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UConn to play at UB

The University at Buffalo opens its basketball season today in the 2K College Hoops Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. But Bulls fans may be more interested in what's in store next year than what happens today in Storrs.

One of the most celebrated programs in the country -- Big East powerhouse Connecticut -- will be coming to Buffalo next season. As part of the deal, the Bulls will play on UConn's home court either this week or in the 2009-10 season.

The Bulls would meet Jim Calhoun's Huskies on Thursday night if they each win their opening game of the tournament today. UB plays Division II Ohio Valley (4 p.m., Radio 1520 AM). UConn plays Morgan State.

"If we win tomorrow and UConn wins and we play, the deal is done," UB Athletics Director Warde Manuel said. "If we lose or they lose and we don't play in any form in the tournament, then they come here and we go back there in [2009-10]."

Calhoun has led UConn to 14 NCAA bids in the past 17 years. The Huskies have earned 11 NCAA Sweet 16 berths, seven Elite Eight appearances, two NCAA Final Four trips and two national championships.

The 2008-09 game is currently scheduled for Alumni Arena. Manuel declined to comment on if the game could be moved to HSBC Arena. It will mark the third consecutive season that UB has hosted a Big East school. Last season, the Bulls played then No. 2-ranked Pittsburgh at Alumni and South Florida is scheduled for Nov. 13.

The winner of the Storrs Regional of this week's tournament moves on to the championship round the following week at Madison Square Garden. The bracket already has seen a bit of controversy with its pairings.

UB was originally scheduled to play in the Norman, Okla., bracket against Denver but was later asked to play in Storrs in place of Holy Cross. There's little question UConn did not want to face Holy Cross, whose grind-it-out style gives teams fits.

Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said he was informed by the Gazelle Group, the organizers of the tournament, that the Crusaders had been moved to the Oklahoma bracket of the 16-team event.

"I was told by the Gazelle Group we had to be moved, it wasn't a choice, because Connecticut was adamant about not playing us," Willard told the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.

Holy Cross, citing concerns about travel and players missing classes during the midterm of the semester, said no to the change of venue and dropped out of the tournament.

Meanwhile, UB coach Reggie Witherspoon starts his ninth season trying to replace three starters from a 12-19 team.

"We're going to line 'em up and play and hopefully we can use this tournament to get better," Witherspoon said.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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