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UConn's reversal of fortune took just one month; Calhoun pushes Huskies in March

STORRS, Conn. -- Heading into the postseason at the end of February, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had lost his battle with the NCAA, his sister-in-law to cancer, and four of five basketball games.

He's had a better March.

Star guard Kemba Walker said it was tough to watch Calhoun go through those hard times, and one of the best parts of UConn's run to the Final Four had been seeing a smile return to his face.

"I heard guys say he lost it, you know his coaching ability, something like that," Walker said. "So, for us to be in the Final Four, especially being a team that was picked to be 10th in the Big East. it's special after all this program has been through."

On Feb. 22, Calhoun was cited by the NCAA for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance within his program and was suspended for the first three Big East games during the 2011-12 season.

The NCAA also hit UConn with scholarship reductions for three academic years, recruiting restrictions, permanent disassociation of a booster and three years probation for recruiting violations.

Calhoun missed the next game at Marquette to attend the funeral of his wife's sister. The Huskies lost that game and two of the next three to end the regular season.

Calhoun said he began to see the team getting down on itself. So, after losing to Notre Dame 70-67 on senior night, a loss that dropped the Huskies to the ninth seed in the Big East tournament, Calhoun put them through one of the hardest practices of the season.

"It's a young team, 21-9 wasn't a bad ending," he said. "We were going to the NCAA tournament. But damn it, we weren't going to put our shoulders down and we were going to play."

He said that's exactly what they decided to do.

"These kids were going to give it everything they had, leave it on the Madison Square Garden floor," he said. "And five days later, they actually took something from Madison Square Garden."

That would be the championship trophy. They then continued the roll into the NCAA tournament, and haven't looked back.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier said he thinks the team has taken on the personality of its coach.

"We don't let down from a fight," he said.

Calhoun has spent a lot of time since the Huskies' win over Arizona in the West final being introspective.

He has acknowledged making mistakes over the past two seasons. But he also told reporters that he is content right now -- of course, the winning helps -- because he feels he has been true to himself, to his family, to God and to his players.

"Have I done everything the right way? No," he said Tuesday. "But I did it my way. I'm not Sinatra right now, but I have. I am who I am, and quite frankly my skin and the person living inside that skin is pretty comfortable with who he is."


NIT final tonight

NEW YORK -- Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall bristles when he hears the term "mid-major" applied to his team, even though he understands where people are coming from.

"There is not a lot that is mid-major about these guys," Marshall said.

The Shockers have yet another opportunity to prove that tonight, when they face top-seeded Alabama in the NIT championship game (7 p.m., ESPN2). It's the first of two eventual title games that pit teams from smaller leagues against those from the major conferences.

Butler and VCU meet in the Final Four in Houston on Saturday, with the winner facing UConn or Kentucky -- a pair of traditional basketball powers -- for the national championship.

"I like to refer to our situation as a non-BCS program," Marshall said of the conferences that belong to football's Bowl Championship Series.


UB's Brown honored

University at Buffalo senior Kourtney Brown earned All-America honorable mention honors by the Associated Press Wednesday following a banner senior season.

Brown was the only Mid-American Conference player on the list and is just the second UB player and first since Tiffany Bell (2000, '01) to receive All-America honors. This past season she led the MAC in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots. She is the Bulls' career leader in points (1,995), rebounds (1,124) and blocks (260). For the second time, she was named MAC defensive player of the year.

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