STORRS, Conn. — The UConn men’s basketball program’s third national title, in 2011, came after what many remember as one of the worst national championship games in the history of the tournament. Three-seeded UConn beat No. 8 seed Butler, 53-41, after the Bulldogs put together a record-low scoring performance.
Butler shot just 18.8% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc, the Bulldogs even missed six of their 14 free-throw attempts. UConn wasn’t much better. The Huskies scored only 19 points in the first half and trailed at halftime. Thanks mostly to Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi, Jim Calhoun’s squad ended up finishing an improved 34.5% from the field but only 1 of 11 from 3.
That game, with all of its shooting challenges, was played at Reliant Stadium in Houston — now named NRG Stadium and hosting this year’s Final Four weekend.
“We get a practice in there, a closed practice and get another chance to shoot,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “I do think that we have guys that are confident shooters — you know, Jordan (Hawkins) thinks he’s gonna make every shot, Joey (Calcaterra) thinks he’s gonna make every shot, Alex (Karaban) — we’ll be confident.”
The cavernous football dome, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, seats 71,000 and is, by far, the largest venue any player has played in.
“I’ve seen some videos about the court they’re building and it’s crazy,” redshirt freshman Alex Karaban said. “I mean, I know me and Donovan (Clingan) have talked about it a little, he’s super excited, and to have 70,000 people in the arena, I don’t even know how I’m going to react to that yet. No problem shooting. The nerves, we’ll control the nerves I hope but we’ll be super excited.”
NRG Stadium last hosted the Final Four in 2016, the year Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono famously found Kris Jenkins for a championship-winning buzzer-beater to stun North Carolina, 77-74. That was the first of two Jay Wright national titles.
Hurley has heard from Wright, Calhoun, Geno Auriemma and even Mike Krzyzewski (21 combined national championships among the four) as he prepares to coach in his first Final Four. UConn draws Miami on Saturday in Houston (8:49 p.m. CBS). The program is 8-1 in Final Fours all time and 4-1 in national semifinals alone.
“Especially the last month I’ve really started to get a lot of counsel from Coach Calhoun and Geno, talking to them about end-of-season, obviously the NCAA, practice length and intensity and mentality and different things. Obviously those guys are tremendous resources,” Hurley said. “And then Jay and Coach K, I was able to talk to them just about what to expect when you get there, how to keep the team focused, mistakes that they made.”