By Daniel Marco | @DanielMarco1995
Sports Capital Journalism Program
HOUSTON – When you think of college basketball, the big name, upper echelon programs come to mind; Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, the so called “blue bloods.”
With this year’s run to the title game, Connecticut has staked its claim as a member of that group. Since the school’s first national championship in 1999 under coach Jim Calhoun, the Huskies have advanced to five title games, with a chance to preserve a perfect record Monday night against San Diego State.
The five championship game appearances in that span tied North Carolina, which has won three of its titles since 1999. If you include women’s national championships, UConn has now racked up a 14 titles within the last 25 years across its entire basketball program, by far and away the most of any other school. The Connecticut women won their first national championship in 1995.
“Geno Auriemma and coach Calhoun created this brand,” Connecticut coach Dan Hurley said. “That makes it very appealing because of all of the history and tradition here.”
“I think it’s really one of the best college programs there is,” freshman forward Alex Karaban said. “Especially for winning national championships, and hopefully tomorrow we can add to that.”
When the Huskies manage to get to the Final Four, they make sure they take care of business. They have the highest Final Four winning percentage of any program in history with multiple Final Four appearances. Their semifinal victory over Miami gave UConn a Final Four record of 9-1, with their lone loss coming to Michigan State in 2009. The winning percentage of 90% is the highest among teams that have played a minimum of three games.
“I always thought we fit in with those (elite) teams,” sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins said. “I’m a little younger, so my dad really had to educate me on UConn and the history here and how much of a powerhouse they were, but I feel like UConn’s always been elite.”
At 4-0, UConn is also perfect in title game appearances, with wins over Duke in 1999, Georgia Tech in 2004, Butler in 2011, and Kentucky in 2014. UConn has the most ever national title game appearances with a perfect record, although UCLA’s record of 11-1 and Indiana’s record of 5-1 come close.
“We’ve always said we bleed blue,” junior guard Andre Jackson said. “That’s something we truly believe, that UConn is a blue blood and is a program that has great history on both sides, men’s and women’s. A lot of us came here with a desire to play in games like this, and UConn is such a great destination and program, every day we have to work to that standard.”
It hasn’t always been this way, though. For years, the Huskies have struggled for relevance in the national scene. In the school’s first 13 NCAA tournament appearances, from 1951 through 1979, 10 ended with first-round losses, with two regional semifinal appearances and one spot in the Elite Eight in 1964. That all changed when Calhoun arrived in 1986, turning the program around and leading the Huskies to their first ever Big East regular season and conference tournament titles in 1990 and going on an Elite Eight run the same season.
“Initially, when I was on the way up, I didn’t know anything about UConn,” Hurley said. “With all due respect, watching those early Big East games, it was (Syracuse’s) Derrick Coleman, and it was Georgetown and St. John’s. And then, Tate George and Chris Smith commit, and all of a sudden, they’re the elite program in the Northeast and one of the best programs in the country.”
If the Huskies win Monday night, it would be impossible to dispute UConn’s status at the top of the college basketball pyramid.
“I always thought UConn was a blue blood,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know who’s not calling us that, but yeah, UConn’s a blue blood, and if they don’t call us that, they’re hating.”
“I think we are one of the blue bloods,” Karaban said. “I know that’s up for debate right now, but I think that if we do win tomorrow, we should be certified as one of the blue bloods.”