NEW YORK — Jim Calhoun, a Naismith Hall of Famer, stalking the sidelines and constantly bending officials’ ears with his distinct Boston accent and combative personality. Ray Allen’s scissor-kick jumper at the end of the 1996 Big East final to win a championship. Cardiac Kemba Walker leading his team to five wins in five days — and then to a national title afterward— in 2011.
The University of Connecticut, a founding member of the Big East Conference in 1979, is as integral to the league’s mystique on the hardwood than any other league member, past or present, and for the first time since the seismic conference realignment of 2013 tore the Big East apart, the Huskies — who moved to the newly-formed American Athletic Conference before rejoining the Big East before the start of last season — will take part in the Big East Tournament in front of their rabid fan base that turns out in droves to Madison Square Garden. Yes, they participated in last year’s Big East Tournament, but, due to COVID restrictions, attendance was limited to the families and close friends of the players and coaches.
Tonight, however, will have almost 20,000 fans (who must be fully vaccinated to gain entry into the arena) packed into the World’s Most Famous Arena, with a good number of them coming together as one to bellow a familiar chant inside MSG at this time of year:
U! C! O! N! N! UCONN! UCONN! UCONN!
As it turned out, the return of the Huskies to their fans at MSG was a successful one, with Connecticut, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, downing another original Big East member, No. 6 seed Seton Hall, 62-52 to advance to the semifinals. R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin each scored 17 points as the Huskies opened up a 29-18 advantage at halftime and did not look back from there.
The already-charged atmosphere present at that game should go up another few decibels on Friday night, when the Huskies take on No. 2 Villanova, who squeaked past St. John’s 66-65 in the first evening session quarterfinal. The Wildcats, who supplanted the Huskies as the leviathan of the league after the latter’s departure from the Big East, came back from a 17-point deficit and needed two free throws from Brandon Slater with 2.8 seconds remaining to eke out the victory.
In the day session, Providence once again pulled out a close victory, 65-61 over No. 9 seed Butler and No. 4 Creighton defeated No. 5 Marquette 74-63. More on those teams when we set preview semifinal Friday in the afternoon!
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s quarterfinals, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Jenny Rohl. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 36 pictures in total.