All remaining teams in West Region have crossed paths with the Huskies
LAS VEGAS — Three of Uconn’s four national titles, all under Jim Calhoun, came after the Huskies battled through the West Region of the bracket.
Now one of just four teams left in what started as a loaded region full of title contenders, Uconn head coach Dan Hurley made sure to bring the legendary head coach back to speak with the team for the second time this tournament run.
“First on Coach, I’ve always been smart enough to try to get as close to Coach Calhoun and Geno (Auriemma) as I could possibly get. So much for me to learn from both. And I just thought going into the tournament, I knew I wanted to be around Coach. Maybe get some of that magic on me a little bit,” Hurley said.
“I just thought that a message, a confident message from Coach to the team about what he expected from them in Albany, I thought it landed. I thought the players, it landed on them. Obviously it worked. And we wanted Coach to come back.
This time of year it’s identity. It’s like, ‘Fellas, play to our identity.’ You deal with nothing but quality here, especially in this little four-team bracket. I think anyone in this bracket is capable of getting to the national championship game and winning it. So we know how loaded this fourteam field is. We’ve just got to play to our identity.”
Uconn has history with all three of the teams it could face in Las Vegas. Arkansas, the Huskies’ Sweet 16 opponent Thursday, has just one win in the head-to-head series and it came at the 2017 PK80 Invitational — a 35-point blowout that turned that Uconn season sour.
Uconn lost to UCLA in the 1995 regional final in Oakland, Calif., 102-96, despite a legendary 36-point game from Ray Allen. Gonzaga was the Elite Eight victim of the Huskies in 1999, sending Uconn to the program’s first Final Four and eventually first National Championship.
Gonzaga, a No. 3 seed, plays No. 2 UCLA in its Sweet 16 game Thursday in Las Vegas, right after Uconn plays Arkansas.
Basketball dads: Hurley was asked about how similar he is as a coach to his Hall of Fame father, Bob Hurley Sr., to close out his press conference at T-mobile Arena on Wednesday. “That’s a brutal last question, buddy,” Hurley paused. “Just the coaching part, you know … ”
He took a long pause and stared blankly at the clock in the back of the room.
Eventually, choked up, Hurley said, “I’m just happy my dad’s at the games,” and stood up abruptly, pointing out that his time for questions had run out. He did meet the reporter afterward and answered his question in the hallway. Bob Sr. was in attendance at several Uconn games this season, had a courtside seat at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament and was just a couple rows behind the Uconn bench for the First and Second rounds in Albany.
Bob Sr., 75, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, becoming just the third high school coach inducted after winning 26 state titles at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City, N.J.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, in his fourth season heading the Razorbacks, spent much of his press conference reflecting on his experiences growing up with his father, Bill Musselman, having coached at both the high school and college levels as well as the NBA, ABA, CBA, WBA from 1966 until his untimely death in 2000.
Another trip out west: Joey Calcaterra is no stranger to Las vegas. in his four years at San Diego, Calcaterra made annual trips into the city for the West Coast Conference Tournament, which is played at Orleans Arena, just down the street from the T-mobile Arena West Regional host site. Vegas is 582 miles from Calcaterra’s hometown of Novato, Calif., about 40 miles closer to home than he was at the november phil Knight Invitational hosted in Portland, Ore. With the Torerros, Calcaterra played in two in-season Las Vegas Classic tournaments and made another trip to play the University of Las Vegas in a non conference game last season.
Arkansas vs. the Big East:
The Razorbacks played one of the most memorable games this season when they took on Creighton at the Maui Invitational in November. That game featured 10 lead changes and was tied 10 times in the second half, but 25 points from Ryan Nembhard lifted Creighton over Arkansas, 90-87 in overtime. The Razorbacks got 26 points from freshman guard Anthony Black, 24 points from Ricky Council IV, who scored the game-winner in the thrilling upset of No. 1 seed Kansas in the Round of 32 and 17 from Trevon Brazile, who went out for the season with a knee injury in December.