NEW YORK – When Terrence Samuel heard "The Garden," his eyes lit up. He didn't look at the bracket, didn't realize everything that had happened when the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16.
"I actually didn't know until after we won in Buffalo," Samuel said, "When KO said 'we're heading to The Garden.' My eyes lit up, I can see my mother. That's first thing I thought."
Samuel, freshmen from Brooklyn, has had an eye-opening first year of college basketball. For most of the season he was sitting, sometimes frustrated, anxious to prove to coach Kevin Ollie he could contribute. Near the end of the season, when the Huskies were losing at South Florida, Ollie sent Samuel into the game and told him to "wreak some havoc" with his defense. He turned that game around.
He has been a key player for UConn ever since, adding a dimension that wasn't there earlier in the season. Samuel, back home, scored 10 points in 23 minutes, hitting 3 of 4 from the floor, 3 of 4 from the line, getting two assists and buttressing the Huskies' strong defense, especially in the first half of the 81-76 win over Iowa State.
"I'm just trying to pull some pressure off Shabazz [Napier] and Ryan [Boatright]," Samuel said. "DeAndre [Daniels], too. They focused on them and left me open most of the time. I just took what they gave me."
Ollie, who playfully slapped Samuel during the postgame interviews, asks a lot of the young point guard. Samuel is delivering.
"He stepped up big time," Ollie said. "We asked him to take Shabazz off of DeAndre Kane a little bit; he did that. He was exceptional getting to the basket, getting to the rim. And one thing about Terrence, opponents can't stay in front of him because he's shifty and then he's powerful when he gets the ball, and with that confidence that he's displaying now, it takes us to another level because I can put three point guards out there at one time, and all of them can make plays for themselves but then they can also make plays for their teammates. So T-Sam did a great job. He stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down his shots, and I'm very happy for him."
Lining Up A Win
The Huskies are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country and that has helped them hold onto numerous close games. It came into play again on Friday night. The Huskies were 20-for-22 from the line, 19-for-20 in the second half, as Iowa State was threatening a comeback.
"Coach is on us all the time about making free throws," said Boatright, who was 6-for-6, "We shoot a lot of free throws in practice and we always say it's going to come down to free throws or one or two possessions. When we get to the line we've got the confidence to knock them down."
Said Napier, who was 5-for-6, "We like being in that situation, we feel like we have enough confidence to take our time and make the shot." … UConn is now 60-52 in its history at Madison Square Garden. Ollie thanked the thousands of Huskies fans who made the trip. "We heard them," he said. "We were able to feed off their energy." There figure to be still more UConn fans here Sunday, as fans of the eliminated teams look to sell their tickets. … The Regional Final will be Napier's 141st game for UConn, which will be a new school record. He and Kevin Freeman are tied with 140 games played. … UConn has proposed a men's and women's doubleheader to be played at Madison Square Garden or Barclays Center next season, multiple sources told The Courant. The athletic department is waiting for a response from the two New York arenas. … Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl were among the former Huskies at the game. Former associate head coach George Blaney was at the game. Cliff Robinson and Phil Gamble, stars of the 1988 NIT team, were also planning to attend.Copyright © 2015, CT Now