ALBANY – Let the Rick Pitino sweepstakes begin in earnest.
The Hall of Fame coach, expected to leave Iona University after leading it to his second NCAA Tournament in three years, can now speak with the interested parties now that the 13th-seeded Gaels were eliminated by No. 4 UConn, 87-63, on Friday in front of 14,010 at MVP Arena.
St. John’s and Texas Tech are the most active suitors, according to sources, but if Ed Cooley leaves Providence for Georgetown as is possible, Pitino’s old school could become an option, too.
On Thursday, he said he could see himself coaching as much as 12 more years.
One thing feels like a safe assumption: The 70-year-old Pitino will be headed back to the high-major level.
His Gaels played 20 very impressive minutes in a West Region opening-round game, taking a two-point lead into the break against the heavily-favored Huskies.
But they didn’t have nearly enough to pull off the upset.
Connecticut woke up at the break, and was really never in danger after ripping off a 17-4 run to start the second half.
UConn was too deep, too strong up front, and too accurate from 3-point range, hitting 11-of-25 from distance.
It shot 60 percent in the second half and cruised into the second round as co-stars Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo woke up, combining for 35 of their 38 points over the final 20 minutes.
Walter Clayton Jr. led Iona with 15 points and four assists and Daniss Jenkins added 14.
It was similar to Iona’s showing in the tournament two years ago, when it hung with second-seeded Alabama for 30 minutes before eventually losing by 13.
The Gaels fell to 0-16 all-time in tournament history (their lone win, in 1980, was vacated due to NCAA violations).