ARLINGTON, Texas -- A superstar guard and a return to the national championship -- sounds like 2011 all over again for the UConn Huskies.
Not so fast.
These Huskies are not riding the coattails of the Kemba Walker-led squad that won it all against Butler in Houston.
They have their own identity now, and are one game away from completing their own legacy at UConn.
Shabazz Napier will be the first to tell these Huskies heading to Monday's championship game against Kentucky or Wisconsin that they have carved their own name in the NCAA tournament under second-year coach Kevin Ollie.
"We have totally different players, a totally different coach," Napier said after the Huskies (31-8) upset top-ranked Florida 63-53 in the semifinals Saturday night at AT&T Stadium to advance to their second title game in four years. "We understand we are going to get compared to them. Like we always say, we want to create our own path.
"We want to do the same thing that team did, win a championship, but at the end of the day, we want to go on our own path."
The Huskies still have strong ties to the 2011 run with Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander being a part of both squads.
UConn even marched through Texas for the title with two victories in the Final Four at Reliant Stadium. And when Walker cooled off in the semifinals, just like Napier did to a degree scoring 12 points against the Gators, the Huskies turned to their old standby defense to move on.
The senior class is quick to credit what it learned on the way to a championship for helping to provide the foundation of this team.
"The three seniors, we've been here before," Giffey said. "We've played in the national championship game and we have a ring, so we kind of know what kind of mindset you have to have, the attitude you have to bring on the court to be successful.
"Everyone else has just been buying into that. They've trusted us. They believed and nobody went their own way."
It would be hard for the Huskies to be a house divided with eight players living in the same house this season. Through the ups and downs, the group has really been able to bond and develop individual personalities.
Napier might be playing the lead role now, but the supporting cast has grabbed its share of the limelight, starting with DeAndre Daniels, who turned in his second double-double of the tournament with 20 points and 10 rebounds against Florida. Read Full Article
"It just so happens we have a couple guys from the 2011 team on this squad, but I think we have our own character," Giffey said. "Obviously we are similar because we have learned so much from these guys. We learned how you have to carry yourself and how you have to be a good teammate and well-functioning team, but we have too many funny characters."
Junior guard Ryan Boatright might be only 6-feet tall, but won't back down from anyone, including the 6-9, 240-pound beast Patric Young when battling for a rebound.
Freshman Terrence Samuel went from seldom-used to a must-play third guard in the lineup, while Phil Nolan might have the personality of a left-handed pitcher, but tries his best each night to give the Huskies some muscle in the paint along with 7-foot freshman Amida Brimah.
"We just believe in each other and continue to work for each other and push each other," Napier said. "When you (do that), good things can happen."
And it has for this team, but they have gone their own rout to accomplish reaching the national championship game.