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An interesting and enjoyable first day is over here at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
Seventh-seeded UConn and No. 10 Saint Joseph’s University worked out for an hour and attended press conferences.
NCAA tournament East Region play begins Thursday. Game time is 6:55 p.m.
Some highlights from the first day:
-- Coach Kevin Ollie said that the Huskies are focused and prepared for their return to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for UConn to be back in the mix…,” Ollie said. “It starts with Saint Joseph’s, and hopefully we can get through that and we can keep on going.
“Our mindset…, it’s one game at a time. We’re not looking ahead at anybody. We’re looking at this moment and we need to win every minute of every game. We can’t lose sight of that.”
-- Senior Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey represented UConn at the podium late Wednesday afternoon. They fielded questions on a variety of topics.
They were asked what the single greatest benefit that they got from coming back for their senior years.
Napier: “When you play at the University of Connecticut, it’s always something we call ‘brotherhood.’ That’s one of the biggest things for us is we continue to stay together. There’s no other brotherhood that you would want to be part of.”
-- Junior Ryan Boatright on the team’s mindset heading into tonight’s game: “We’re confident. We know how good we can be. We have veteran leaders on and off the floor… We’re just getting mentally and physically prepared to go to war.
“We know they’re not going to go down easy. … We’re prepared to take the challenge.”
-- Ollie said that he doesn’t see any similarities between himself during his playing days and Napier.
“He didn’t have coach (Jim) Calhoun yelling at him,” Ollie said. “Let’s start right there. Coach was always on me right at my first practice.
You know, for me, I was a Los Angeles guy. I didn’t really know about the East Coast. I mean, (Shabazz’s) been growing up watching UConn his whole life. I didn’t know about the Big East. … So the similarity is not there.
“But one thing we both have, we have hearts as big as this room. And we want UConn to win.”
Ollie added that he wants Napier to be the first UConn player to win two national championships.
“That would be a great honor,” Ollie said. “And the first step starts tomorrow.”
-- The Big East reunion was one theme today. UConn, Villanova and Syracuse are all here and now play in three different conferences.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was asked to compare the Atlantic Coast Conference to the old Big East.
“The restaurants were pretty good,” the wise-cracking Boeheim said. “It surprised me.”
Boeheim is happy with the way the move has turned out.
“You never know how things are going to be,” Boeheim said, “but it turned out really good.”
-- UConn freshman Amida Brimah, who’s from Ghana, had never heard about March Madness prior to coming to the United States about four years ago.
“When I was in Ghana, I didn’t know about the NCAA tournament until I got here (in the United States),” Brimah said. “That was when UConn won the national championship.”
So what does he remember about UConn’s magical run?
“I just saw Kemba (Walker) a lot,” Brimah said. “I just thought anybody can win the tournament. It doesn’t matter what seed you are.”
-- Saint Joseph’s senior Langston Galloway on UConn: “They’re definitely a guard-oriented program. Shabazz and Boatright, they’re definitely going to attack us, especially from the perimeter, and Daniels.
“But we’re going to the counter aspect. We’re going to go right back at them. We don’t want to let them just come at us. It’s definitely going to be a fun match-up, and we’re ready to play.”
-- Saint Joe’s coach Phil Martelli on Ollie: “Class personified.”
-- Check back tomorrow for regular updates. Follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.