NEW YORK — The University of Connecticut will make its 11th Elite Eight appearance Sunday when it faces Michigan State in the East Regional championship at Madison Square Garden.
One of those appearances, however, didn’t go as planned for coach Kevin Ollie when he played for the Huskies.
Ollie’s playing career came to a bittersweet conclusion in a 102-96 loss to UCLA in the 1995 West Regional championship, a game in which he was held to 2 points on 1-for-6 shooting.
Ollie preferred not to rehash that setback Saturday, opting instead to focus on the success of UConn’s last trip to a regional final.
“The last Elite Eight I remember is 2011 when we won, and went to [win] the national championship,’’ Ollie said, referring to UConn’s 65-63 victory over Arizona in the 2011 West Regional championship in Anaheim, Calif.
Ollie was an assistant coach on that team that eventually beat Butler, 53-41, in Houston for the national championship.
“The last one — in 1995 — it was my last game in a UConn jersey,’’ Ollie said. “So it ended not the way I wanted to, but I still remember the fond memories I had with my university and with my teammates, that I still have as friends to this day.
“But the last Elite Eight I remember is winning, and going on and playing in Houston.’’
The No. 7 seed Huskies (29-8), who advanced after an 81-76 victory over third-seeded Iowa State Friday night, would love nothing more than to eliminate the fourth-seeded Spartans (29-8), who clinched their eighth Elite Eight berth (the last seven under coach Tom Izzo) with a 61-59 victory Friday over top-seeded Virginia.
But UConn can ill afford to allow an opponent to go off for 34 points, as Iowa State’s Dustin Hogue did Friday night. Fortunately for the Huskies, DeAndre Daniels stepped up and helped offset Hogue’s offensive production with 27 points, including 19 in the second half, to go along with 10 rebounds.
“Their big guys are good,’’ Izzo said of the Huskies. “If you look at it, they get more scoring out of their guards than their perimeter guys . . . But their big guys impressed me, too. Then when you take a kid like Daniels, who has an incredible, incredible night, doing it inside and outside, we’ve got our work cut out for us.’’
UConn utilized 7-foot freshman Amida Brimah (4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) off the bench to disrupt the shooting rhythm of Melvin Ejim, the Big 12’s Player of the Year, who was held to 7 points on 3-for-13 shooting.
“We’re going to have to do the same thing with [Michigan State’s] Adreian Payne, but then [Branden] Dawson, we’ve got to keep him off the backboard,’’ Ollie said. “I thought we did that in spurts [Friday] night, but we have to do it at a high level. We’re going to have to hit first and we have to commit to [getting] hit.
“We’re going to have to corral basketballs and 50-50 situations. We got to get every one of those balls, because they’re a tough-minded team. And I think we’re tough, too.’’
The Huskies demonstrated their resilience not only in Friday’s semifinal, holding off Iowa State after a furious comeback whittled a 17-point lead to 4 with 2:19 to go, but also in last year’s season-opening 66-62 triumph over Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game and we just went out there and we wanted to play as hard as we could,’’ Shabazz Napier, UConn’s senior guard from Roxbury, Mass., said of the win over the Spartans.
“We understood that win or lose it really didn’t matter since we were not going to the [NCAA] Tournament [because of academic sanctions]. But we had so much passion for the game that we wanted to go out there and give them our best effort.
“And the respect that we gave them, especially with the crowd there, it was just something that came over us that we wanted to win so badly,’’ Napier added. “I don’t expect that game to be anything like this game.
“Michigan State, they have grown. We have grown. And we know this is going to be a dogfight and that game [last year], we’re not even thinking about it. It’s a new game and a new day.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.