What did UConn's impressive, 81-55 romp over LSU mean to Jim Calhoun tonight?
"It was a breakout game for us," said the UConn head coach. "This is the first time I saw Connecticut play this year, in a regular-season game. We were aggressive, we did a terrific job defensively for most of the game … I really, really praised the kids for their aggression."
Jerome Dyson overcame a subpar (1-for-6 shooting) first half and scored 17 of his 20 points in the latter. Kemba Walker also netted 20, Stanley Robinson was everywhere (14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks) and Gavin Edwards contributed a smooth 15 points, nine boards and four blocks off the bench as the 12th-ranked Huskies improved to 4-0.
"This is the type of game we're capable of," said Dyson. "When we've got everyone going on all cylinders at the same time, we can be great."
UConn will play in the tourney's championship game at the Garden on Friday at 5 p.m., against either Duke or Arizona State.
Perhaps the most pleasing statistic of the night for Calhoun came in the rebounding column. After being outrebounded in their last two games by Colgate and Hofstra, the Huskies beat the bigger, athletic Tigers on the boards by a 43-29 count.
"All I asked of them tonight," Calhoun said, "when you come in here, if you're on the plus side in rebounding and, most importantly, on the work-ethic meter … if we're not leading on that work-ethic meter – loose balls, hustling, blocked shots, running the fast break – then we've got a problem, and we won't be playing in the championship game on Friday. Now, we've got that opportunity."
UConn never trailed.
Alex Oriakhi had six points and nine boards before fouling out, and Donnell Beverly chipped in with four points off the bench.
Charles Okwandu, the 7-foot junior, got his first collegiate start on Wednesday and was effective. Okwandu grabbed a rebound and had a monster block of a Bo Spencer layup attempt in the first minute of action. He didn't do much after that, picking up his second foul 4 ½ minutes into the game and his third early in the second half. Okwandu wound up fouling out with 7:32 left and went scoreless, but his four rebounds and two blocks were easily his most effective minutes to date in a UConn uniform.
"He gave us a good game tonight, a physical presence," said Calhoun. "He got a couple of nice rebounds for us, set some very good screens. He was the physical presence that we need for the next four or five games, and for the season."
Edwards' strong game off the bench was a double-edged sword for the 6-foot-10 senior.
"Unfortunately for Gavin, he played so well coming off the bench … I think you can guess the rest," Calhoun said, with a smile. "He responded well to coming off the bench, gave us a great lift."
If Edwards winds up being UConn's sixth man the rest of the way, it doesn't seem to faze him.
"I've been doing it for the first three years, so why change it?" he said with a shrug. "It really doesn't bother me either way. If I can play like that, I'll do whatever it takes."
Early in the game, Robinson made a somewhat uncharacteristic play. He took the ball at the top of the key, dribbled into the lane and made a nifty driving layup.
Let's let Sticks explain, as only Sticks can do:
"See, they don't usually give me that play. That play is called 'down.' The shot clock was running down, and I had to prove a point to let them know that I could do it, too, because it's only for the point guards. I had an Allen Iverson crossover, went to the basket and …"
Who did he have to prove his point to?
By the way, Sticks also has also had plenty of respect for Duke from afar.
"If you didn't want to go there, you at least wanted to play them ... I hope they win ... I wanted to go to Duke at some point, but once I realized how small their gym was, no."