Huskymania

By Ken Best

Tracking Huskymania on and off the field.

Football Seeks Win for Bowl Eligibility, Big East Realignment Adds Tulane and East Carolina

The final regular season game for the football team on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC, UConn IMG Sport Radio Network, WHUS)  is like déjà vu all over again, with the Huskies (5-6, 2-4) needing to beat Cincinnati  (8-3, 4-2) in order to be eligible for a postseason bowl game for the fifth time in six years. Last year at Nippert Stadium, the Bearcats won 35-27, but head coach Paul Pasqualoni’s 2012 team has won two consecutive games, including last weekend’s upset over nationally ranked Louisville.

Defensive tackle Ryan Wirth ’13 (CLAS), one of 16 seniors who will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies, says the team’s leaders want a different outcome this year.

“We were just talking about it. We’re one year older, but it’s a different team [with] the same situation, so it’s going to be fun,” he said. “If we come out and get things done, we have a chance to end the season on the right note.”

Senior wide receiver Nick Williams ’13 (ED) said the upperclassmen have set the tone for the team through the season’s roller coaster of wins and losses.

“In practice they set the tone on how hard everybody’s playing,” Williams said. “In meetings they set the tone with their body language, how much film you’re watching. What a tough team prides yourself on is your approach doesn’t change, whether you’re a winning team or a losing team. The approach is the same.”

Pasqualoni said the seniors have earned his respect through their perseverance during the two years he has coached the team.

“This team is resilient. This group of seniors is tough,” he said. They persevere; they keep coming back. Guys like Ryan Wirth, when this is over, I’ll miss because of their toughness. Toughness – very few people are born with it. You develop it. We’ve got guys on this team that I have the ultimate respect for. That’s what I’ll remember about this team.”

Cincinnati is looking for a win to earn a share of the Big East regular season title, which would happen if Louisville (9-2,4-2) can beat Rutgers (9-2,5-1), which has already won a share of the title, on Thursday in a nationally-televised game on ESPN at 7:30 p.m.

Bearcats head coach Butch Jones said senior quarterback Brendon Kay is gaining confidence since taking over running the offense from junior QB Munchie LeGaux three weeks ago.

“I see his confidence level continuing to grow,” Jones said. “Did he leave some throws out there [last week against South Florida]? Yes. But I thought he managed the game and took care of the football. He’s going to have to grow up quickly against UConn’s front seven and their secondary.”

Cincinnati comes into the game second in the Big East in total offense, 437.5 yards per game, and second in scoring offense at 30.7 points. Running back George Winn gained 119 yards and scored two touchdowns in the team’s 27-10 win over South Florida. Tight End Travis Kelce has gained 530 yards this season. Defensively, the Bearcats are fifth in total defense in the conference and second in scoring, holding teams to 17.2 points.

The Huskies again will seek to improve their offensive production in the second half of the game, which has only scored a field goal in regulation in the past six games. The 13 points scored in last week’s upset of Louisville came in overtime.

“This is a very tough team we’re facing,” Pasqualoni said. “They’re a very physical team. They play a lot like we do up front. They don’t give up a lot of points. Winn is probably the best back we’ll see this year. They’ve got Brendon Kay in there [and] he’s played pretty solid football. They’re running the same offense that revolves around getting the ball to Winn [and] getting the ball to the athletic receivers that they have.”

Pasqualoni said senior quarterback Johnny McEntee  ’13 (CLAS) will continue to work with the starting team in practice last week, after taking over for Chandler Whitmer ’15 (ED) , who left the Louisville game after a hard hit. He said Whitmer will continue to be evaluated each day as to his fitness to return to playing. McEntee threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Shakim Phillips ’15 (CLAS) in the overtime.

Junior kicker Chad Christen ’14 (CLAS) was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week for scoring 11 points – three-for-three in field goals and two PATs — in the Louisville game, including the game-winning 30-yard field goal that won the game in the third overtime period.

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The Big East made another move in the ongoing chess match of realignment in college football, with the announcement Tuesday by Commissioner Mike Aresco ’76 JD that Tulane will join the conference as a full member in 2014 and East Carolina will join as a football-only member in the same season. Both now compete in Conference USA.

Tulane is one of the nation’s highly regarded and selective independent research universities and is led by Scott Cowen ’68 (BUS), a member of the School of Business Hall of Fame at UConn. East Carolina is a public university and research institution nationally recognized for preparing rural family physicians, educational professionals and for tis strong performing arts programs.

The addition of Tulane and East Carolina comes a week after Rutgers announced it will leave the Big East for the Big Ten.

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Tickets for Sunday’s NCAA men’s soccer tournament game at Morrone Stadium are available at UConnhuskies.com or by calling 1-877-AT-UCONN. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for youths and seniors.

The No.4 seeded Huskies will play No. 12 Creighton, beginning at 1 p.m.

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BASKETBALL BRAGGING RIGHTS: Tonight’s women’s basketball game between the Huskies and Colgate at the XL Center in Hartford has some sibling rivalry attached to it. The president of Colgate is Jeffrey Herbst, the brother of UConn President Susan Herbst.

Head coach Geno Auriemma said during yesterday’s media session that the game was scheduled after conversations with Colgate head coach Nicci Hays Fort, who took over the program two years ago after serving as associate head coach to Doug Bruno at DePaul, Auriemma’s close friend and one of the assistants on the U.S. Women’s Olympic team that won the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. He said it was not until after the game was put on the schedule that they realized the game might have some special meaning for their presidents.

“I’ve gotten more than a few memos from [the president],” Auriemma said with a smile. “I’m under a little bit of pressure.”

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis ’15 (CLAS), second leading scorer on the No. 2 women’s basketball team with 16.2 points per game, is a doubtful starter for tonight’s game as she recovers from a concussion the suffered on Saturday.

Freshman Breanna Stewart, the team’s leading scorer averaging 17.8 points, was named to this week’s Big East honor Roll after averaging 19 points, 6.7 rebounds and blocking 7 shots and being named the Tournament MVP in The Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, which the Huskies won with a win over No. 12/14 Purdue last weekend.