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Saturday, April 20, 2024

The 30 Most Influential NCAA MBB Groups of SLAM’s 30 Years: 2011 UCONN 

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To rejoice SLAM’s thirtieth anniversary, we’re spotlighting the 30 most influential males’s school groups from our previous 30 years. Stats, information and chips aren’t the primary issue right here, it’s all about their contribution to the sport’s cultural cloth.

For the subsequent 30 days—Monday by Friday— we’ll be unveiling the full checklist right here. We’ve additionally obtained an unique retro collegiate assortment, out now, that pays homage to every squad’s threads. Store right here.

Headed into the 2011 season, UConn was unranked on each preseason ballot and picked to complete tenth within the Huge East. They’d simply come off a mediocre season wherein they did not make the NCAA match for the second time in 4 years. So individuals had already written them off as a risk within the Huge East, not to mention as a nationwide title contender. 

In different phrases, an entire lot of gasoline was being added to the hearth already brewing in these Huskies—a Huskies squad led by a 6-foot, 172-pound star level guard from the Bronx.

All eyes pointed to Kemba Walker, who returned for the 2011 season, a junior with lofty expectations. He’d already change into a fan-favorite confirmed to attain in bunches, at all times in a contemporary pair of retro Js, however might he impression profitable at a excessive degree? May you depend on him to steer UConn again to glory? 

Don’t get it twisted, although; Kemba had a well-composed squad round him. Amongst them have been two star-studded freshmen–level guard Shabazz Napier and swingman Jeremy Lamb–who would every change into first-round NBA Draft picks themselves. However was it sufficient? Would their lack of expertise be a hindrance? UConn was very proficient, however how constant might they be?

A whole lot of questions, however UConn had the cheat sheet.

They made it by their non-conference schedule undefeated, profitable ten straight earlier than entering into Huge East play, together with wins over No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Kentucky. Throughout that stint, UConn ranked as excessive as No. 4 on the AP ballot and appeared primed to make a run on the Huge East crown.

Anybody who is aware of something about school hoops of the 2000s and 2010s is aware of each Huge East matchup was a dogfight. On any given night time, UConn might convincingly beat a top-10 workforce like Georgetown or lose by 15 to an unranked St. Johns. It was that sort of up-and-down convention slate for them. They completed a disappointing ninth within the Huge East and headed into the Huge East Match, dropping 4 of its final 5 video games. 

Nicely, the way in which March Insanity is about up, the Huskies have been in good place to take the nation by storm. 

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They breezed by their first two video games of the Huge East Match, incomes a spot within the quarterfinals–a rematch in opposition to Pittsburgh (the Huge East common season champs who blew them out again in December). This time round, in March, the stakes have been totally different.

The sport was tied at 74. Seven seconds left on the clock. UConn’s ball. 

Everybody of their proper thoughts knew who was taking the final shot. It didn’t matter. With a mismatch on the prime of the important thing Kemba hit a easy right-to-left hesi, took a tough attack-dribble left, stopped on a dime, stepped again and raised up for his picture-perfect jumper because the helpless defender stumbled to the bottom. The ball splashed by the online, Madison Sq. Backyard erupted and a school basketball legend was born.

“It was a particular second in UConn historical past; I turned to my assistants as we have been strolling off the courtroom and mentioned, ‘We obtained one thing particular occurring,’” Jim Calhoun, UConn’s retired hall-of-fame head coach, recalled in a 2016 interview. 

Coach Calhoun couldn’t have been extra proper. Kemba and the Huskies sealed the deal two days later and gained the Huge East Match. That’s 5 days, 5 video games and 5 wins. A really unprecedented run. However subsequent up was the NCAA Match. They’d must win six extra video games in a row to be the final workforce slicing the nets. Absolutely, they couldn’t proceed taking part in with the identical degree of depth after having simply survived that Huge East gauntlet, proper? 

Uh-uh, mistaken.

Kemba performed like a person possessed; the workforce went as he went. He averaged 23.5 factors, 6 rebounds and 5.6 assists within the NCAA Match en path to main this system to their third nationwide championship in a win over Butler–defeating future corridor of famers like Kawhi Leonard and bluebloods like Kentucky (for a second time) alongside the way in which.

The 2011 UConn workforce epitomizes all the pieces we love about school basketball–the swagger, the tradition, the underdog story, the journey. From unranked to on prime of the ladder, the 2011 UConn Huskies are without end immortalized in basketball historical past.

Images through Getty Pictures.

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