolan and Omar Calhoun — with a Senior Day ceremony in front of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion.
And then, UConn overcame a bit of a slow start and held Central Florida to 35 percent shooting to beat the Knights, 67-46, to end their season with a win, giving the Huskies an ounce of momentum heading into postseason play.
So what’s next for UConn?
On Friday, UConn (21-10, 11-7 the American) will open play in the American Athletic Conference tournament in Orlando, Florida. And the Huskies still some have work to do if they want to make the NCAA tournament.
“We still have work to do,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We don’t want to put it up in their (the committee) hands. We want to make sure we’re in there for sure. So I just want to take every minute and coach these guys the way I know I can coach them and make sure they believe no matter what were going through.”
UConn still has everything to play for. They certainly aren’t a lock (in or out) for the tournament right now. A loss on Friday could put the Huskies out of the NCAA tournament, but a win could possibly cement their spot in it.
“We’re still hungry for more,” senior Omar Calhoun said. “We want to win the conference tournament, that’s our mindset and from there we’ll see what happens.”
After missing the tournament a year ago, expectations coming into the 2015 season were high, especially with the additions of graduate transfers Gibbs and Miller. But the Huskies underachieved. All year long UConn struggled with consistency. After a five-game winning streak in December, UConn hasn’t put together more than three wins in a row since.
A lot of the games UConn lost very easily could have been won. And that’s what makes them tough to swallow looking back at the end of the year.
They lost to Temple at home when Josh Brown hit a game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds left. They were up by 11 in the first half at Tulsa, but got outscored by nine in the second half and lost by that much. They lost to Cincinnati at home after giving up a three-point play to Gary Clark with 12 seconds left. They lost to Houston at home after getting outscored by eight points in the second half. And SMU beat UConn by 26 last Thursday.
The Huskies played just four ranked opponents this season (1-3). They lost to No. 10 Gonzaga in the Bahamas, No. 6 Maryland at Madison Square Garden and at No. 24 SMU. The one win was six-point victory against SMU at home when the Mustangs were ranked No. 21.
In conference, the Huskies beat Memphis twice, Houston, Tulsa and the win against SMU. The Huskies have wins against non-conference opponents such as Michigan in the Bahamas, Ohio State and Georgetown at home and away against Texas.
“You know, 21 and 10, we had some great wins and hopefully everybody that’s making decisions out there see the quality wins that we do have,” Ollie said.
On Sunday, ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi had UConn as a No. 11 seed playing in a play-in game.
“I feel good,” Ollie said about his team. “We had our ups and downs but I’m going to look at this game and feel real, real good. I like how we’re playing and we had some ups and downs and hopefully we learn from it and continue to grow from it.”
Central Florida coach Donnie Jones said after Sunday’s game that UConn is without a doubt a tournament team.
“Obviously they have senior experience,” he said. “They’ve shown, obviously with some of the wins they’ve had against Texas and Georgetown and some of these teams outside of the league, that they can play with anybody across the country.”
UConn will play Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament on Friday at 2 p.m. The Bearcats have already beaten the Huskies twice this season. If the Huskies were to get past Cincinnati, they would likely play Temple, who also beat the Huskies twice this season.
“If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is,” Ollie said. “We’ll take it day-by-day and minute-by-minute and then wherever it falls it falls. But we got to play hard. We got to play aggressive. We can’t play like we’re in the tournament, anything like that. We’re fighting for our lives and we want to play with that desperation and hopefully these guys understand that.”