STORRS, CONN – In front of a capacity crowd in Gampel Pavilion, a celebration was in store for the Connecticut Huskies. The starting five of the 1999 NCAA Championship were honored at halftime.
Led by UConn’s second all-time leading scorer, Richard “Rip’ Hamilton and long with his fellow teammates, former guard Khalid El-Amin, they were inducted into the UConn Huskies of Honor. Unfortunately, the electrifying crowd and their celebration would come to an abrupt halt as the first time visitors, the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, would trample the Huskies, 64-55, taking the season series two games to none.
Both teams were off to bad starts because neither team could make a basket until four minutes into the first half. SMU was first to score and caught rhythm soon after to jump in front, 7-0, after a corner three pointer by Nichols. Sophomore forward Phillip Nolan (2 points, 6 rebounds) scored UConn’s first basket which was followed by an open three pointer by senior forward Niels Giffey (11 points, 2 rebounds) to bring the game within two, 7-5.
The Mustangs were well aware that the Huskies like to run out on transition which is how they favor to play and did a great job preventing this from happening. Every time UConn seemed to get a break and score a couple of back to back baskets, the Mustangs would change their defense and pressure Connecticut into unfavorable situations.
The Huskies were not able to take the lead all game. The closest they came to going ahead in the box score came with under a minute to play to tie the game. Adding to the slow start, both teams could not hold onto the ball committing plenty of turnovers and a low scoring first half. Sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) would sink a pair of free throws to put SMU ahead at halftime, 25-27.
Senior guard Nick Russell (15 points, 2 rebounds,4 assists) was 3-4 from behind the three point line, three of which came in the beginning of the second half the Mustangs to run away with the game. Sophomore guard Nic Moore also contributed with 15 points of his own along with five assists to help put his team up by as much as ten points half way through the half.
Connecticut made a run led by junior guard by Ryan Boatright (15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) and senior guard Shabazz Napier (15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals) to bring the game within five points, 54-49, with 4:11 left to play. SMU would regain their composure and bring the game back to double digits; eventually keeping UConn at bay for the season sweep, a 64-55 victory.
Both teams are set to make trips to Florida where Southern Methodist University will battle against the University of Central Florida Knights and Connecticut goes up against the University of South Florida Bulls.
This article was written by German Claudio Jr.