Building a program from scratch is never easy. Jim Calhoun took a program that used to practice in a barn to the top of the college basketball mountain.
There were hiccups and devastating losses along the way, as life is not perfect.
However, there were those special moments throughout the years that defined the UConn Men's Basketball program. Those games that we all remember when we think of UConn basketball.
These are those games.
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The rivalry between UConn and Pittsburgh has morphed into what the Big East is all about. Smothering defense, physical contact and epic outcomes have become synonymous with the matchups between the teams.
But, it all really began in Pittsburgh on December 12, 1998 with a chubby kid from Minnesota.
Throughout the whole game, the Panthers’ fans had stuck it to sophomore guard Khalid El-Amin. Chanting taunts that can’t be published here, the crowd smelled victory over El-Amin and the number one ranked Huskies as the Panthers had a four point lead with 10 seconds to go.
UConn guard Albert Mouring hit a three to close the gap to one point. Pitt responded by throwing away an inbounds pass, which was recovered by El-Amin. The portly heart and soul of the Huskies raced down the floor to hit a bucket with only seconds left.
The Panthers’ final attempt was short and UConn had survived.
Jumping on the scorers’ table, El-Amin then screamed and pointed at the crowd who had their fun for forty minutes. Now it was his turn.
Bottles and boos fell upon him, but he had the last laugh.
A rivalry was born.
UConn met Pitt in the 2002 Big East Championship, the first of three straight meetings between the teams for the conference championship. The heavyweights went nose to nose and two overtimes were needed to sort out the pieces.
During the second overtime, Taliek Brown was forced to heave a 40-foot shot with 37 seconds left and no time on the shot clock. The miracle attempt passed through the net. The Huskies then had a 69-64 lead and went on to win 73-64.
Brown was never a three-point shooter or an established jump shooter, but on that night he fooled us all.
All great things must come to an end, but in 1990 it didn’t feel like this was the right conclusion.
Attempting to reach their first Final Four in school history, UConn was matched up with the Duke Blue Devils.
It was neck and neck down to the final plays of overtime. Tate George, the hero from two days before against Clemson, narrowly missed a steal that could have iced the game. In a cruel twist of fate, Duke turned the tables on UConn as Christian Laettner hit a buzzer beater to give Duke the 79-78 victory.
Apparently 1990 was not meant to be for UConn, but 9 years later they would get the ultimate revenge.
Congrats to anyone who took “the over” in this matchup. After six overtimes, Syracuse was able to best UConn 127-117 in the Big East quarterfinals in 2009.
Syracuse’s Johnny Flynn played all but three minutes and led all scorers with 34 points.
The game ended at 1:22 am, but was almost over before the first overtime.
Eric Devendorf fired a 28-foot shot up at the end of regulation that found the bottom of the net. After climbing up to the scorer’s table and proclaiming victory, he was ushered down and informed that after review the ball was still in his hands as time expired.
Didn’t El-Amin teach you to not venture up there unless it’s good?
Eventually Syracuse took the victory from UConn, but not before being part of the longest game in Big East history.
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game in college basketball history, but the end result capped off the most improbable Husky season ever.
Beating Butler 53-41, UConn entered rarified air by winning their 3rd NCAA National Championship in 2011.
The games leading scorer was Kemba Walker with 16 points on 5-19 shooting, while the team shot 34% from the field.
Nonetheless, “Kemba and the kids” put on a show beginning in the Big East tournament that stretched all the way to Houston hoisting the championship.
The Allens met in the 1996 Big East Championship and didn’t disappoint.
Well, they kind of did, but the marquee matchup set up one of the most memorable Big East Tournament finishes ever.
Georgetown’s Allen Iverson scored 13 points, while shooting 4-15 from the field, versus UConn’s Ray Allen, who netted 12 points on 5-20 shooting.
Hardly a shooting clinic from either player, but Ray Allen had the most important two points of the night.
In the final four minutes the Huskies put together a 10-0 run, including eight straight from an unlikely source in Kirk King.
Down one point with 17 seconds left and 8 ticks on the shot clock, the ball found itself in Ray Allen’s hands. Feeling time and the championship slip away, Allen threw up a desperation runner that bounced and bounced before it dropped through to give UConn the one point lead.
The Hoyas had their chance, but after an Iverson shot that clanged right and a missed bunny from Jerome Williams, UConn came out on top with their second Big East Tournament Championship.
Five years after they captured their first championship, UConn was once again back in the bright lights of the biggest game. Needless to say, they took advantage of the exposure.
Behind Emeka Okafor’s 24th double double of the season, the Huskies buried Georgia Tech 82-73 to win their second championship. The junior center scored 24 points with 15 rebounds in a game that was never as close as the score indicated. UConn led the game by 20 in certain instances and the game was never in doubt.
They also pulled off the difficult feat of being ranked #1 in the preseason and to be the only team standing in April.
In their second Final Four appearance, the 2004 UConn Huskies met the Duke Blue Devils with a ticket to the Championship on the line.
While Duke controlled the tempo throughout most of the game, Emeka Okafor spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble.
Okafor, however, made his 22 minutes count.
After the Blue Devils stretched the lead to double digits, Okafor returned. In his limited minutes, he scored 18 points and 7 rebounds.
His play was the poignant in the game’s final three minutes.
With UConn in need of heroics, Okafor was a monster inside. Battling for rebounds, tipping loose balls and scoring put back shots, he led UConn to the 79-78 win.
The Huskies went on to take down Georgia Tech for the 2004 NCAA Championship, but this was the most impressive victory of the year.
All fans know “The Shot”.
While Jim Calhoun was creating a serious program in Storrs, “The Miracle in the Meadowlands” gave birth to UConn basketball.
After blowing an 18-point lead to Clemson in the 1990 Sweet Sixteen round, UConn found themselves down a point with the daunting test of going the length of the floor with one second left.
Recently drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays as a pitcher, UConn’s Scott Burrell was the perfect man for the full court heave. The perfect toss landed in Tate’s George’s hands. After turning toward the hoop, the ball landed gently through the net as time expired.
Two days later, Duke returned the favor with a buzzer beater to send George and the Huskies home in the Elite Eight.
But one thing was clear—the Huskies had arrived in college basketball
Looking for revenge and their first National Championship, UConn took on Duke in 1999 for all the marbles.
Ever since Christian Laettner took the ball out of bounds, got the ball back and shot down the 1990 UConn season, the Huskies had been waiting for this moment.
The first half began with a play no one expected.
Senior UConn guard Rickey Moore had an offensive explosion with 13 points in the first half, while Duke forward Elton Brand had one point in the first twenty minutes.
During the second half, the lead seesawed back and forth.
After a traveling call on Duke guard Trajon Langdon, UConn guard Khalid El-Amin swished two free throws to put UConn up 77-74. Once again, the ball was in Langdon’s hands as he tried to push it the length of the floor.
However, with time dwindling and a smothering defense from the Huskies, Langdon fell as the ball sputtered away as time expired.
Being nine and half point underdogs, the Huskies had to “shock the world” to win this contest.
Khalid El-Amin told us all about it.