STORRS — One by one they came out for their moment. Accompanied by family, the Huskies' seniors were honored before the game against Rutgers, their last at Gampel Pavilion.
"I want to thank my seniors for providing me with loyalty, for providing this program with faith," coach Kevin Ollie said. "They could've left, they could've transferred, they could've done a lot of things. But they said, 'We're going to stay through the tough times and get back to where we belong. They kept this program alive, and I owe them a lot. I can never repay them for what they gave me — a chance to coach them. It's been a blessing."
Dave Sevush, the graduate assistant, came out first, then Tor Watts, the senior walk-on from Brooklyn, N.Y. Lasan Kromah, a graduate student who transferred from George Washington, came out for his bow.
Then Tyler Olander, who was suspended by Ollie twice during the offseason, but earned his way back onto the team, came out and got a tight hug from his coach.
Then Niels Giffey, his mother over from Germany, came out for his moment. And finally Shabazz Napier, who hugged Ollie, raised his framed jersey high for the crowd, then sprinted over to give his first coach at UConn, Jim Calhoun, a big hug.
"The guys thought I was going to be the first to cry," Napier said, "but it wasn't like last year, when I knew it was going to be our last game."
The Huskies were not eligible for the postseason in 2013, their season ending at Gampel on March 9. Now, at 24-6, they move on to the league and NCAA tournaments.
"I just felt the love from all the fans," Giffey said, "and all the support they gave me. It was very moving for me."
All of them started the game, which Ollie said he will make a senior night tradition. "It was good that we all started, it gave us a little more energy at the beginning," Giffey said.
Ollie said he did not write his "keys" on the blackboard as he usually does before games. His "keys" were for the non-seniors to honor the seniors, and the seniors to honor each other. And the three who have played out all four years got their 96th win for UConn, including a national championship as freshmen. They finished their careers 54-14 at home.
"We've been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows," Olander said. "It wasn't the way you dream it, but I wouldn't trade a minute of it. This group is so special, the friendships we've made will carry on way past this, way past basketball. I'm sad to say goodbye to Gampel, to the fans who gave their all. They're out there waiting in the cold all winter just to see you play. I wish I could tell them more how much I miss them. Playing in Gampel is unbelievable."
Nolan On The Spot
Phil Nolan, who by the coaches' count leads the Huskies in drawing charging fouls, did it again down the stretch. A charge called on Rutgers' Kadeem Jack with 19 seconds left helped the Huskies' ice the game. "Phil is always in the right spot at the right time to take those charges," Giffey said. Nolan also drew a charge, from Sean Kilpatrick, as UConn was locking down its victory over Cincinnati last Saturday. … Omar Calhoun, who went 0-for-3, has missed 11 shots in a row since his last field goal Feb. 6. "Omar is going to have a breakthrough," Ollie said. "We've got a few guys who are struggling, but I know they're going to have breakthroughs." … Ollie said he thought that DeAndre Daniels, who had seven points, six rebounds and a key block down the stretch, "had a solid game," rebounding from a couple of tough outings. … With 26 points, Napier is two behind Kemba Walker (1,783 points) for seventh in UConn history. With four assists, he has 610, nine behind Ollie for second in school history.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun