Kevin Ollie and Shabazz Napier have a lot to smile about.
Two years ago, Ollie took over for Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. There was pressure on Ollie as he replaced a legend.
If that wasn't hard enough, Ollie was handed a tough situation his first season; the Huskies were ineligible for the NCAA tournament due to a low APR over a four-year span. Ollie was able to keep his team together and the Huskies played well.
This season, Connecticut has had some bumps in the road. Two losses to SMU, a 33-point blowout at Louisville, and a loss to the Cardinals in the AAC final left some wondering about the Huskies as a viable Final Four contender.
Ollie has done a terrific job. He deserves a long-term deal to stay in Storrs.
As a No. 7 seed, the Huskies got a favorable draw. Wins over Saint Joseph's and Villanova sent Connecticut to their home away from home, Madison Square Garden. They caught another break when Iowa State was short-handed; Georges Niang, the team's third-leading scorer, was out with a fractured bone in his foot.
Connecticut survived and advanced. Then came Sunday's upset over Michigan State. Napier and Ryan Boatright stepped up, while the Spartans turned the ball over 16 times and relied on shooting jump shots, abandoning an inside game.
Napier has been one of the true stars of the tournament so far. He's averaged 23 PPG, willing the Huskies to the Final Four. Against the Spartans, Napier hit three clutch free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt to extend a two-point lead up to five with 31 seconds left. I don't understand why some pro scouts rate him as low as a late second-round pick. This guy has proven himself time and time again.
The road to the Final Four for Napier is very similar to the run by Kemba Walker in 2011. Walker got to cut down the nets in Houston, while Napier also gets his shot in the state of Texas. Both players are leaders and clutch performers.
Connecticut needs Boatright and DeAndre Daniels to come through, as they have the last two games, if it hopes to win its fourth men's championship.
I am looking forward to the Connecticut-Florida rematch in Texas. The Huskies handed the Gators their last loss, 65-64 on Dec. 2 in Storrs. Can Ollie & Co. do it again?