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UConn men’s basketball’s greatest moments in the Big East Tournament

It was always the biggest stage in college basketball during conference tournament time. Sometimes, like in 2011, it may have been even bigger than  the NCAA Tournament. So, without further adieu (and before I start sobbing uncontrollably), here are the ten greatest moments in UConn’s Big East tournament history:

10.  Calhoun kicks the sign.

Jim Calhoun

AP Photo

It was a fantastic freak-out worthy of Calhoun; and in some ways it perfectly exemplified his fiery greatness. UConn was playing out the end of what had been a miserable 2007 season, one of the most disappointing in the head coach’s tenure at UConn. The Huskies were just 17-14, 6-10 in the Big East, and on their way to missing the postseason altogether for the first time since Calhoun’s first season in Storrs.

They had snuck into the Big East tournament as a 12-seed (their lowest ever), and were taking on fifth-seeded Syracuse (22-10, 10-6) in the first round. UConn played well early, and took a 38-36 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the wheels were starting to come off in the second half.

Syracuse took the lead, then pulled away as time started to run out  on the Huskies’ season.  Frustrated, stubborn and enraged over a traveling call, Calhoun screamed at official Mike Stevens, then turned around and kicked a sign underneath the scorer’s table, leaving a dent. It was the only dent the Huskies made that season, but it was sure memorable.

 

HAMILTON MOORE

AP Photo

9. The 1998 championship.

The Huskies were the clear-cut class of the Big East in 1998, winning the regular season title, the tournament title and advancing further than any Big East team in the NCAAs (Elite Eight).

UConn got by Providence, 64-55,  in round 1 and then took out upset-minded Rutgers in the semifinals before getting the best of Syracuse yet again in the final, winning 69-64.

The Huskies went on to defeat Washington on an incredible game-winner by Richard Hamilton in the Sweet 16 before losing to North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

 

 8. The six-overtime game.

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At 9:30 p.m. on March 12, 2009, Syracuse and Connecticut started playing basketball. They didn’t stop until 1:30 the next morning. After a Big East record six overtimes, the Orange outlasted the Huskies in what many still call the greatest college basketball game in history.

It almost ended hours earlier, when Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf hit a shot just after the horn sounded at the end of regulation that would have given the Orange the win.

Instead, the two teams would embark on an incredible overtime journey, one that became a battle of attrition and ended only after seven players had fouled out and UConn was left with benchwarmers Scotty Haralson and Donnell Beverly playing crunch-time minutes.

Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn logged 67 of the game’s 70 minutes, while UConn’s A.J. Price played 61.  “I can’t even feel my legs right now,” said Flynn after the game was over.

UConn had the ball with a chance to win at the end of each of the first five overtimes.

A jumper by Jerome Dyson went begging in overtime number one. They had a chance to win it on a near-half-court heave by Kemba Walker in the 2nd overtime, but that shot wouldn’t go. A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien both missed chances to win it in triple overtime. The fourth OT ended after Price missed a runner and Syracuse’s Paul Harris missed two layups (on tough defense by Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards).

The ‘Cuse finally pulled away in the sixth overtime, finally sending everyone at the Garden home. Not that they could sleep after that game. Some Huskies fans even missed the last train back to New Haven.

7. The 2002 championship. Like in their 1999 and 2004 Big East championship victories, you knew that the Huskies were on the verge of big things after they outlasted 7th-ranked and top-seeded Pittsburgh in double overtime in one of the greatest Big East title games ever played. Pitt guard Brandin Knight went down late in regulation with an apparent knee injury, but he gutted it out, almost hitting a half-court heave at the buzzer to win it in OT.

Caron Butler would lead the Huskies in the second overtime, hitting a jumper just over a minute left to give the Huskies a 66-64 lead. Then, with just over 30 seconds left, Taliek Brown fired a 40-foot jumper in desperation just as the shot clock expired. He cashed it. 69-64 UConn.

Brown’s shot would go down as one of the greatest in UConn history, as the Huskies went on to win the Big East title. They would advance to the Elite 8, losing a heartbreaker to eventual champion Maryland.

VOSKUHL

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6. The 1999 title.

UConn began its run to the ’99 NCAA title by storming through the Big East tournament. The Huskies barely survived a scare from Seton Hall in the quarterfinal round, winning 57-56. But they turned it on in the semifinals, eviscerating Syracuse, 71-50, before dominating second-seeded St. John’s, 82-63, in the final.

The win over the Johnnies was a bit stunning because the two teams were supposed to have been evenly matched, and battled for Big East supremacy all season long. That St. John’s team featured Ron Artest (or as he is now known, Metta World Peace).  But they were no match for Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin and the Huskies. UConn captured its second straight Big East title with ease.

It was that run through the Big East tournament that gave the Huskies the fuel to go all the way in ’99. In fact, the Huskies nearly met up with St. John’s again in the Final Four, but the Johnnies missed out on the rematch by falling to Ohio State in the Elite Eight, 77-74.

5.  The ’04 Big East title

BEAST UCONN PITTSBURGH

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The powerful Huskies stumbled a bit down the stretch, but even though they entered Madison Square Garden as a 2-seed in the 2004 Big East tournament, most basketball fans considered UConn the favorite.

The Huskies outlasted Notre Dame in the quarterfinals and then pounded 11th-seeded Villanova in the semis before meeting up with top-seeded Pittsburgh in the championship game for the third straight year. UConn won the first meeting in ’02 (see No. 4), but Pitt prevailed in the rematch in 2003. This was the tiebreaker.

It was a back-and forth thriller that went down to the wire, and Huskies guard Ben Gordon knocked down a runner in the lane  to give Connecticut a 59-58 lead with 30 seconds to go. Pittsburgh had a chance to win the game on the next possession, but then-freshman forward Josh Boone blocked Panthers guard Carl Krauser’s jump shot, and Gordon hit two free throws to seal the game, 61-58. It was UConn’s sixth Big East title.

They would go on to win the national championship.

4. Kemba Walker’s step-back. You could argue that this is part of UConn’s five wins in five days (coming up in the countdown) and that it shouldn’t be its own separate moment. I would argue against that. The five wins in five days never would have been possible if Kemba hadn’t toppled top-seeded Pittsburgh with his now-famous step-back jumper over Pitt center Gary McGhee in the 2011 Big East quarterfinals. It is one of the iconic moments in Big East tournament history, and the signature moment of UConn’s amazing five wins in five days run.

Connecticut UCLA Basketball

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3. The 1990 title.

The first one is always the sweetest. UConn’s run to the 1990 championship cemented its place as a big-time program and led them to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies were the 2-seed in the Big East tournament, and defeated Seton Hall in the first round. They then got past third-seeded Georgetown, 65-60,  before edging Syracuse 78-75 in a classic championship game.

It was the first Big East championship for the Huskies, and a moment that validated their stunningly successful season. UConn would finish 28-5 and advance to the Elite Eight after Tate George hit “The Shot” to defeat Clemson in the regional semifinals. Huskies fans remember 1990 as “The Dream Season,” and it would not have been complete without a Big East tournament title.

Kemba Walker

AP Photo

2. Five wins in five days. It may never be duplicated in conference tournament history. Five games, five days, five wins. UConn battled exhaustion as well as the rest of the Big East during their incredible run to the 2011 title, and came out victorious. Whether it was Kemba Walker’s step-back (see No. 5), the stirring

The run began with an easy win over last-place DePaul in the first round. UConn cruised past higher-ranked Georgetown, 79-62 in the second round  and beat top-seeded and third-ranked Pittsburgh at the buzzer in the quarterfinals. UConn beat Syracuse in the semis the next night and then outlasted Louisville, 69-66 in the championship.

The Huskies would go on to win six more games in the NCAAs, but it’s hard to imagine that their run to the national title was any more challenging than what they did at the Garden that March.

1. Ray Allen’s game-winner. It’s the greatest moment in UConn’s Big East tournament history, and might be the greatest moment in Big East tournament history, period. 1996 championship game. Ray Allen and Connecticut against Allen Iverson and Georgetown. The Hoyas led 74-73,  with 17 seconds to play. Ray Allen, guarded by Iverson, took the ball on the left wing. He drove right and into the lane. Iverson was all over him like , but Allen forced up a schizophrenic, whirling, crazy jumper that sent him flying towards the basket and somehow found the bottom of the net.

“Ohhh!! Oh!!! Off-balance!!! Unbelievable!!!” shouted Dick Vitale, who was calling the game for ESPN.

Iverson had one last chance to win it, but his jumper hit the front of the rim and fell into forward Jerome Williams’ hands. Williams would miss his last-ditch attempt at a game-winning layup, and the buzzer sounded. UConn had won its second Big East championship, and they had done it in style.

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