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Final Four 2014: UConn's run built on trust and commitment to coach Kevin Ollie

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Kevin Ollie has now won 50 games as UConn head coach and he's bringing his alma mater to the Final Four in just his second season.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
SB Nation 2014 Final Four Preview

It's a photo that will be shared countless times across Connecticut.

Moments after UConn finished off Michigan State, 60-54, to clinch a trip to the Final Four, former UConn coach Jim Calhoun found his successor, Kevin Ollie, on the court. The Hall of Famer hugged his former player, assistant and his protégé.

Ollie's message for the man responsible for bringing him to UConn was simple: "Thank you for believing in me," he said.

Through two seasons in Storrs, Ollie has won 50 games, guided the team through a postseason ban, brought the program into a new conference and led it to a Final Four by beating a 2, 3 and 4 seed along the way.

Words were tough to come by on the court at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. But in typical UConn and Ollie style, there were more than enough hugs to go around. The team that stuck through the trials and tribulations of last season had taken on the personality of its coach.

For that, the players were thankful.

"I'm so happy for Coach Ollie," senior Tyler Olander said. "He took a team that had nothing to play for last year, but he did not look at it that way. He wanted to bring the team to where we are right now. His theme last year was to build for this year."

The Huskies lost just one scholarship senior last year and added transfer Lasan Kromah and freshmen Amidah Brimah, Terrence Samuel and Kentan Facey to the mix. They came into the season with high expectations, ones that it did not always seem they would reach.

To start American Athletic Conference play, UConn went to Texas and dropped back-to-back games to Houston and SMU.

March Madness

But on that disastrous trip, the Huskies did more than just play games against the Cougars and Mustangs. Ollie took his team to tour Cowboys Stadium, the site of the Final Four, in hopes that it would remind them of the potential they still had.

"We get our confidence from him," junior DeAndre Daniels said. "No matter what he never gave up on us. He comes to practice every day with that fire."

A 10-2 streak from the Huskies followed that road trip, including a win at home over NCAA Tournament team Harvard and a regular season sweep of Memphis. Despite one more hiccup against SMU, UConn had plenty of reasons to be confident headed into the regular season finale at Louisville.

Then, inexplicably, they lost by 33 in a game that didn't even seem that close.

When it was over, Ollie again had a plan.

The Huskies reviewed game tape. No, not the shellacking that they just took. Ollie instead showed them the tape of their thrilling 65-64 win over Florida on Dec. 2. That's the last loss the Gators have recorded.

"I just wanted to show them, you know, Florida was No. 1 and we can beat No. 1," Ollie said. "We have already proved it."

Restoring confidence was key, because while the humiliation was another down point in the season, it was also an opportunity to learn.

"Life is filled with ups and downs, and Louisville was a down for us," he said. "Actually, it promoted us. That's what the down times do if you don't give up, it is your promotion."

Ollie's plan seemed to work. UConn has lost just once since, again against Louisville in a much more competitive AAC Tournament final. In the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies survived tests from St. Joseph's and Villanova, then used their pseudo-homecourt advantage to get by Iowa State and Michigan State to punch their ticket to Dallas.

From here, it only gets tougher. Those same Florida Gators await the Huskies in Jerry World, and this time, Florida is riding a 30-game winning streak.

But UConn can worry about the Gators later. When the buzzer sounded on Sunday, Ollie congratulated his players, who he never gave up on and who never gave up on him. All that was left before cutting down the net was to give a hug to the man who helped get him his job.

In that hug, a torch was passed and Husky fans got a picture for the ages.