On Saturday in Gampel Pavilion in a game that carried with it no postseason implications, UConn outlasted Providence in overtime, 63-59. And with that, the Huskies ended Kevin Ollie's first year at the helm with a victory, and more than that, 20 victories.
But because of NCAA sanctions, the Huskies won't be playing in the Big East or NCAA Tournaments. The are officially in the offseason.
It's not all doom and gloom, however, UConn overcame daunting odds; in addition to the NCAA punishment, the program lost four key players to either transfers or the NBA last summer, then Jim Calhoun retired. Through it all, Ollie has been unwaveringly upbeat and more than that, a great coach.
"We're banned from the NCAA Tournament but we're never banned from heart," Ollie said back in January. "We're never banned from having determination. We're never banned for excelling. We got a lot of things to play for, and we got the pride of UC on our chest. UConn is a special place and we're never banned from that. We're never banned from going out here and showing our family and our friends what we're made out of."
It sounds like something out of Hoosiers, but Ollie was serious. And more importantly: taken seriously by his team, who responded in the face of less-than-ideal conditions. The team played without Enosch Wolf, Tyler Olander, Omar Calhoun and Niels Giffey in the finale, and Shabazz Napier gutted it out on a bad right foot.
This team was good enough to qualify for the NCAAs but that's not their fate. Instead, they'll have be happy with 20 wins in the face of difficult circumstances. Actually, they won't have to be happy with that -- and we're pretty sure they won't be. Instead, they can use the slight as motivation for next season, which began Saturday afternoon.
"Fantastic year," Ollie said after the win over Providence. "I'm sad that it's over with, but I'm very happy and satisfied with this team and what they gave me. The resolve, the resiliency they showed, the dedication they showed through ups and downs and all the changes, them sticking together. Through the pain, I always say, there is going to be promise."