UConn students turn Gampel into a place of celebration
Updated 8:15 am, Tuesday, April 8, 2014
STORRS -- About a half-hour before all heck was going to break loose, Gampel Pavilion was quiet as the dozens of security guards took to their stations, preparing for the mad rush to begin.
And when the rush began, it was very loud.
But before, the line of students outside waiting for the doors to open stretched as far as the eye could see. Thousands of people shouted and chanted, "UConn ¦ Huskies" as they slowly worked themselves into a fever pitch in anticipation of what was either going to be a night to remember. Or a night to forget.
It turned out to be a night to remember as the Huskies won their fourth NCAA title, beating Kentucky 60-54 as Gampel turned into a sea of noise and celebration.
"The effort and the heart that they shown all season and throughout the tournament has been incredible," said Jarred Mantis, 18, of Glastonbury. "I felt this team could be special going all the way back to the preseason."
"We were banned from the post-season last year and now, we just won the national championship," said Andrew Blum, 19 of South Salem, N.Y. "I don't think anyone at the school believed in the beginning that we'd be this special. This is just a great experience. It's definitely a success. I'm just proud to be a part of this."
For the ones that didn't get lucky enough to land a ticket and make the 30-hour bus trip to Dallas to cheer on their Huskies in person against Kentucky in Monday night's NCAA championship game, they gathered at Gampel to watch the game on three large video screens -- which will also be used for tonight's NCAA women's championship between UConn and Notre Dame -- roaring at every made basket and groaning at every crazy turnover.
On Saturday, when UConn knocked off Michigan State in the national semifinal, close to 8,000 students filled Gampel and rushed the floor at the end in celebration of the Huskies victory. Monday night, there were even more hoping to see UConn capture its fourth NCAA crown.
About a half-hour before the tip, security personnel closed the doors, saying that Gampel was at capacity -- 10,127 -- leaving many outsiders banging on the doors in frustration.
"This is awesome," said sophomore Brooke Alix, 19 of Granby, who arrived at Gampel at 1:30 and waited six hours to get in, as she looked around the building. "This is tremendous." The Huskies defeated St. Joseph, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and Florida to reach the title game while Kentucky got past Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin to make the finals.
The Huskies took a 35-31 halftime lead, thanks to 15 points from senior guard Shabazz Napier as the packed Gampel crowd chanted, "I believe that we will win" over and over during the timeouts.
"Shabazz is definitely the heart and soul of the team. He's a born leader," said Blum. "Nothing beats a senior with experience." Indeed. Napier finished with 22 points and broke down in tears at the final buzzer.
"Absolutely amazing," said freshman Dominique Sobieski, 19 of Guilford. "No one believed in UConn. No one picked them but we all got on board and they did a great job."