UConn Day in History: When the Huskies became the Top Dog

The Daily Campus cover from the day that the UConn men's basketball team won its first national title. (Archive/The Daily Campus)

In their first ever Final Four and National Championship game, the 1998-1999 UConn Huskies won their first ever NCAA Men’s Division Tournament on March 29, 1999 as they defeated the heavy favorite Duke Blue Devils 77-74. Despite being the No. 1 ranked team in the AP poll and a No. 1 seed in the tournament, the Huskies were a 9.5 point underdog to the Blue Devils, as their upset of Duke was the biggest point spread win since Villanova defeated Georgetown in the perfect game.

The Huskies entered the Big East tournament 22-2 and the No. 3 team in the nation, as they swept through the Big East and entered March Madness 25-2 and a No. 1 seed in the west region. UConn beat No. 16 seed UTSA in the first round by 25, No. 9 New Mexico by 22 and No. 5 Iowa by 10 to get them to the Elite 8 against Gonzaga.

Back in 1999, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were not much of a team as this was their coming out party to the world. The No. 10 seed Bulldogs took UConn to the brink as head coach Jim Calhoun and the Huskies survived and moved to their first ever Final Four in program history.

In St. Petersburg, Florida, UConn beat No. 4 seed Ohio State by six points as it set up a date with the No. 1 overall Duke Blue Devils who were riding a 32 game winning streak and a then NCAA record 37 wins. Duke that season had Naismith coach of the year Mike Krzyzewski and Naismith player of the year Elton Brand, as their squad features four NBA first round draft picks.

The Huskies that season were led by future NBA players Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl and future NBA champion Richard “Rip” Hamilton.  In the upset win, Hamilton had 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists as his last make in the tournament against Duke is to be forever remembered as the last show shown in the famous “One Shining Moment” video from that season.  

As a result of his superb play, Hamilton was named the ‘Most Outstanding Player’ of the tournament as he scored 145 points and scored the game-high 27 points in the finals. He went on to be drafted by the Washington Wizards seventh overall in the 1999 draft but he is best known for his time on the Detroit Pistons where he won an NBA championship and was named an All-Star league in three consecutive seasons.

For the Huskies, this national championship brought them over the hump of College Basketball as it pushed the program to an elite level. UConn now won four men’s national championships as this was the kick start the men’s program.

Oddly enough, the 1999 Final Four was the first and last to be held in a baseball-specific facility as the games were played on Tropicana Field which is home to the Tampa Bay Rays. That year’s championship is also the only NCAA championship won by the UConn men that did not take place in the state of Texas.


Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at matthew.kren@uconn.edu.