Text by Dom Amore, Hartford Courant; video by Mike Magnoli, FOX CT
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Some of the Huskies know the thrill of winning a national championship, and most know the emptiness of being barred from postseason play.
But perhaps the most important experience of all came in between, when UConn lost to Iowa State in its first game of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not going to happen again, we refuse to let it happen again,” Ryan Boatright said. “Losing in the first round, then not being able to play last year, it sticks with you. We’re going into this game hungry, we’re going into this tournament hungry as a collective group.”
Said coach Kevin Ollie: “They’re not taking anything for granted because they know a special moment can be taken away from them.”
Two years ago, UConn had two soon-to-be NBA lottery picks in Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, and had everyone but Kemba Walker back from the championship team. But coach Jim Calhoun missed nine games, three to a suspension and six to a back ailment, and the Huskies season became disjointed. They were a No. 9 seed, and Iowa State, the No. 8 seed, won 77-64 in the second-round game at Louisville in what proved to be Calhoun’s final game.
“The biggest thing is play each team with a lot of respect,” senior Shabazz Napier said. “That’s one thing where we fell short against Iowa State. We didn’t play them with a lot of respect, we kind of thought we were better. We were looking too far ahead. Sometimes that occurs, but we’ve got better leaders now. Sophomore year I wasn’t the leader I should have been.”
The Huskies, therefore, have healthy respect for St. Joseph’s, their opponent Thursday at 6:55 p.m. at the First Niagara Center. St. Joe’s (24-9) comes in off a stirring run to the Atlantic 10 tournament championship.
UConn (26-8) is seeded seventh in the East Regional; the Hawks are seeded 10th.