UConn seeking 'prize' in NCAAs, starting with Hawks
STORRS, Conn. - Even when you know you are going to the NCAA Tournament, the time it takes to learn your assignment can seem like a decade.
"I didn't even know what was going on," freshman Amida Brimah said. "This is my first time knowing this is what happens. I was a little bit nervous. I was more relieved when I saw our name."
When the Connecticut Huskies gathered at Gampel Pavilion to watch the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday night, they learned they would be the No. 7 seed in the East Regional and face 10th-seeded St. Joseph's on Thursday at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
The No. 7 seed was lower than nearly all bracket analysts expected. But the American Athletic Conference was undervalued in the seedings - tournament champ Louisville was a No. 4 seed. Larry Brown's Southern Methodist, long considered a lock, was left out of the NCAA tournament altogether.
"I'm happy with the seeding," said UConn's coach, former 76er Kevin Ollie. "You always want to get a lower seed, but I'm happy for our team. This is their prize for a great season and a great tournament down in Memphis. Now, we have to see what we're going to do with that prize."
Connecticut had a number of quality wins during its out-of-conference schedule, including a victory over Florida, the top overall seed in this tournament, on Dec. 2. The Huskies lost twice to Southern Methodist and three times to Louisville but finished tied for third in the AAC at 12-6, and advanced to the tournament final, losing to Louisville on Saturday.
The Hawks (24-9), are one of six Atlantic 10 teams in the tournament, and the Hawks beat Virginia Commonwealth in the A-10 title game Sunday. Those are strong credentials for a No. 10 seed.
If the Huskies (26-8) beat St. Joe's, they would play the winner of No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday in Buffalo. The survivor among those four advances to Madison Square Garden for the regional final the following week.
UConn reached the AAC final on Saturday and lost to Louisville. Most analysts expected the Huskies to be a No. 5 seed.
Though there was no chance they would be left out, UConn's name was called near the end of the selection show and freshmen such as Brimah and Terrence Samuel were getting nervous, before senior Shabazz Napier calmed them down.
"It's been a while," Napier said. "Guys were asking me how to react - I didn't know. It's been two years."
Connecticut is returning to the tournament after being forced to sit out last year because of NCAA academic sanctions. The program won the 2011 national championship, but lost in the first round in 2012.
"I stayed, I gave myself this opportunity," Napier said. "The journey is still in progress. I want to hoist that trophy at the end of the day, I want to get as close to it as I possibly can."
"There were some dark days there," Ollie said. "But everybody in life is going to have dark days. I'm just so proud of the guys, how they stayed together, planting seeds."