Final buzzer sounds today for UConn men

UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie cheers on his team during a double-overtime game against Georgetown on Feb. 27 at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies, banned from the postseason and suffering from a series of injuries, play their final game of the season today against Providence College in Storrs.
UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie cheers on his team during a double-overtime game against Georgetown on Feb. 27 at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies, banned from the postseason and suffering from a series of injuries, play their final game of the season today against Providence College in Storrs. Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Storrs - A special postgame ceremony is planned for today to salute the UConn Huskies and their accomplishments this season.

It's a fitting tribute to a team that has fought through a mountain of adversity this season, including a postseason ban that will leave them out of the upcoming Big East Conference and NCAA tournaments.

The depleted UConn team that takes the floor today against Providence in the season finale will barely resemble the Huskies of just a few weeks ago.

Injuries have derailed UConn's season and have been the reason behind a season-high three-game losing streak.

What has happened down the stretch will not put a damper on the season, according to coach Kevin Ollie ... no matter the outcome today.

"I've seen this group make great strides and progress and stick together with all the ups and downs," Ollie said. "These last games are not putting any damper on our parade.

"I'm so proud of this group. It will be my favorite group forever. How they battled and played with each other, nobody expected anything but the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff.

"If we get beat by 50, that's not going to change the sentiments in my heart that I have for these guys. They're going to play hard and when that last buzzer goes off, we're going to have our heads up high and we're going to have our chest out because we played as hard as we possibly can."

UConn (19-10, 9-8) will have only six healthy scholarship players and maybe two banged up Huskies available for today's game at noon at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Tyler Olander (fractured left foot) and fellow junior Niels Giffey (fractured right finger) are sidelined.

The status of junior Shabazz Napier, who's missed the last two games with a right foot injury, will be a game-day decision. Freshman Omar Calhoun has struggled while playing with a sore right wrist and also is questionable.

"He's feeling better," Ollie said of Napier. "I don't know if he's going to be available. Omar's wrist is still hurting really bad, so hopefully he can play through it. If not, we're going to have to find somebody else."

Graduate student R.J. Evans has filled in for Napier, the team's leading scorer, in the starting backcourt. A Norwich Free Academy graduate from Salem, Evans will be playing in his final game and will participate in pregame Senior Day festivities.

Freshman Phil Nolan will likely replace Olander in the starting lineup. Freshman Leon Tolksdorf and sophomore Brendan Allen are only options off the bench. Both have limited experience.

UConn looked like a beaten down team for the first time this season in Wednesday's 65-51 loss at South Florida. The Huskies were offensively challenged and played shaky defense.

Ollie has faith his team will put forth a better effort today.

"Hopefully, it will be a good showing," Ollie said. "I won't be inclined to sit anybody. I'm going to play the healthy guys that want to go out and play and finish on a high note, giving these fans all they have, what they've been doing the whole year."

A surging Providence (17-12, 9-8) is an imposing obstacle. Since losing to UConn in overtime (82-79), the Friars have won seven of their last eight games. They need to keep winning to have a shot at remaining in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth.

The Friars dealt with injuries earlier this season but started rolling once everyone, including former New London standout Kris Dunn who sat out the first nine games with a shoulder problem, got healthy. Junior Bryce Cotton is the Big East's leading scorer at 20 points per game and Ollie called junior Kadeem Batts (15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds), the conference's most improved player.

g.keefe@theday.com

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