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A great story just got better

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published February 14. 2013 4:00AM

Hartford

They had already given us a season. Even before Wednesday, the night sprinkles of orange dotted the XL Center panorama. They gave us Michigan State in Germany, the Napier-to-Boatright lob that took down Notre Dame. They had already given us more than even the most ardent optimist could have expected.

But then came long, strong Syracuse, the last night of the rivalry, the night another rainbow was there for the climbing.

And now much the way Rick and Ilsa always had Paris, the UConn Huskies will always have Valentine's Eve, 2013, the night that, quite fittingly, trumpeted the hope and wonder of heart.

UConn 66, Syracuse 58.

Long into March, when the others are still playing and UConn is home, the shapes and forms and echoes from 13,518 fans and the sense of accomplishment of taking down another top 10 team will surely make it all a duller ache.

UConn teams of lore and legend will be more accomplished than this one.

But no UConn team - ever - will be a better story.

Or easier to root for.

The Huskies of 2013, amid a preseason wilderness of despair, once again show the best sports stories of all come out of nowhere.

As in: Who'd have ever thought UConn, playing plucky, 6-foot-5 Niels Giffey at power forward, could beat Syracuse and all of its lads with arms longer than a Sunday sermon?

"I know they're long," UConn coach Kevin Ollie was saying after the game, "but we have heart and you can't measure that. You can't measure what we've been through and how determined our guys are to show America we're a good team. There wasn't a point where we looked at their length and how many guys they have dunking."

Instead, Ollie looked at his team. The one with all the kids who play like they don't care about anything else other than making sure the other team loses.

"Kevin's done an unbelievable job. A great job. A tremendous job," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "You can see that based on all the games they've played. They've won big games, played hard, played together all year. It's hard to come in and do that in your first year. Kevin's done an absolutely tremendous job."

It wasn't long after that Ollie was answering another question and referenced his own career. How the focus was often on what he couldn't do. All of which makes Ollie the perfect choice to coach this team.

They just beat No. 6 in the country with four guards. They beat No. 6 in the country, whose first basket of the game was a lob to Rakeem Christmas, punctuated by a rattling dunk, momentarily quieting the loyalists standing and clapping rhythmically at the XL Center. UConn's response: Lob from Shabazz Napier to noted dunker Tyler Olander.

Boom.

Take that.

And all night, it was UConn performing various renditions of "anything you can do we can do better."

"You've got to get out of your comfort zone if you want to beat Syracuse and these other teams," Ollie said. "You have to break those walls down and get to another level."

The narrative before the night began: lament over the last conference game ever with Syracuse.

The narrative when it was over: The season nobody really saw coming marches on triumphantly, with the man who should be so far in front of Big East Coach of the Year voting, he should win first and second.

Ollie clapped his hands, but remained fairly stoic, when the game ended. As if he'd been there before. This just in: He has. He was already taking about Villanova on Saturday in the postgame news conference.

But this was a beauty from February whose tentacles go long into March.

"We're just one of the purest teams playing right now," Ollie said. "We're not playing for the postseason. We're playing for the love of UConn. We're playing for the love of each other. We're playing for the pride of getting better. They can't ban us from that."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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