St. John's basketball war of words with UConn gets new wrinkle

The feud between the St. John's basketball team and UConn Huskies got a new wrinkle thrown in the middle of it.

Dec 23, 2023; Hartford, Connecticut, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino watches from
Dec 23, 2023; Hartford, Connecticut, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino watches from / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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Rick Pitino sent shockwaves around the Big East two weeks ago when he stated that the St. John's basketball team was going to play UConn at Carnesecca Arena next season.

Pitino, who is known to use his New York scarcasm in press conferences, was dead serious.

"We're playing them in Carnesecca...It's definitely not a joke. 100 percent," the Hall of Famer declared after the Red Storm defeated Hofstra.

At the time, and currently, it felt unlikely that the Big East Conference and Madison Square Garden would grant approval for the Johnnies to host the game on campus, but the leadership of the Red Storm have thrown a new development into the situation.

St. John's wants the game to serve as the 100th birthday celebration for Lou Carnesecca on January 5, 2025 and athletic director Mike Cragg has put in a formal request with the league to get the game in Queens.

"This was planned since the summer," Pitino said on Tuesday.

"We want to honor Louie with a big game when he turns 100. Whether its Connecticut, Villanova, or Georgetown, we want it to be a champion team."

UConn has not played in Carnesecca Arena since 1990, then known as Alumni Hall, and the last time the Wildcats and Hoyas entered the building was in the 2021 season, which was the only location the Johnnies played that year and did not have fans permitted in the building due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Many took Pitino's initial comments about playing the Huskies in Queens as a slight to the defending National Champions, which have asserted that The Garden is another home arena for its program.

"Everyone’s trying to get what we have. We’ve won four national championships since 2000 here at UConn, they haven’t had much success since then," Dan Hurley said in response to Pitino's initial comments.

"I don't think Connecticut knows how to take a compliment," Pitino added. "The fact that we want to play them in Carnesecca is the ultimate compliment of all time."

St. John's will not have any more games in Carnesecca Arena this season after playing its first two conference games of the season in the building and will play the rest at Madison Square Garden or UBS Arena.

"The three best fan bases in all of basketball for traveling is Kentucky, Kansas, and UConn."

"If the Big East won't give us a champion team, then we will go out and get a non-conference gigantic opponent to honor Louie on his birthday."

UConn defeated St. John's 69-65 in its first meeting of the season and the two programs will meet again on Saturday, February 3 (12:00 p.m. ET, FOX) at Madison Square Garden.

"My respect for their program is enormous. It's not a slight when I said we want to play them at Carnesecca because they are the poster child right now for what's great in the Big East."