NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The last time Connecticut won college basketball’s national championship, the road to the title went through Madison Square Garden.
That was in 2011, when the Huskies won five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament championship.
Now, fan Jason Baumberger hopes the Garden will serve as somewhat of a launching pad again.
“I feel pretty good,” Baumberger told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell before UConn’s Elite Eight showdown vs. Michigan State on Sunday. “It’s a good history we have at the Garden. We’ve been playing well at the Garden. Pretty much home away from home for us. As long as we get the right crowd out today, anything can happen.”
Both UConn and Michigan State are 29-8. The game tips off at 2:20 p.m.
PHOTOS: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
When asked who they believed has played the biggest role in the team’s success, Huskies fans pointed to second-year coach Kevin Ollie has. He took over last year, when the team was banned from the tournament because of previous low scores on the NCAA’s academic progress measure.
“He had to come in and be immediately ineligible,” one fan told Haskell. “That’s ridiculously difficult. And now we’re in the Sweet 16 again.”
“He just gets it,” another man said. “He’s a 13-year NBA vet. His team plays with the same toughness that Coach has.”
“It’s been a team effort, and Ollie has done a nice job just bringing that team together,” another fan said.
Ineligible for any championships, the Huskies opened last season against Michigan State in Germany in coach Ollie’s first game after Jim Calhoun’s retirement.
UConn upset the 14th-ranked Spartans 66-62 that day. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said he could tell “Kevin’s teams are going play hard and will play disciplined.”
All those practices when the Huskies supposedly had nothing to play for are now rewarded by victories in the biggest games.
“That’s what faith is all about,” Ollie said. “When you can’t see it, you still got to believe it. Most of the time we couldn’t see it last year.
“But we knew we were continuing to plant seeds, and sooner or later it was going to be that right time when we were going to be ready for this moment.”
UConn, set to play in front of another friendly crowd at Madison Square Garden, is looking to make its fifth Final Four. DeAndre Daniels scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half to lift the Huskies past Iowa State 81-76 on Friday, taking over the scoring burden from Shabazz Napier for a day.
Napier, who totaled 49 points in the first two tournament games, hit four early 3-pointers but made only one more field goal the rest of the way en route to finishing with 19 points.
“With our seniors on this team, I just want them to go out with a bang,” Daniels said.
The Spartans, meanwhile, are one win away from their seventh Final Four in 16 seasons.
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