For several years, during the pregame presentation that was shown on the big screens overlooking Gampel Pavilion, UConn’s video staffers included a clip of former Husky Stanley Robinson loudly proclaiming “Sixteen Big East championships!” as part of a series of snippets extolling the program’s accomplishments.
That number, which included seven league tournament titles and nine regular season championships, was, at the time it was last aired in 2013, the most of any other program in the Big East Conference.
The Huskies, who returned to the Big East Wednesday after a seven-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, still have more than anyone else in the league.
UConn went 325-233 in its 34-year initial run in the Big East. As it prepares for Round 2, let’s take a look back at the top 10 moments from the Huskies’ first spin.
NO. 10 FOR STARTERS (SETON HALL, DEC. 22, 1979)
UConn’s foray into the conference envisioned, created and led by Dave Gavitt, began with a decisive victory.
Mike McKay had 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists as the Huskies beat Seton Hall 89-73 at the Field House in their first-ever Big East Conference game.
NO. 9 DONYELL DOMINATES (AT ST. JOHN’S, JAN. 15, 1994 AND VS. ST. JOHN’S MARCH 11, 1994)
UConn’s first consensus All-American didn’t discriminate when it came to opponents. He pounded Seton Hall, poured it on Boston College, and put it to Villanova every chance he got.
But Marshall for some reason dominated St. John’s like no one else. So much so that in the winter of 1994 Marshall had not one, but two 42-point games against the Johnnies. The second, which came in the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden, was impressive in its own right but the first meeting saw Marshall go an incredible 20-for-20 from the foul line.
NO. 8 THE FIRST ‘1’ (AT SYRACUSE, JAN. 23, 1995)
UConn knew what it was playing for. Yes, a chance to keep its win streak alive and win in the Carrier Dome, always a pleasure, but the No. 3 Huskies were poised, with a victory, to move to No. 1 in the nation for the first time in program history if they beat the Orange.
And so they did. Ray Allen scored a game-high 18 points as UConn beat No. 9 Syracuse 77-70 at the Dome. It was a record-setting 17th straight league win for the Huskies.
The next day, UConn ascended to the top spot in the Associated Press’ weekly rankings for the first time in program history. It also was the first time both a men’s and women’s team from the same school held the top spot in both polls.
NO. 7 KHALID TAKES CARE OF BUSINESS (AT PITTSBURGH, DEC. 12, 1998)
UConn point guard Khalid El-Amin took as much venom and taunting as any player in Husky history, with the possible exception of Marcus Williams or A.J. Price.
But El-Amin often had the last word. He certainly did on this day in the Steel City. Booed and screamed at for much of the afternoon, El-Amin hit a shot just before the buzzer to give the Huskies a stunning, come-from-behind, 70-69 win over the host Panthers.
NO. 6 TALIEK FROM QUEENS (VS. PITTSBURGH, MARCH 9, 2002)
UConn point guard Taliek Brown, a New York native who relished playing at Madison Square Garden, hit a shot from another borough in the Huskies’ 2002 Big East championship game victory.
Brown, who was 17-for-75 from beyond the 3-point arc in his UConn career, still managed to hoist and bury a 36-footer as the shot clock expired in the final minutes of what turned out to be a 76-65 Husky victory and gave the program the tournament title.
NO. 5 THE NEVERENDING STORY (VS. SYRACUSE, MARCH 12-13, 2009)
UConn fans don’t necessarily like seeing it on the list, but the Huskies’ 127-117 loss to Syracuse in six overtimes as part of the 2009 Big East Tournament remains one of college basketball’s most amazing games.
Yes, the Huskies didn’t trail in regulation, the first overtime, the second overtime, the third overtime, the fourth overtime or the fifth overtime, yet somehow managed to lose. But the game was a classic for a variety of reasons, not that then-UConn coach Jim Calhoun had any notion of acknowledging its place in history immediately following the affair. “It’s just a loss,” he said afterward.
NO. 4 FIRST OF THE FIRST MEN (VS. SYRACUSE, MARCH 11, 1990)
In the minds of its fans, UConn had already established itself as a national contender and the best the league had to offer before the 1990 conference tournament.
But the national media - UConn fans bemoaned Brent Musburger’s call of Syracuse’s regular season finale, when he proclaimed the Orange’s victory had given them the Big East’s regular season title, when if fact it was merely a share of the one UConn had already secured - may not have been sure that little upstart UConn was ready to be a player on the big stage.
But UConn’s 78-75 win over Syracuse in the Big East championship game, its second victory over the Orange that season, secured the Huskies their first-ever league tournament title.
Tate George led the Huskies with 22 points and Chris Smith added 20.
NO. 3 THE SNUB (VS. ST. JOHN’S, MARCH 6, 1999)
Never missing a chance to motivate a player for a slight, perceived or otherwise, Jim Calhoun fired up forward Kevin Freeman after the forward was left off the all-conference teams by the league’s head coaches just prior to the 1999 Big East Tournament. All Freeman did was dominate the event, including an 82-63 win over St. John’s in the title game. Freeman averaged 21.5 points per game in the Huskies’ first two tourney games then shut down St. John’s forward Ron Artest (Meta Wolrd Peace, now) in the final.
Before the Huskies “Shocked the World” and beat Duke for their first national title, there were some who thought Miami might still be the best team in the Big East that year or that St. John’s had a good shot to beat UConn in the tourney. UConn put those ideas to rest.
NO. 2 KEMBA IS KING (VS. PITTSBURGH, MARCH 10, 2011)
Cardiac Kemba sounds like a good name for a health club in Storrs, no? Kemba Walker earned more than a nickname for his ankle-breaking, step-back jumper to beat Pittsburgh 76-74 in the Big East Tournament. He earned the title of “UConn legend.”
Part of a remarkable five wins in five days, and a larger 11-game win streak to end the season, Walker’s performance continues to receive rave reviews even a decade after it occurred.
NO. 1 RAY OF HOPE (VS. GEORGETOWN, MARCH 9, 1996)
On a court packed with a litany of future NBA players, Ray Allen shone brightest of all. The UConn great’s runner in the final seconds of a fabulous Big East championship game gave the Huskies a 75-74 win over the Hoyas.
Georgetown fans to this day claim, not without lack of evidence, that: A) Allen traveled; B) Allen Iverson’s potential game-winner looked good for most of the way; and C) Jerome Williams doesn’t miss that put-back very often.
Of course, the only response UConn fans typically come up with involve asking their Hoya counterparts to look at the scoreboard.