University of Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels got a chance to storm the court at Gampel Pavilion as a fan on Tuesday night, joining thousands of other UConn students in celebrating the school's dual national basketball titles.
Daniels and other men's players watched on movie screens in the crowded arena as the women's basketball team dismantled Notre Dame 79-58 in Nashville, Tenn., to capture a record ninth national title. The win came one night after the men won their fourth.
Daniels jumped into the middle of the crowd at center court during the final few minutes of the women's win, bouncing up and down and cheering. Guard Ryan Boatright stayed on the periphery; his left foot in a boot after rolling an ankle in the men's 60-54 victory over Kentucky on Monday.
"It's history being made," Boatright said. "It's only happened one other time and that was in '04, and I'm just glad to be a part of this."
About 7,500 fans came to the UConn arena Tuesday evening for a rally to welcome home the champion men's team at which a plaque honoring the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Shabazz Napier, was unveiled. A smaller crowd, but still in the thousands, stayed to watch the women's team improve the school's record to 13-0 in national championship games.
After the final buzzer, the fans poured out of the arena and began a second night of partying.
UConn police say they behaved for the most part. Only two arrests had been reported before midnight Tuesday, one for breach of peace and the other for reckless endangerment. On Monday night, police arrested 36 people, mostly for alcohol-related offenses and some minor vandalism.
Police Chief Barbara O'Connor issued a statement thanking fans on campus for making it a positive celebration.
UConn, which also won both titles in the same year a decade ago, is the only Division I school that has accomplished that feat.
"It's just such a big deal," said Alexander Potts, a sophomore from Norwich, who was in the stands for both the men's and women's games. "We love basketball here, it's our No. 1 sport, and nobody is better at it."
The women, who have won 46 straight, were expected to win. Men's coach Kevin Ollie had promised the fans last month that his team also would be back to hang a banner in the arena.
He made good on that promise Tuesday.
"On senior night I told you all to save this date, didn't I?" Ollie told the crowd at the welcome-home rally. "The only reason I said that is because I knew what kind of team I had, what kind of coaching staff I had and I knew I had the greatest fans in America behind us."
The men's title comes a year after the team was banned from the NCAA tournament for failing to meet academic requirements, and after the school was left out of the expansion plans of both the ACC and Big Ten conferences.
"I think it's an incredible thing from being down and out of the tournament to where we are now," said 23-year-old Matt Thomson, a 2013 graduate from Fairfield. "I think it shows the real passion of the players, the fans and this entire school. No one lost hope. We all believed that we were still UConn."
Fans at the rally cheered loudly as each player was introduced; saving their loudest ovation for senior star Shabazz Napier.
Napier's mother, Carmen Velasquez, also was on hand, helping to unveil a plaque that put his name alongside other former UConn greats such as Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor and Kemba Walker on the Huskies of Honor wall high atop the arena.
"Hey mom, be careful up there, I love you," Napier said. "Wow, I never thought I would be in the Huskies of Honor. I never thought my jersey would be retired in college. Wow."