Numbers Don't Lie; Huskies Dominate The Game

LINCOLN, Neb. — A half continent away from Madison Square Garden, the full onslaught of UConn basketball continued Monday night. A half continent away from an ear-shattering Sunday afternoon in an arena players love to call the Mecca of basketball, the full onslaught of UConn basketball continued in a land where football is king.

It doesn't seem to matter where the UConn teams have played in the month of March since 1999. It doesn't matter if the chromosome is X or Y, the travel is bus or jet, the time zone is Eastern of Pacific.

Phoenix, Anaheim, Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Trenton, New York or Lincoln, it doesn't matter. After watching UConn stun Michigan State, 60-54, the women sent a congratulatory video to the men from their team hotel. A night later, they went out and defeated Texas A&M, 69-54, at Pinnacle Bank Arena to reach their 15th Final Four.

Yet even that heady number tells only half the story. UConn, which finds itself in both Final Fours for the fourth time in school history, has been to a combined 17 Final Fours since 1999.

Basketball may have been invented with a peach basket in Springfield. Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and the wizards in Westwood may put in their claims for spiritual ownership of the game. Yet in the past 16 years, Storrs, that tiny dot in the Eastern Connecticut hills has produced twice as many Final Four appearances as any other school.

That's right. Twice as many.

Duke has eight, four each for the men and women. Tennessee has seven, all women. Michigan State has seven, six with the men. Even if you're a sexist moron and give the women only half the credit they rightfully deserve, UConn still scores twice as high as any other school.

"It shows the dominance of our basketball programs," athletic director Warde Manuel said. "Both of them individually on there own are very, very strong and will continue to be strong. Collectively, to look at those numbers, it's just so impressive what two programs, three coaches, have accomplished since 1999."

Since 1999, the women are 16-0 in both first- and second-round NCAA games. They are 14-2 in the Sweet 16, 12-2 in the Elite Eight, 7-4 in the national semifinals and 7-0 in national championship games. In all, they are 72-8 in the NCAA Tournament since 1999. That's a mind-rattling number, isn't it?

Yet this certainly is not only a story of Geno Auriemma's domination. Since 1999, UConn's three men's national championships are more than any other school. Michigan State has the most wins at 40-15 in the tournament during that time with six Final Fours and one national title. Duke is 39-15 with four Final Fours and two national titles. Kansas is 39-15 with four Final Fours, but there is UConn at 36-8 with five Final Fours.

And that's why Manuel confirmed Monday night that he will enter discussions with Ollie for a contract extension at the conclusion of the season. He knows he has something special. He knows he wants to keep the magic rolling.

"At the end of the season, I'll sit down with Kevin," Manuel said. "We want him to stay our coach for many, many years to come. He's our coach."

Jim Calhoun wanted Ollie to succeed him all along. So did a number of people in Calhoun's camp. And with Ollie's posting a 50-18 record over two seasons, there is no shortage of fans who argue Ollie should have been given a five-year deal immediately in September 2012. They were not, are not wrong. Yet I will argue Manuel handled Ollie's hiring correctly in the final months of 2012.

He didn't know Ollie well. He made him coach for the year, loved what he saw and within 3 ½ months, signed Ollie to a five-year extension worth more than $7 million that runs through the end of the 2017-2018. Before bonuses, Ollie received $1.2 million this season, with increases to $1.25 million in 2014-15; $1.3 million in 2015-16; $1.325 million in 2016-17 and $1.34 million in 2017-18.

"It's a five-year contract, but I'm looking at it like I can be the coach here for 20-25 years,'' Ollie said when the deal was struck.

Ollie has made a life of erasing doubts, of taking the hard road to prove himself. In the end, those 3 ½ months on essentially a six-month deal gave him an opportunity to prove himself all over again. Ollie won in more ways than one.

This time around, Manuel wisely is not wasting any time with a proven commodity. He's striking now to make sure Ollie stays. With UConn scrapping to run with the Power Five conferences, with the NBA potentially sniffing around, Manuel wants to make sure Ollie, who called UConn his dream job, continues to call it such. Still it will be interesting to see the money and the length of a potential new deal.

In the spring of 2013, Auriemma, who recently turned 60, signed a $10.86 million deal only months after Ollie did. Auriemma's deal, which runs through 2017-2018, ranges from $1.95 million to $2.4 million a year. Auriemma is the only women's basketball coach to be the highest paid state employee in the nation. What has he done to earn it? Well, he has seven Final Fours in a row and he two wins away from breaking Pat Summitt's record of eight national titles.

All that success?

"The school, right now, is crazy," Moriah Jefferson said. "Our fans are behind us. Both of us want to go out and win it all."

"It's awesome," Bria Hartley said. "There's just so much pride at UConn right now. All the fans, all the students, it's a really good time for UConn basketball."

It usually is every March.

"It adds to the joy," Ollie said Monday in a national Final Four teleconference. "I root for the women's team. I try to go to some of the games. My daughter loves every girl on their team. It's just a joy to sit back and watch games with her. Last year we went to the Baylor game [at the XL Center]. What an experience for her to meet Maya Moore, who was there in the audience. It's great to have those girls doing a great job, being great student athletes, being role models to my kids. But also have the men's team doing what they're doing is a great synergy. It's great to see both programs, to see UConn on ESPN, any TV outlet each and every night."

UConn last went to the men's and women's Final Four in 2011. The men won it all. In 2004, of course, UConn became the only school to win both the men's and women's title. As giddy as it was for the state and as friendly as players from both teams have been with each other over the years, Calhoun and Auriemma had their own Cold War.

Calhoun is Ollie's mentor. Yet Ollie, who becomes only the fourth coach in the modern era to take a school to the Final Four in his first NCAA tournament appearance, and Auriemma have a much warmer relationship. A great relationship, Ollie said. They golf together. They talk often.

"[Auriemma and Calhoun] are different people, but they both have the same winning mindset, championship level mindset," Ollie said. "They both built great programs in one school. I can learn from both. I also have Dee Rowe. I try to use every one of them in a different way, asking them different, poignant questions that can help me get prepared for this ride."

Now the ride goes to Dallas and the ride goes to Nashville.

"Exhilaration," Manuel said. "But now you've got to figure out how to be two places at once to support both of them."

Manuel took a commercial flight from New York to Nebraska on Monday, but he'll fly with a group of donors between Dallas and Nashville for the Final Four games. Somebody has to raise money to keep both coaches happy.

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