Man, that was fun. Thoughts after the UConn men beat Houston in front of an amazing crowd.
Storrs: Okay, that was a lot of fun to be part of.
On Thursday night, I took a ride with our UConn men’s basketball beat writer, Patrick Tiscia to take in my first men’s game in a couple of years.
Over the past few years, the men have at times been really hard to watch and while Patrick remained as dedicated as anyone, I was staying busy building LCS on a local level.
Well, I think I experienced a kind of full circle last night as a sold out Gampel Pavilion was back to how it was when the Huskies were the hottest ticket in town and the arena a nightmare for the opposition.
Last night, one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference, the Houston Cougars, came to the country with a 22-7 record (12-4 in the AAC) and a post season they hope will include a run in the NCAA Tournament come late March and early April.
Houston has had the Huskies number, as most of the AAC has since UConn joined the conference but like the rest of the conference, experienced why they should be glad they got the Huskies while they did because this team is happening.
I’ve often said that when a place like Gampel is full as it was last night (a sellout at 10,167) and the energy granted up, it’s a ridiculous place for the opposition to play.
A real, true home court advantage.
Heck, after sitting and soaking in the energy in the building, I felt 10-years younger, as I have at different times over the years we have covered UConn.
To boot, it was Senior Night, always an interesting night when emotions might run a little too high and the energy and control on the court a little lacking.
Not Thursday night.
UConn fell behind 5-0 before blitzing the visitors with an impressive 16-0 run that stunned the Cougars who could do nothing but try and catch up.
Catch up they did though, as Houston threw a gut check at the Huskies with a 32-14 run over the final eleven minutes of the first half to lead 37-30 at the break.
How would the home team react in the second half after expending all that energy in the first 20 only to see it go by the wayside?
A year ago, or even early this year, maybe not so good. A blowout would not have been out of the question but that was before the age of freshman James Bouknight and the leadership of senior Christian Vital.
On a play that seemed top take forever to finish, the multi-talented first year player single handedly brought his team back to within striking distance with a four point play that began with a three pointer from the top of the key that bounced straight up off the back rim before settling back down in the net for a remarkable bucket that with the free throw, made it a 39-36 game with less than two minutes gone in the half.
Bouknight would complete his own 6-0 run with another pair of free throws as the fearlessness of the freshman was on full display.
To say that the energy in the building went through the newly repaired roof at the campus gym would be an understatement.
The UConn fan base had been begging for a night like this and kept the noise and pressure up as the home team went on a 11-0 run with just over nine minutes to play, holding Houston scoreless for nearly five minutes.
Vital showed that senior leadership I mentioned during the run with a steal that led to a Bouknight bucket connecting on a driving layup, a pullup jumper in the lane and another marvelous drive to the rim.
His eight for eight performance at the line down the stretch proved too much for the Cougars to overcome and the Huskies had beaten the last team in the AAC that they had not since head coach Dan Hurley took over a year ago.
About Hurley. What’s not to love?
He has pumped live back into this fan base by getting the students back in a big way.
Heck, Patrick and I got there about an hour before the opening tip and the section was already packed and loud.
They were loud, they were engaged and the rest of the crowd also brought incredible energy and enthusiasm all night long.
At 18-12 (9-8 in the AAC) with one game at Tulsa to go, UConn could be 19-12, 10-8 by the start of next week.
It doesn’t seem to be enough for a shot at the NCAA’s but an NIT trip is almost guaranteed at this point.
Their first winning season since an 18-17 mark after the 16/17 campaign is a welcome sight for a fan base that showed during a good portion of this season that they are back, just like their team.
Man, that was fun.
Here’s to the Big East and Madison Square Garden trips in 2020/2021!