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The Connecticut Huskies have seized the personality, and the passion, of their coach. They come after you. They get after you. They beat you up inside. They wear you down outside. They lead you by a couple of points and you figure: we’ll be fine.
A few minutes later, you’re down 10.
A few minutes after that, you’re down 15.
And before you know it, Danny Hurley and his Huskies are just steamrolling over you. There have been a lot of nice stories scattered all around the brackets at this NCAA Tournament. Right now there is one steamroller. There is one beast. It is headquartered in Storrs, Conn., and is bound for Houston next week.
“We just kind of got back to the team we were early in the season,” Hurley said in the jubilant aftermath of a 82-54 Elite Eight evisceration of Gonzaga that capped a merry tour through the West Region in which UConn took a blowtorch to four opponents, winning by an average of 22 ½ points per game.
“The Big East is the best conference in the country and we went through some struggles,” Hurley said. “But once we got out of that league and started playing nonconference teams again, we were OK.”
It is a return to splendor for UConn, which has won four NCAA Tournaments since 1999, but had stumbled upon difficult times when it spent a few unhappy years in exile in the AAC in the latter days of the Kevin Ollie era. Now UConn is back as a foundational member of the Big East, and a Final Four entrant, and the single-hottest basketball team on the planet.
“I can’t wait to climb that ladder,” Hurley said of the nets beckoning to be cut.
If you remember Hurley as a player, this is all familiar to you. He was always a bulldog, always led with his heart. It wasn’t enough that he was Bobby Hurley’s kid brother, he was also Bob Hurley Sr.’s younger son.
The Hurleys of Jersey City have long been one of basketball’s royal families, but they have always been far more salt-of-the-earth than to-the-manor-born. None more so than Danny, who ran the show for P.J. Carlesimo back at Seton Hall, who spent 10 years mastering the craft of coaching at Newark’s St. Benedict’s Prep before hitting the ground running as a head coach at Wagner, and then at Rhode Island.
Now he will coach in the Final Four. Son of a legend. Sonofagun.
“One thing nobody will ever be able to accuse Danny of,” his father told me last year, “is that he ever rode my coattails, or rode Bobby’s coattails.”
The old man laughed at that.
“Actually,” he said, “I’d like to see someone try.”
Fifty-three weeks earlier, the Huskies had crashed and burned in Buffalo, first-round upset losers against New Mexico State in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Bob was there watching his son, and felt sick for him. But not as sick as Danny did.
“It’s hard,” he’d said that night. “[We had] a really good year, but we played poorly in the NCAA Tournament.”
The seeds were sown that day. They bloomed in Albany, with blowout wins over Iona and St. Mary’s, and blossomed in Las Vegas, with annihilations of Arkansas and Gonzaga. The second half Saturday was a 20-minute joyride, the UConn contingent at T-Mobile Arena giddy with joy, the walk-ons getting plenty of run. Danny and Bobby embraced at the end.
So did Danny and Bob Sr. So much to celebrate, so much to anticipate.
And why not? No basketball team anywhere on the planet is playing better right now. They can’t get to Houston soon enough.