BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A day after Kevin Ollie got done with St. Joe’s, he started preparing for Villanova.
“I feel like I’m in the Big 5 now,” Ollie said with a laugh Friday.
Ollie, the former Sixer now coaching UConn, has already beaten one of his coaching friends in Phil Martelli. On Saturday night, he takes aim at another one in Jay Wright.
No. 7 seed Connecticut faces No. 2 seed Villanova at approximately 9:40 p.m. at the First Niagara Center in an NCAA Round of 32 game with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake.
“I’ve got so much respect for Jay as a coach and as a person,” Ollie said. “Sitting down with me when I first got in the business and helping me out, I really respect him for that, and I really thank him.”
Ollie, a classic smart backup point guard during 13 NBA seasons, played for the Sixers in 2000 and 2001 and then again from 2005 through 2008.
It was during those two stints in Philly he got to know all the Big 5 coaches.
“I know them all pretty well,” Ollie said before UConn’s practice Friday. “They all came down and spent time with Larry Brown when I was with the 76ers, and I got an opportunity to meet everyone.
“I stayed in Wayne my last couple years, that’s right down the street from Villanova, and when I wore my Connecticut stuff I got ragged on at CVS, but it was always good.”
Ollie grew up in Los Angeles and played his college basketball for Jim Calhoun at UConn, but he said he grew to appreciate Philly basketball during his six years with the Sixers.
“Just the toughness,” he said. “Just what every player played with, that toughness and that chip on his shoulder.
“The coaches coached like that and the players played like that, and you know I just believe in hard work, and that’s what Philly’s built on.”
Asked what UConn-Villanova memory sticks with the most, Ollie doesn’t hesitate.
“We were No. 1 and they beat us by 39 points,” Ollie said. “Kerry Kittles and all those guys.”
It was actually 24 points -- 97-73 on Feb. 18, 1995, when the 15th-ranked Wildcats went up to Storrs and beat the top-ranked Huskies, who had won 11 straight.
The faces have all changed –- Steve Lappas was coaching Villanova back then -- but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the intensity of the rivalry.
“I have so much respect for Jay, what they’ve done over the years,” Ollie said. “We’re going to have to play hard, we’re going to have to stay together, we’re going to have to go through some bumps. It’s not going to be an easy game, but I like how our team is playing right now.”
Connecticut is 27-8 with some quality wins -- Cincinnati twice, Memphis twice. The Huskies are actually the last team to beat Florida, handing the Gators a one-point loss on Dec. 2 in Storrs.
UConn is 3-4 vs. top-25 RPI teams; Villanova is 1-3.
This is not your typical 2-7 matchup. These teams are very close.
“We’ve got to get back in transition and we’ve got to rebound,” Ollie said. “When they take a shot, make sure we get the long rebounds and make sure we box out [JayVaughn] Pinkston, and [Josh] Hart is one of the great offensive rebounders we’ve got in our game. He goes out and gets rebounds.
“We can’t let their bench come in and affect the game like they did against Milwaukee.”