When it came to the postseason, just about every step that Connecticut made took most people by surprise. Sure, they had a Player of the Year candidate in Kemba Walker and could make some noise in the Big East tournament, but they weren’t supposed to win it all.
When the Huskies did just that, and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, most people thought they’d bow out early. Winning five games in five days at the Big East tournament would certainly have used up all their gas, right? That was the argument that I heard the most.
That’s why, while most people out there seemed to be rooting for underdog Butler in last night’s championship game, that UConn makes just as much of a compelling story as the Cinderella. Winning six consecutive games to win the national championship is impressive enough. Winning 11 in a row in the postseason is unheard of, a feat that will may never be beaten.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun joined ESPN Radio Chicago with Waddle and Silvy to discuss why he thinks it shouldn’t be considered an ugly game, his halftime speech, the Huskies run through the postseason, how this championship compares with his first two, how the team will celebrate and whether or not he’ll return to coach next season.
His argument to those who say it was an ugly title game:
“Calhoun: I keep hearing this game referred to as a bad night. An all time shot blocking record was set in the game. We held a team to 18%. Everybody keeps saying like they know. … It wasn’t a pretty game, no question, and it wasn’t artistically lot of balls going in the basket. But I’ll tell you what. It was two teams competing at the end of a long, long season.”
What did you say to your team at halftime?:
“I said a lot of things, but mainly we need to get our butts going and get back to playing full motion. We’re too good of a basketball team to look like we did in the first half, particularly offensively. We picked the defense up, we trapped some, we had a chance to block a lot of shots, rotation, and just answer the bell. And that’s what I told them at the end. After really going after them, this was too good a team to go out like that. And of course, we didn’t go out. We won the national championship.”
Did he give them a “Shut Up” rant?:
“On this particular one, that was probably the kindest thing I said.”
If someone told him after the first Big East Tournament victory that they’d win the national championship, what would he have said?:
“I would have said ‘Let’s go to the next game, because I have no idea what’s going to happen. Let’s probably get number 2, and until we beat Pittsburgh, who I thought was the best team in our league, I start to feel a little bit different than I thought. … We just were a whole different team during the stretch. We were a good team during the season. Twenty-one wins, beat Tennessee, beat Michigan State, beat Kentucky, etc., but all the little pieces, the young kids coming together, molding.”
How does this championship compare to winning his first two?:
“As sweet as the first one. The middle one was sweet, too, with Emeka and Ben. This ride was sweet because these kids are so young, so little was expected from them and they gave so much.”
How will he and the team celebrate?:
“We’ll enjoy it when we get back to campus today. The Gampel Pavilion with 11-12,000 will be packed. The whole line all the way to the Gampel will be packed with people. Getting to really truly celebrate with friends and family. Then after that, I have some things I need to do as far as looking forward to next year and getting our team ready and then, thank God, I’ll be headed for Hilton Head in mid May, and going down for about ten days for a golf trip with 16 friends of mine. I’ll get plenty of chances with them to celebrate. … They’ve got a state parade in downtown Hartford. I know we already got a call from Dave Letterman. I’m supposed to get a call this morning from Obama. All the great things. So, we’ll have plenty of chances to celebrate, though.”
Will you coach next year?:
“I fully plan on coaching basketball next year. You know, once again, we’ll have time in the next couple of months as I settle down, as we kind of look over everything, and I fully expect that I would. … I’ve always been in love with basketball, I’ve never fallen out of love with basketball, but this team reaffirms me that kind of what we’re doing is worthwhile because the kind of kids you have.”