There is a new basketball coaching star on the rise, and his name is Kevin Ollie.
Connecticut’s second-year coach is headed to AT&T Stadium in Arlington for the NCAA Final Four this weekend after the Huskies defeated Michigan State 60-54 Sunday in the East Regional final at Madison Square Garden.
He’s the fifth coach in the 64-team tournament era to take a team to the Final Four in his first or second year. It’s a lucrative trip to North Texas, too.
Ollie, who was born in Dallas but grew up in Los Angeles, earns a $33,333 bonus for UConn’s Final Four berth. He’s earned $100,000 in bonuses so far this season.
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He took over on an interim basis in September 2012 when Jim Calhoun resigned after 26 seasons. He was later named the permanent head coach, his first head coaching job. The two embraced before the Huskies cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden.
“He always believed in me from Day 1,” Ollie said of Calhoun, who recruited him out of LA’s Crenshaw High School. “And I thank him to death for it. And that’s what I told him in his ear. ‘Thank you for believing in me.’ ”
UConn won its last of three NCAA titles under Calhoun in 2011 in Houston, Ollie’s first season as an assistant.
“It’s not just a one-man show,” said Ollie, who has several assistants who were on staff when he was a UConn player in the mid 1990s. “That’s why I got a great coaching staff, that’s why I got great players, and that’s why I want to just keep forging on and keep building. Don’t lay on your success. Keep building on your success. I think we’re doing that and we are going to enjoy a trip to Texas again.”
UConn won despite being outrebounded (32-30) and outshot (39.1 to 34.7 percent). What doomed Michigan State? Turnovers.
The Spartans turned the ball over 16 times, including a rash of early miscues that helped ignite the Huskies’ hot start. UConn turned it over only eight times and outscored MSU 18-14 off turnovers and 8-2 on second-chance points.
“In the first half, 12 of their 21 points were on turnovers or second shots,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo, whose team averaged 11.5 turnovers in its first 37 games. “That doesn’t happen to us that often. And then in the second half to have a nine-point lead and we just did not execute. Give [UConn] credit, they did.”
0-2 UConn’s record against SMU this season. The Mustangs were left out of the NCAA Tournament but are two wins away from winning the NIT.
21 of 22 UConn at the free-throw line, including Shabazz Napier, who was 9 for 9.
100 to 1 Odds UConn would win the NCAA championship before the tournament.
“Yeah, it’s kind of unfair. We come here and we plant a lot of seeds here. And our fans come here and as we always say, it’s like our third home. So we feel real comfortable here, and I’m glad we are not too far away from Madison Square Garden, the mecca of basketball. It’s exciting to play here. We feel the intensity from our crowd. We feel the intensity just from the overwhelming sensation when you first walk in here. It’s just a special feeling to continue to create our history and win games here.” — UConn guard Shabazz Napier on the Huskies winning their 61st game at MSG in front of a crowd made up mostly of their fans.