The Connecticut Huskies know this drill. They know how to win in a tournament circumstance, as they rolled through the Big East by winning five games in five days.
UConn won’t have to endure that same short-term grind to win the NCAA tournament, but six wins in the next three weeks will do. It starts with the third-seeded Huskies’ game against 14th-seeded Bucknell on Thursday at Verizon Center as they try to carry over some momentum.
“If we came out the same energy as we did in New York, we should be fine,” sophomore forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel said. “Knowing that if we lose one game, we go home, that should be enough.
“The seniors on this team that know what’s at stake, and you can’t take plays off. Bucknell, they’re a pretty good team. We’re just looking forward to moving on in the tournament.”
UConn is a chic pick to win the whole thing – something no Big East team has done since the 2004 Huskies team did it. Typically teams who have to play five games in five days at Madison Square Garden are spent by the time the NCAA tournament begins, but that’s not a concern in the UConn locker room.
“I think we’re feeling good right now. We had a good run. After, we rested a little bit and got back to practice,” freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb said. “Everybody’s been getting their rest and everybody’s been working hard.”
Against Bucknell, it’s just a matter of getting back to basics for UConn. The Bison are the Patriot League champions and – at least based on history – are capable of providing a scare.
“We just gotta do what we usually do – we gotta run the ball, fast break, rebound,” said freshman Michael Bradley. “I know they’re a great team – we gotta play defense for 35 seconds each and every possession, and we just gotta play as a team.”
Bucknell senior guard G.W. Boon isn’t intimidated by UConn’s streak through the best conference in America.
“It’s another tournament,” he said. “We had a great run as well, and so I think it will and great matchup for us. We’re ready for it.”
Perhaps UConn – which was a good team this season but never elite – gets up for this kind of desperate situation. Having to win to play another day has brought out the best in the Huskies so far. Coombs-McDaniel said the Bison, who pulled off a 14-3 upset of Kansas on 2005, are the focus now, not the Big East tournament.
“We’re definitely not overlooking anybody right now,” he said. “We know how big this tournament is for us, and our older guys. We know that if you lose one game, you go home, and we’re definitely not trying to go home early.”