Upset-minded UConn men take on Kansas
Des Moines, Iowa — Even before Khalid El-Amin declared that the Huskies shocked the world by stunning heavily-favored Duke in the 1999 national championship game, the UConn basketball program embraced the role as postseason giant slayer.
Only the Huskies never really think they're underdogs, even when they're a No. 9 seed playing Kansas, the NCAA tournament's top No. 1 seed overall.
"Everyone in this locker room, all of our team, we don't consider ourselves underdogs," UConn guard Sterling Gibbs said. "We 100 percent think we're going to win this game. As long as we're able to go out and play together, we'll put ourselves in a position to win."
A pro-Kansas crowd also is expected to pack Wells Fargo Arena for Saturday's South Region second-round game. Tip-off time is 7:45 p.m.
For the ninth time in school history, UConn will attempt to knock off a top-seeded giant. The Huskies are 3-5 in previous attempts, but never won as a nine seed.
Kansas (31-4), which is riding a 15-game winning streak and captured its 12th straight Big 12 Conference regular season title, just may be the toughest challenge of them all. It takes a magnifying glass to spot flaws in the Jayhawks. They're one of the leading contenders to win the national championship and finished the regular season as the nation's No. 1 team.
To accomplish the feat, coach Kevin Ollie says his team has to play "UConn tough" basketball for 40 minutes. The Huskies (25-10) have won five straight, tying a season high.
"They are just talented and they're deep," Ollie said. "They're a great transition team. To be a No. 1 overall seed, you don't have too many weaknesses. They can do it all. ... But at the end of the day we want to talk about what UConn brings. We are well prepared. It's kinda in their backyard, but that's fine.
"We're going have to put them in a situation where we can get them uncomfortable. ... We gotta bring our A game to beat them."
UConn played more like its B game in Thursday's 74-67 win over eighth-seeded Colorado, needing to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit. The Huskies relied on a smothering, ball-pressure defense and deadly accurate free throw shooting to complete the comeback.
The Huskies have to play with the same sense of urgency and intensity today that they possessed in the final 15 minutes on Thursday.
Another slow start today would likely doom their chances.
"We really want to give our team an opportunity in the second half to be in the game and just watch that UConn magic work again," Ollie said.
Kansas, a program with a storied history, is trying to shake some recent postseason demons after losing in the second round in the last two seasons.
"I do think that, when you get to the second round everybody is capable of beating everybody, without question," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Self went on to say this is a different, healthier and more confident team. And they have star power in All-Big 12 forward Perry Ellis, the team's rock.
The Jayhawks certainly won't take the Huskies lightly. Junior Wayne Selden, Jr., who grew up in Roxbury, Mass., with UConn freshman Jalen Adams, knows about UConn's history.
"We definitely respect them," Selden said. "They're definitely a legitimate team and definitely a legitimate name, historically a great program. We're excited to get out there and compete."
With few people outside the UConn basketball family expecting a victory today, the Huskies can play loose and pressure-free.
"This is a great opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the country to see where we stand," sophomore Daniel Hamilton said. "I think we've really got a great chance especially with how we've been playing the last four games.
"If we just continue to keep up the intensity and keep this level of play, I think we will come out with a victory.
The Huskies believe they're a team of destiny after a three-quarter court shot by Adams, a freshman, helped UConn survive and beat Cincinnati in four overtimes in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals last week.
"We just know anything can be possible," Adams said. "It doesn't matter the ranking. We have a good basketball team. We trust each other."
Game: NCAA tournament South Region second round
Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
Tip-off: 7:45 p.m. (CBS)
Records: Ninth-seeded UConn 25-10, top-seeded Kansas 31-4
Last game: UConn beat eighth-seeded Colorado, 74-67, Thursday in first round; Kansas defeated No. 16 Austin Peay, 105-79, Thursday in first round
Probable starters: UConn, 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (12 pts), 6-4 r-jr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.7 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (12.6 pts, 8.9 rebs, 4.7 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (12.6 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-10 sr. center Phil Nolan (1.7 pts, 1.5 rebs)
Kansas, 5-11 jr. guard Frank Mason III (13 pts, 4.7 assists), 6-2 so. guard Devonte' Graham (11.4 pts, 3.9 assists, 6-5 jr. guard Wayne Selden Jr. (13.3 pts), 6-8 sr. forward Perry Ellis (16.8 pts, 5.8 rebs), 6-10 jr. forward Landen Lucas (5.5 pts, 6.3 rebs)
Noteworthy: Kansas top overall No. 1 seed in field. Ranked first in AP poll. ... UConn 3-5 vs. top seeds in NCAA history, winning the last two – 79-78 over Duke in 2004 national semifinal and 63-53 over Florida in 2014 national semifinal. ... Series: UConn trails, 2-0, losing 73-65 in Hartford in 1997 and 88-59 in Kansas City in 1995. ... Jayhawks riding 15-game winning streak, 10 against teams in NCAA field. Huskies won 5 straight. ... Player to watch: Ellis, an All-Big 12 first team pick. ... Top reserve: 6-8 so. guard Svi Mykhailiuk (5.7 pts). ... Kansas 1st in Big 12 in scoring margin (+13.8), 3-pt FG percentage (42.6), FG percentage defense (39.8). ... Coach Ollie 7-0 in NCAA play. ... Jayhawks made NCAA tournament 27 straight years. ... Huskies 32-5 in first two rounds in past 20 NCAA trips. ... Common foes: Texas – Kansas won 75-67 and 86-56, UConn won on the road, 71-66. ... Hot: UConn sinking 88.4 percent (76-for-86) from line in last 4 games. Cold: Miller fouled out in 2 of last 4 games. ... Huskies 1-3 vs. ranked foes this season. ... Up next: Winner advances to regional semifinal Thursday in Louisville.
— Gavin Keefe
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