When UConn and Florida announced the first game of a series to be played in Connecticut on Dec. 2, the same thought rushed through the minds of most UConn students, "Please play this game at Gampel!"
The majority of UConn students are less than thrilled when the Huskies play at the XL Center in Hartford. Instead of playing in the compact, hostile confines of Gampel Pavilion, the basketball program's on-campus home since Kemba Walker was still growing in his mother's womb, the school often ships big games, such as last year's matchups with Louisville and Syracuse, to Hartford.
UConn students were presented with exciting news on Wednesday afternoon, as CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reported that the Huskies and Gators will play their huge non-conference tilt in Storrs.
It is possible that the decision was made to play at Gampel only because a deal has yet to be reached between UConn and XL Center for a continued partnership, but students do not care about that. All they care about is that it is a true home game against the Gators, whose top defense, according to ESPN's Seth Greenberg, should provide quite a gladiator-like battle against UConn's prolific backcourt of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun, as well as high-flying, sharp-shooting forward DeAndre Daniels.
The Huskies have played some great games at XL in recent years, notably the 66-58 win over No. 6 Syracuse in the two rival's final Big East showdown last February, but the majority of great UConn basketball games have been played at Gampel Pavilion. Here are some of the great games of recent memory that make this decision to play in front of a smaller crowd a good one by UConn.
March 9, 2013: UConn 63, Providence 59 (OT)
On the final day of the Huskies' season, no matter the result, Ryan Boatright came up with a clutch game-winner late in overtime to help UConn get to 20 wins, a number deemed impossible by many at the start of the season. After the game, Gampel rose to its feet to honor the 2012-13 Huskies in an emotional ceremony capped off by this tribute video.
Feb. 25, 2012: Syracuse 71, UConn 69
UConn just missed out on beating the Orange, and it may have been for the best, as Gampel may have collapsed had the Huskies won. This game, which was ESPN's College GameDay game for the week, proved why Gampel is a better venue than XL. Less people, but it is loud and the noise bounces, especially when the student section is pulling off the greatest flash mob of all time.
Jan. 17, 2011: UConn 61, Villanova 59
In a battle of 7 vs. 8, Kemba Walker welcomed UConn students back from winter break by driving the lane with 2.5 seconds remaining to drop a floater into the hoop and give the No. 8 Huskies a crucial win over the No. 7 Wildcats, sending the student section into complete euphoria.
Jan. 20, 2010: UConn 88, Texas 74
Less than a year removed from their first ever loss in the Final Four, UConn was struggling. The Huskies ended up missing the NCAA Tournament during the 2009-10 season, but played one of the most thrilling games of the season when they knocked off the No. 1 Longhorns (who had lost earlier in the week) in front of a rocking crowd. They did it without Jim Calhoun, the commentator said Kemba Walker was "struggling," and Ater Majok had a good game. So many things about that game did not make any sense, but you only need to watch the video below to see why Gampel was rocking that day.
There have been plenty of other great games at Gampel in the past few years – the double overtimes against Louisville and Georgetown, the thriller on Senior Day against Notre Dame (even though those were all losses), the win over Pittsburgh in Calhoun's return to the bench – and every one of those games serves as a reminder as to why Gampel is such a better college basketball experience than the XL Center.
UConn fans have been saying this for years, and that is why the reaction is one of such excitement.
Safe to say, this one should be fun.