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Broadcast on TBS.

(UPDATE- Icing on the cake: UConn men head to national championship game after winning in Final Four, defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight and Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen.)

Commentary by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb

Reigniting an old Big East rivalry, last night the University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball team earned a 77-65 win against Villanova in the NCCA tournament game in Buffalo, New York. They now head to the Sweet 16 and as a UConn alum I could not be happier for Head Coach Kevin Ollie. He has handled himself with finesse and represented the university with class since taking over for the retired Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, who led the team to multiple national titles.

From UConn Today Kevin Ollie shown surrounded by his team last year.

From UConn Today: Kevin Ollie shown surrounded by his team last year.

Here’s a great Ollie quote sure to warm the heart of any UConn alum or fan, talking about his players taking on Villanova from an article in today’s Hartford Courant:

“They showed toughness. They showed resilience. They played with a will… That’s what our guys do. That’s how we’re build. We’re UConn-made. We’re UConn-made through and through.”

My only firsthand interaction with Ollie – UConn Class of 1995 – was a few years back before he was named to the head coach spot. He participated in the celebrity pro-am day at the Greater Hartford Open in Cromwell and I must say I came away with a positive impression of him. I was not there as a journalist covering the event that day – just one of the crowd. While some other ‘celebs’ essentially ignored the gallery, Ollie made a point to look up , wave and smile patiently as shutterbugs snapped their shots – myself included.

Ollie’s genuineness and congeniality that day has proved to be indicative of the way he has handled himself as head coach. Taking over as the team faced academic sanctions last year which kept them from tournament play, Ollie found a way to unite and motivate the players in an uplifting manner and delivered a 20 win season. Kevin Nathan of NBC Connecticut Sports said at the time that he thought Ollie should have been named 2013 NCAA Coach of the Year – I agree. Ollie was named the Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year awarded to Division I minority basketball coaches who overcome difficulties.

I was also impressed with the candidly emotional speech about his love for his family that Ollie gave when he accepted the head coaching job. And I have been pleased that Ollie and his wife have followed in the footsteps of Jim and Pat Calhoun in their charitable efforts.

As for the game itself, once again Shabazz Napier was stellar. Despite foul trouble that had him sidelined at length and then an on court injury that briefly put him back on the bench, Napier led the Huskies to victory. UConn next faces either Iowa State or North Carolina at Madison Square Garden in New York on Friday.

As far as I’m concerned, Ollie and his team have already done the university proud. Anything beyond showing, in such a stand-up manner, that UConn is back as a contender and now making it to the Sweet 16 would simply be icing on the cake.