STORRS, Conn. — Connecticut has gone through the entire postseason without injured guard Jerome Dyson, won an NCAA tournament game without its coach, and won two others while allegations of a recruiting scandal swirled around the program.
Maybe that’s why the Huskies aren’t concerned about having to play a national semifinal Saturday against Michigan State in Detroit, less than 90 miles from the Spartans’ campus in East Lansing.
“This is really going to be an us-against-the-world mentality in that environment,” said point guard A.J. Price.
They’ve had some practice with that.
Coach Jim Calhoun spent the Huskies’ opening round game, a 103-47 rout over Chattanooga, in a Philadelphia hospital suffering from dehydration. He was back on the sidelines for the second-round win over Texas A&M.
The following week, a day before their regional semifinal game against Purdue, a report broke alleging UConn committed major NCAA violations during the recruitment of former player Nate Miles, who left the university in October before ever playing in a game. The Huskies won 72-60, then went on to beat Missouri 82-75 to earn the school’s third trip to the Final Four.
“They have mental and physical toughness,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
It’s a toughness Calhoun said begins with Price, who missed what would have been his freshman season after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was suspended for another season after involvement in the theft of four laptop computers, and blew out his knee in last season’s first-round NCAA loss to San Diego.
Price said he’s learned to treat basketball as a blessing.
“With everything going on, we just block it out and come out here and play,” Price said. “That’s kind of our time to get away from everything, when we are out on that court, playing basketball and having fun.”
On Saturday, that will mean blocking out the noise of over 70,000 fans, most of whom may be rooting for Michigan State. Connecticut had the best road record in the nation during the regular season, its only road loss coming at Pittsburgh.
“I’m very aware of the fact that there will be a little bit of noise for the guys in green,” Calhoun said. “No question. It’s just a fact of life that we have to face, and it’s a basketball game. I’m treating it like a road game, to be quite honest with you.”