LAS VEGAS – For a few games anyway, Joey Calcaterra probably feels like he’s back in the West Coast Conference.
Calcaterra, a starter for three of his four seasons at the University of San Diego, decided to spend his extra COVID season at Connecticut.
The fourth-seeded Huskies handled WCC co-regular season champion Saint Mary’s 70-55 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. UConn faces Gonzaga on Saturday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
“It felt good to get that revenge on Saint Mary’s,” the 6-foot-3 Calcaterra said. “In my time at San Diego, I was never able to get them. Obviously, we’ve got another tough opponent coming in next. I’ve never beaten (Gonzaga) before either, so I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Calcaterra has taken an unconventional cross-country path to become a key role player on a national championship contender. UConn assistant coach Luke Murray, son of actor Bill Murray, is friends with former USD assistant Martin Bahar, who brought up Calcaterra as a potential transfer.
“I had a planned visit to see Vanderbilt,” Calcaterra said. “When UConn came up it was an opportunity I couldn’t let slip away. I went right from Vanderbilt to UConn, sat in on a workout. I was just there for one night and saw everything I needed to see.”
Calcaterra was quickly assigned the nickname ‘Joey California’ by UConn standout center Adama Sanogo. The California native contributes 5.7 points and 44.1% 3-point accuracy in 14.4 minutes per game. He’s maintained those averages in three NCAA Tournament games (5.3 points, 40% on 3s).
Calcaterra was 0-7 vs. Gonzaga as a Torero. He averaged 7.3 points on 39.2% shooting, including 50% on 3-pointers. He had 19 points and a pair of 3s in a 2020 contest against the Zags.
“It’s crazy, California to Connecticut, the weather is so different,” said guard Jordan Hawkins, who averages 16.1 points, second only to Sanogo’s 17.3. “It shows his commitment level and him wanting to win. The scoring he brings off the bench, his 3-point shooting, when he’s knocking down shots it’s hard to beat us.”
Joys of travel
Most of the adversity UConn has faced this week has come away from the court after it crushed Arkansas 88-65 on Thursday.
The Huskies weren’t pleased with the conditions at their hotel when they arrived Tuesday, so they chose to find better accommodations. As school officials worked on that, the team bus was broken into while UConn practiced at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. Roughly five players had items stolen, including an iPad and laptop computers.
“Definitely been a crazy 48 hours when we first got here,” Hawkins said. “But everything worked out. We got into our hotel rooms and the guys got their stuff back.”
Grand Canyon, Gonzaga’s first-round opponent, had to find practice gear and shoes in Denver last week when its equipment was inadvertently left behind in Phoenix. Baylor and Division II Regis University loaned workout gear, and the Lopes picked up new shoes at a Nike store until their equipment arrived in Denver.