The University of Connecticut is regarded as a basketball school. Historic success in the NCAA Final Four has Connecticut featured as a modern era powerhouse. Basketball prevalence began in the 1980s when Jim Calhoun was hired as head coach prior to the 1986-1987. Since the hiring, the Huskies have 10 conference regular season championships, seven tournament championships, 14 Sweet 16’s, 10 Elite Eight’s, five Final Four’s and three National Championships.
Connecticut’s first NCAA title came in 1999. The team won the Big East championship and tournament to finish number three in the country at 34-2 (16-2 in the Big East). Honest question, which teams were ranked ahead of a Big East 34-2 team? 34-2 is a #1 ranking any other year. After conducting through research, the answer is Duke and Michigan State, according to Stat Sheet.
The Final Four setting was Tropicana Field in Florida. Also known as home to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, also unofficially known as the least attended stadium in baseball history. Enough baseball digression, the #1 seed Huskies were in the Final Four and led by Richard “Rip” Hamilton. The Huskies won their semi-finals match up verse #4 Ohio State 64-58. Hamilton scored 24 points to outlast Michael Redd and the rest of the Buckeyes. Side note, would never of guessed that Redd played for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.
The 1999 NCAA Championship was a powerhouse faceoff between Connecticut and Duke. Two #1 seeds chalked the tournament to play in front of a 41,340 sold-out crowd. UConn proved too difficult outscoring the Blue Devils 77-74. First round pick Trajan Langdon and number one overall pick in the 1999 draft Elton Brand could not matchup to the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player Hamilton. Hamilton has a plastic nose for winning, wearing a protective mask throughout his NBA career, as he also won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
Connecticut’s 2004 NCAA Final Four team was historically featured as stacked from the feet up. Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and three other players drafted in the first round between 2004-2006. A potluck of talent was reconciled under the leadership of Calhoun. The #2 Huskies conquered the #1 Blue Devils 79-78 in the semi-finals.
In their second ever championship game, the Huskies faced the #3 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. 2004 NCAA Final Four Most Oustanding Player Emeka Okafor scored 24 points and secured 15 rebounds to take the title in front of a 44,468 person sold-out Alamodome. A bonus fun fact for the sports statisticians out there is that 2004 marks the only year one school’s men and women’s basketball team won the NCAA championship in the same year.
Before 2014, the most recent Final Four appearance was in 2011. Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb led the 2011 Husky team’s Final Four run. The 2011 Final Four attributed zero #1 seeds and opened the respectability door for mid-majors as Butler Bulldogs and VCU Rams both appeared. #3 Connecticut beat #4 Kentucky 56-55 to advance to the finals. In the finals, the Huskies and #8 Bulldogs barked perpetually, but UConn got the final bite in a 53-41 win.
Connecticut is 3-2 in NCAA titles when qualifying for the Final Four and flawless when making the championship. If UConn shocks the favorite Florida on April 5, NCAA Final Four history says the Huskies will feature a fourth championship to their collar.
Commentary by Niles Olson