UConn celebrated in return to ‘basketball country’
8:31 PM ET
STORRS, Conn. — UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley let the moment envelope him Tuesday on the 40-mile ride from Bradley International Airport back to campus, watching the fans who hung signs from highway overpasses and lined the streets leading into campus.
More than 7,000 people gathered inside Gampel Pavilion, Connecticut’s home arena, to greet the team Tuesday afternoon with raucous cheers and standing ovations in celebration of Monday’s 76-59 win over the San Diego State Aztecs in the national championship game. It was the program’s fifth NCAA title in the past 24 years — the most of any program in college basketball.
“This is a big deal,” Hurley said. “The NCAA tournament is a big deal. Playing in the Final Four is a big deal. And obviously basketball is a big deal to the people of Connecticut. Men’s and women’s basketball, it’s the pro sports team of the state, and you just see the incredible pride that people have in their Huskies.”
Junior guard Andre Jackson said he got emotional just looking at the spot in the rafters where his team’s banner will hang alongside those commemorating the school’s four other men’s championships and 11 women’s titles.
“It’s literally basketball country,” he said. “There’s not much else to do out here. That’s a part of the reason why I came here, was the environment, just being around the championship legacy programs and around so many greats that have come through this place.”
The Huskies landed at the airport in Connecticut shortly after 3 p.m. ET and were given a police escort for the trip east to the campus.
Students began lining up outside Gampel Pavilion at about the same time and waited for about 2½ hours for the team to arrive.
“As a student, it makes you really proud to be from Connecticut and to go to UConn,” said Jacob Levy, a 20-year-old sophomore from Woodbridge. “We’re a blue blood, 100%. I was saying that before even last night. We’re the most successful program of the last 25 years. I don’t think there’s any debate now.”
But not all of the celebrating was joyous.
Following the game Monday, some UConn fans pulled down signs and light poles, smashed windows and caused other damage on campus.
Fifteen people had been arrested Tuesday, and 16 were taken to the hospital during the celebrations. None of the injuries were thought to be serious, UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said.
“The vast majority of those celebrating the Husky victory last night did so safely and responsibly,” she said in a statement. “A small number chose to risk their safety and that of others by vandalizing or destroying property after the game.”
Most of those arrested were students, she said. Police were investigating the damage, and any students found responsible could face expulsion, she said.
Gampel Pavilion was also open Monday night for students to watch the game, which was played in Houston. More than 10,000 people attended that watch party.
Much of the partying, which lasted into the early morning, was peaceful. However, social media and television video showed students taking down signs and light posts, with several using one pole to smash through the glass portion of a door at one campus building as a crowd cheered.
Reitz said the damage also included broken windows, a vehicle flipped on its side, and fires set in trash dumpsters and on wooden benches.
“We were on the streets, and people were going crazy,” said Nancy Toskova, a 20-year-old junior from Montreal, Quebec. “Everyone was celebrating. Everyone was happy. You felt good. Everyone came together. I was expecting something worse, to be honest. I was expecting cars flipping and fires everywhere and people breaking everything, which happened but not to the extent I imagined.”
Crews worked feverishly through the morning to clean up the debris and make repairs. Classes and other academic operations were held as scheduled.
A victory parade and rally are planned around the state capitol in Hartford on Saturday morning.
“The UConn Huskies men’s basketball team has been a dominating force in the NCAA Tournament and it will be an honor for us to welcome the coaches and the players to downtown Hartford and give them the celebration they deserve,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.
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