Saturday, January 30, 2010


What's the difference between Marquettte (13-8, 4-5 Big East) and UConn (13-8, 3-5 Big East)? In literal terms, a half-game in the league standings.

The difference between the two teams on Saturday? Execution.

While Marquette coach Buzz Williams gushed about this team's performance down the stretch, UConn associate head coach George Blaney was frustrated by his team's execution (and, to steal a quote from ex-Tampa Bay Bucs coach John McKay, was probably all for it).

The Golden Eagles executed a couple of plays down the stretch and proved they've grown from some heartbreaking early-season losses. Conversely, the Huskies couldn't do anything right after Jerome Dyson's 3-pointer with 54 seconds remaining and showed once again that they can't get over the hump in crunch time.

Over the final 41 seconds of play, Marquette got fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three free throws, ran a play for Jimmy Butler that got him his game-winning runner with 2.8 seconds left, and stole UConn's ensuing inbounds pass.

The Huskies, meanwhile, committed that unnecessary foul with 41 seconds left, air-balled a short lane jumper that was taken too early and couldn't even get a final shot attempt off. Throw in 16 turnovers (against just three by Marquette) and the Huskies really didn't deserve to win this one.

"We made a ton of mistakes," Blaney said. "You're not going to win games doing that."

Marquette's superior execution is born out of its work in practice, Williams explained.

"Every breakdown drill that we have, there's a winner and there's a loser," Williams said. "In order to confirm the win, whichever team had won the breakdown drill, we do a special situation: whether it's a sideout, the length of the floor, baseline or just the halfcourt set. The play that we ran when (Johnson-Odom) got fouled is a play that we often work on in practice. The sidelines out-of-bounds play that we ran and Jimmy made the shot is a play that we work on in practice."

Ironically, the latter play was hardly run to perfection.

"It wasn't spaced appropriately," said Williams. "We did want Jimmy to take the shot and drive it on that side of the floor. He was going to try to drive it to (Johnson-Odom) and let him take it to that side of the floor, then give it back to him. (Jerome Dyson) didn't let (Johnson-Odom) catch it. Jimmy just took it that way and then drove it."

The Golden Eagles have lost by a point to both Florida State and No. 9 West Virginia and by two to No. 3 Villanova – twice, in the span of a week.

"I would say that the close losses have helped, without my voice, explain the importance of every possession," said Peterson.

Peterson also noted: "Our margin is so slim, our game gets turned into a tractor pull. We don't ever think that we're giong to blow anybody out. We prepare and practice as if it's going to be a one or two-possession game. When I grew up, that's like watching the monster truck show."

No idea what Peterson meant by that last sentence, but his point is well-taken and should be heeded by the Huskies, who have lost every close game they've played.

"(We) seem to play in moments, (we) don’t seem to play full possessions," said Blaney, in a familiar refrain. "It's the hardest thing to understand, and it's something we do not have an answer for."

***The anatomy of the final two minutes:

Marquette leading scorer Lazar Hayward (20 points) fouled out with 1:51 left, but Butler hit a pair of free throws at the 1:28 mark to tie it at 65.

Kemba Walker came down and had a runner blocked by Butler, but Walker kicked the loose ball out to Dyson on the perimeter. With the shot clock winding down, Dyson nailed a 25-foot 3-pointer with 54 seconds left on the game clock and just two on the shot clock.

"That should have been the big play for us," said Blaney.

"Then," said Dyson, "I went and (threw) it away by letting the offensive player get me in the air and drawing the foul."

Indeed, with 41 seconds left, Dyson fell for a head fake and fouled Johnson-Odom on a 3-point attempt. Johnson-Odom, a 64-percent foul shooter who had missed his two prior attempts, calmly swished all three freebies.

Blaney called a clear-out for Walker, but the sophomore point guard drove the lane with 21 seconds on the clock and put up an air ball from about eight feet.

"I shot it way too early," Walker confessed. "It was a little miscommunication between me and coach, that was it. I definitely shot too early."

Explained Blaney: "We would have liked it a little bit later. I like to score in that situation, I like to be up. We've been having really good luck with the 'down' play. They were having a lot of trouble guarding that, with both Jerome and Kemba. He got to eight feet, and I don't know if he got hit or what, but it came up short. We still needed to defend at the other end and not give up a runner."

After a pair of Marquette timeouts with 12.6 seconds left, Butler took a sideline inbounds pass from Johnson-Odom, dribbled to the right and hit a tough, fallaway jumper with Gavin Edwards draped all over him and 2.8 seconds left on the clock.

"I could have played him a little better, I think," said Edwards. I probably could have cut him off a little earlier and he wouldn't have gotten any closer to the basket. But …"

Edwards sighed.

"… it was a tough shot. Give congratulations to him on that one."

UConn tried a sideline inbounds pass of its own after a timeout, but Edwards threw it away to Johnson-Odom, and victory was sealed for Marquette (13-8, 4-5 Big East).

"We continue to put ourselves in position where things like what happened, happened," said Blaney, now 2-2 during head coach Jim Calhoun's indefinite medical absence. "It's a result of not playing as well as we should have in the first half and allowing nine and 10-point leads in the second half. To have to play our guts out to where we get the lead and have an opportunity to win the game … again, full possessions, full games. That continues to be something that we're not doing very well."

***One bright spot for UConn was the play of Ater Majok, who posted career highs in points (7) and rebounds (7) and matched a career-best with four blocked shots.

"He was really a factor," Blaney said of the 6-foot-11 freshman, who played 18 minutes. "His length was really good – blocked shots and a lot of alters."

For Majok, however, his strong game rang hollow.

"I contributed, but I contributed to a loss, so it doesn't mean anything," he said with a shrug. "We didn't get a win, at the end of the day. For anything I did to be valued, we didn't get a win, so …"

***Oh, and another thing: if you're feeling down about the Huskies tonight, swing by the Groggy Frogg tonight at about 9:30 p.m. Good little cover band called Dead Flowers will be playing. Worth your while.

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Bethany, Connecticut

There is one good thing about Jim Calhoun not being on the sidelines today. My 3 ½-year-old daughter, Bethany, is coming to her first-ever basketball game, and she and my wife will be sitting right behind the UConn bench. Not too concerned about any F-bombs flying out of George Blaney's mouth. Obviously, the same couldn't be said if Calhoun were here.

The mascot, Jonathan the Husky, is a concern, however. The Bether is still a bit traumatized by the New Britain Rock Cats' Rocky Cat mascot from a couple of years ago. Rocky Cat had the audacity to tickle her, and she still remembers. When I told her Jonathan the Husky would be at today's game, her first question was, "Does he tickle?"

Her head will be on a swivel all game, looking for Jonathan.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

'Sooner Than Later'

Still no definite timetable for Jim Calhoun's return from medical leave, but George Blaney hinted today that it could be soon.

"He'll tell me when the doctors tell him he's ready," Blaney said. "He's listening to his doctors, they will make a decision on when it's right for him to come back. I think it's sooner than later."

Tomorrow against Marquette? Nope. Monday night at Louisville? Highly, highly doubtful (but never say never). Next Saturday at home vs. DePaul. That would make a lot of sense, but that's pure speculation on my part.

Anyway, the Huskies will have to get past Wednesday night's Disaster at the Dunk tomorrow at noon in Hartford against the Golden Eagles. Here's some good news/bad news regarding Marquette, if you're a UConn fan.

Good news: 1,000-point scoring stalwarts Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews have all graduated (Matthews is averaging 8 per game for the Utah Jazz).

Bad news: Lazar Hayward, who's averaging 18.1 points per game, is back. So is a much-improved Jimmy Butler.

Good news: Marquette doesn't have a starter taller than 6-foot-6, meaning the Huskies should be able to capitalize with their size inside.

Bad news: Marquette doesn't have a starter taller than 6-foot-6, so it plays four men out -- sorta like Michigan and Providence. The Golden Eagles also lead the nation in 3-point shooting (43.3 percent).

Good news: Marquette is the only Big East team the last two seasons to have lost to DePaul (51-50 ... Van Halen's best album, by the way).

Bad news: Marquette has defeated three opponents (Georgetown, Michigan and Providence) who have beaten UConn.

So, take that all for what it's worth. Bottom line: UConn needs to win tomorrow, as it's one of eight teams in the Big East jammed together with either three or four wins and separated by 1 1/2 games.

"I don't think there's any doubt this is a very key game," said Blaney. "And I think it's a key game for them, too. That's why you want to protect home and take it from there."

***Blaney on Marquette:

"They're a team that does play every possession. They play full-out. They try to push you out of your offense, they try to get up in you, move you out, they belly the pick-and-roll and try to move you off the pick. They hustle and really bite and scratch for loose balls and rebounds. And quite honestly, they present a size problem for you, because they're so small. That's almost a more difficult problem than a big problem, because you're chasing people out on the perimeter, the floor is opened a little bit more."

Blaney added that in the aftermath of the loss at PC, the Huskies "got back in the gym and did what Jim always does when we get in trouble. We went to rebounding and shell (drills)."

***The Huskies could certainly use some improved play from freshman center Alex Oriakhi. He's averaging just three points over his last five games and hasn't scored a field goal in his last two.

"We're just trying to get him back to the 8-12 rebounds, and get him some points," said Blaney. "He's really struggling with the points. He's struggling because he's making the moves complicated. He thinks he has to make three or four moves, come underneath the rim. We're trying to simplify that for him and show him what made him so strong is his ability to get to the rim right away, rather make a myriad moves to get to the rim ... He's strong enough to go through people. He's done that in a number of games. We really do think we need to get him the ball inside a little more."

"We know the guys who are going to take the shots, and those are the guys we need to take the shots," said Oriakhi. "The best thing I can do is clean up their mess and go after the offensive glass ... I'm not crashing the glass hard, and that's my fault. The only thing I can do is go after the misses, because Coach Blaney told me every missed shot's a pass to me."

But, as Kemba Walker also pointed out: "He's got to want the ball more. I think he doesn't want the ball at times."

One thing is certain: the Big East is a tough place for a 6-9 freshman center, no matter how strong he is.

"It's not easy to score out there, so you definitely have to find ways," Oriakhi said. "It's very physical, but this is what I signed up for."

"I think he's doing really well for a freshman," Gavin Edwards pointed out. "I've seen a lot of people really struggle their freshman year. I think he's handled it very well. He's really progressing. I can't even imagine what kind of a player he's going to be in two or three years."

***Blaney doesn't believe the Huskies will see any more zone than usual from teams that normally employ man-to-man defense.

"I would love to see that, if somebody is a man-to-man team and goes zone against us. Teams usually don't do that at this level. Teams that aren't playing well might do it, but teams that are good usually don't change. They might throw it at you a little while, but it would surprise me if some of the teams did that."

***Back to Calhoun: Blaney said there hasn't been any real discussion as to how the school and/or Calhoun plan to announce his return when it's about to happen.

"We're really not talking about that. Every time I call him, I ask him how he is. He says, 'Fine,' then we talk basketball. Yesterday, he tried to get me to talk about golf, because he thought I was uptight."

Blaney added that Calhoun watched the Providence game on Wednesday night.

"He was as upset as I was," Blaney reported.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dunkin' Donuts Center -- Literally

As the raucous crowd of PC students lined up in back of me over the waning couple of minutes of the Friars' 81-66 romp over UConn, I did my best to box out a few Jersey Shore-wannabes looming over press row.

It might have been the best box-out of the night by anyone from Connecticut.

The Huskies were outrebounded tonight, 53-38. Even worse, a whopping 24 of the Friars' boards were on the offensive end.

"That never happens to our teams," associate head coach George Blaney bemoaned.

Well ... certainly not to this extent, though UConn was outrebounded 56-43 by Duke (and 25 of the Blue Devils' boards were offensive). And the Huskies have been beaten on the boards several other times this season, occasionally by far less-athletic opponents.

Here's a few other numbers that stick out from the Huskies's loss:

9: Number of Providence dunks, giving new meaning to the name Dunkin' Donuts Center.

24: Number of PC 3-point attempts, 17 of them in the first half. The Friars' philosophy -- "When in doubt, toss up a trey." They only hit five of them, but they coralled a host of long rebounds that were converted into points.

19: Number of UConn turnovers, 13 of them in the first half. Also UConn's AP ranking -- at least until Monday, when its sure to fall.

101: Average number of points PC had allowed in its prior two games, both losses (including a home gag-job to South Florida).

1: Number of UConn points over a 7-minute, 11-second span in the latter half, during which the Friars scored 18. UConn hit one of four free throws and failed to hit a field goal over that span, after having taken a 58-55 lead with 9:35 to go on a Stanley Robinson baseline jumper that capped an 8-0 run.

0: Points by Ater Majok in 19 minutes of action. Also the number of field goals from Alex Oriakhi (3 points). Gavin Edwards (17 points) was UConn's only answer in the paint.

1 (again): The giant step back UConn took tonight on the heels of its emotional win over then-No. 1 Texas on Saturday at Gampel.

"All that we worked for is kind of pointless right now," said Jerome Dyson, "to come here and lose as bad as we did."

"I think this is a huge step back on our part," a dejected Gavin Edwards added. "I'm not trying to downplay Providence at all, but this is definitely a game we should have won and needed to win. We let it slip away and didn't play as hard as we needed to … it's just frustrating."

***So, for all you Blaney-philes (and believe me, I think he's a terrific coach): Would such poor effort and execution over the final nine minutes have happened if Jim Calhoun were on the sidelines? Even Blaney doesn't think so.

"He would have given them a jolt, I'll tell you that," Blaney admitted. "I would have liked to have had him there tonight, that's for sure."

Edwards wasn't as convinced.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know how well some people would have reacted if coach was kicking and screaming."

***Dyson (3-for-14 shooting, five turnovers) was doing his best Alfred E. Newman impression afterwards after being asked if the team is worried with postseason play just over a month away.

"I'm not concerned," Dyson insisted. "We have the talent to do it, it's just that we're playing 10 minutes at a time, and then off for five minutes. We're giving up too many points when we're taking a break, and we shouldn't be taking a break at all. That's what's killing us right now. We've shown that we can play with anybody, it's just all about playing a game all the way through. If we keep giving teams 10-0 runs, 12-0 runs, it's going to make it difficult for us to get wins. It's all up to us."

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The Drunk

Greetings from Providence, home of Ernie D., Marvin Barnes, Buddy Cianci, James Ingram, Davey Lopes, Paul Konerko, the P-Bruins, Federal Hill and … me.

The Dunkin' Donuts Center (better known as The Dunk … or, more aptly, The Drunk) has gotten a facelift and looks a lot better than it did when I was covering the Friars back in the early-90's. Can't promise a less hostile fan base (one that's known to throw marital aids on the court or, for that matter, walk out on the court on their own).

Anyway, they're expecting a sellout (or near-sellout) tonight. It probably didn't hurt that PC apparently took out an ad in a local daily Connecticut newspaper (not the Register!). I can understand wanting more fans in the building (more ticket sales, concessions, etc.). But it's a little odd that the school would want more enemy fans in the house.

Back with more later …

Better Than Ben Gordon?

While most local college basketball fans will be focused on UConn's bout with PC tonight, there's an intriguing high school matchup that will unfold in New Haven.

Mount Vernon High takes on Hillhouse tonight at the New Haven Athletic Center. Mount Vernon features a top-notch talent in 6-foot point guard Jabarie Hinds. He's getting serious interest from schools like Louisville, Wake Forest, Seton Hall and St. John's (though apparently not UConn). His high school coach, Bob Cimmino, says Hinds "may be the best player I've ever coached."

Cimmino, of course, also coached Ben Gordon at Mount Vernon.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blaney Wins Again

George Blaney picked up another win today. Apparently, Purdue had to forfeit some wins from back in the mid-1990's, and one of them was against a Seton Hall team coached by Blaney. He's now got 460 career head coaching victories.

Blaney, of course, would love to pick up another win tomorrow night in Providence -- a game that has "letdown" or "trap" written all over it, on the heels of the Huskies' emotional win over then-No. 1 Texas on Saturday.

"In that Texas game, they accomplished something historical … to become only the second (UConn) team to beat a No. 1 team," said Blaney. "It was something they could remember the rest of their lives, they should be very proud of it. But they can throw it all away if they don't come to play Wednesday night."

Indeed, as Kemba Walker simply stated: "We've got to come out and play Providence as if they're Texas."

UConn is still looking for its first true road win of the season.

"A Big East road game has as much a bearing on our season as the win over Texas," Blaney said, without a hint of exaggeration.

Providence (11-8, 3-4) is coming off a terrible home loss to South Florida on Saturday. The Friars had a 13-point lead with just over two minutes left in regulation, only to squander it and lose in overtime 109-105. USF's Dominique Jones poured in 46 in that one, earning Big East player of the week honors (Jerome Dyson earned honor roll recognition). A week earlier, Providence had been blown out by 30 at Marquette.

But, perhaps with that bad loss to USF still on their minds, the Friars could be a dangerous team tomorrow night at The Drunk ... er, The Dunk. PC ranks second in the Big East in scoring (and last in defense), and have tossed up more 3-pointers (156) than anyone except Louisville and Rutgers.

PC has only made 33 percent of its treys, but it goes beyond that.

"Providence presents the problem of people not understanding how good athletically they are," said Blaney. "(Bilal) Dixon and (Jamine) Peterson and Marshon Brooks and (Sharaud) Curry and (Vincent) Council – these are really good athletes. They really get up and down the court, they really spread the floor on you, which means you have to come out further to pick them up and guard them, which then leads to easier baskets for Peterson and Dixon and guys inside. While they're a 3-point shooting team, probably the tougher part to guard is their slipping to the rim for dunks. Those guys are pretty good, pretty athletic. Much more athletic than you think they are."

"They get a lot of second possessions, and they don't hesitate to shoot a 3, rebound a missed 3 and shoot another 3 on the next pass. It's a game we've got to really defend and really make them pay at the other end."

The Friars are led by "Greedy" Peterson, a sophomore who leads the team in scoring and is second in the Big East in rebounding (10.1 per game). After the loss to USF, head coach Keno Davis hinted at wholesale changes, so there could be changes in the starting lineup.

The game should be a sellout, or near-sellout. About 1,000 tickets still remained on sale as of about 5 p.m. today, per PC's sports information director Arthur Parks.

***Ater Majok appears to have supplanted Charles Okwandu in UConn's starting lineup, particularly after his strong effort against Texas.

“That's the motor we saw last year,” Blaney said of Majok’s game vs. the Longhorns. “That's the motor we saw when he was playing against Jeff (Adrien) and Hasheem (Thabeet) every day, where it was difficult for both of those guys to score. What I liked about it was the energy level he gave us, and gave to the crowd and the rest of the team.”

***Still no word on Jim Calhoun's return, though I wouldn't expect it within the next week.

"He's talking more aggressively. I think he's doing fine. I think he's going crazy, yeah," said Blaney. "I think they're taking it pretty much day-to-day. He's just listening to Dr. Schulman. When he's going to see him again, I don't really know that, but I assume it will be shortly, and they'll make some more decisions after that. We have not talked a lot. We talk when we need to, whether he needs to or I need to. He's been great about it."

"To my knowledge," Blaney added, "this is the best he's ever done with following instructions -- towards anything."

Incidentally, all of these games go towards Calhoun's record. If, for whatever reason, Calhoun doesn't return this season, that could be revisited (a la Coach K). But as things stand now, the last two wins belong to Calhoun.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

My Top 25

I wanted to vote UConn back into my top 25 this week, I really did. But I just ... couldn't ... quite ... do ... it. Beating the (then)-No. 1 team in the nation by 14 points counts for a lot, no doubt about it. But I couldn't quite get past the 13-6 record. Six losses is a lot at this time of the season. I know the Huskies have played the toughest schedule in the land, but right now, I'm rewarding teams, for the most part, who have simply done more winning. UConn takes care of business this week and I'd say there's a strong chance I'm voting for them again.

Here's what I submitted last night:

1. Kentucky
2. Kansas
3. Syracuse
4. Villanova
5. Texas
6. Michigan State
7. Georgetown
8. Brigham Young
9. Duke
10. West Virginia
11. Kansas State
12. Gonzaga
13. Purdue
14. Tennessee
15. UAB
16. New Mexico
17. Pittsburgh
18. Wisconsin
19. Temple
20. Florida State
21. Georgia Tech
22. Wake Forest
23. Baylor
24. St. Mary’s
25. Oklahoma State

Sunday, January 24, 2010

You Don't Mess Around With Jim

Not surprisingly, UConn's commits and recruiting targets want to know what's going on with Jim Calhoun. What they're hearing from the Huskies' coaching staff is that the coach is fine, will be back this season and will certainly be back on the sidelines next year.

It doesn’t appear the staff has told the recruits what Calhoun’s ailment is (though “high blood pressure” apparently was the message relayed to at least one recruit) or how long he’ll be out.

“Coach (Patrick) Sellers said he was going to be OK,” Michael Bradley said. “He said they’ve got Coach (George) Blaney right now, it’s like (not) skipping a beat.”

Of course, if for whatever reason Calhoun is unable to coach UConn next year, Bradley, Roscoe Smith and others would consider going elsewhere. But they don't seem at all concerned that will be the case.

Brandon Knight? Yup, he's been asking, too.

“His family did ask me about Coach Calhoun,” said Dave Beckerman, the New Haven native who coaches Knight, a senior, down at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “With (Calhoun’s) latest announcement, they want to know what’s going on. I told them, ‘I don’t know, but from my knowledge, Coach Calhoun is a very intense, discipline coach. It looks like it’s not a physical problem, he just needed some rest and some time off.’”

Knight, a 6-3 point guard who is averaging 31 points, eight rebounds, 4.5 assists and three steals per game this season, has narrowed his list of schools down to UConn, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida and Miami, in no particular order. He was slated to make his final official visit to Miami this past weekend, according to Beckerman.

It appears Knight won’t make a commitment until after his high school season is over in March. That will give Knight, a potential one-and-done college player, the chance to gauge what kind of talent teams have coming back for a potential run to a national championship next season.

Of course, the other inherent problem with Calhoun’s health issues is the potential for negative recruiting. You can almost hear an assistant, even a head coach from another program whispering to a recruit, “Hey, you can go to UConn, but can you be assured Jim Calhoun will be there for the next few years? Or even next year?”

Hurd, however, doesn’t believe that will be a big problem for Calhoun.

“There are a few guys you don’t mess with," said Hurd, "and he’s one of them.”

Read more about this in tomorrow's Register.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nostradamus, I'm Not

Well … didn't see that one coming. Especially after a first half that, at times, appeared to be men vs. boys – with Texas playing the roll of men.

Then came a second half that few – and certainly not this prognosticator – could have seen coming.

Admit it, after UConn committed 16 first-half turnovers, then Stanley Robinson threw away the inbounds pass to start the second half (leading to an Avery Bradley dunk that gave Texas a 10-point lead), you didn't really believe the Huskies would pull off the comeback, did you?

"We went at them at halftime, (turnovers are) pretty much all we talked about," said George Blaney. "Then the first play of the second half we turned it over. I called a timeout and said, 'What did we just spend 10 minutes on?'"

And even if you did call it, you couldn't have possibly predicted it would be as thorough and impressive as it was, with the outcome determined with 6 ½ minutes left following a head-spinning, 26-6 Husky run.

"We should have kept smacking them in the face and playing hard," said Bradley. "But we let them back in it in the second half."

They sure did. And I'm out of the prediction business. In the words of Arthur Fonzarelli, I was wr-wr-wr-wr-wr ...

***Nobody had a better second-half redemption than Kemba Walker. He had six of UConn's first-half turnovers, including four within the game's first five minutes. In the latter half, Walker had 17 points and just two turnovers. He finished with 19 points, 10 assists and six steals.

"That was probably the worst first half I've ever played in my life," Walker confessed. "I was a little bit too hyped. In the second half, I came out poised and in control."

Walker hit a long trey with 6:17 left to give UConn a 71-58 lead, then waxed some Husky history afterwards.

"When it went in, all I could think about was when Taliek Brown hit that shot," Walker said, referring to Brown's 35-foot heave with 35 seconds left in double-overtime of UConn's Big East tourney championship game win over Pitt in 2002.

What did Blaney say to Walker at halftime?

"I told him, 'Don't turn the ball over,'" Blaney said. "I'm serious. I told him another time, 'Go tell Alex (Oriakhi) to make two foul shots.' He looked at me like I'm crazy, and I said, 'Go tell him.' And he did, and he made them. Then, when Kemba missed one, I said, 'Kemba, ask Alex to tell you to make a foul shot.'"

***And Jerome Dyson … oh, Dyson. He had a career-high 32 points on one big basket after another, including four 3-pointers.

"He's not Ray Allen, Ray's a pure shooter," said Blaney. "Jerome's a scorer. You put Jerome in any game, he's going to score points: foul line, drives, steals, dunks, everything. He's not what you would call a shooter, but he can make shots if he would just concentrate a little bit more."

But perhaps Walker said it best.

"'Rome was just 'Rome," the sophomore point guard noted. "That's what 'Rome does."

***Of all the game's numerical stats, however, the most important one didn't show up in the final box score: Three. As in, the number of times freshman Ater Majok dove to the floor for loose balls in the first half.

Majok was back in the starting lineup after usurping the spot to Charles Okwandu the past two games, and his hustle plays truly inspired the Huskies. Early on, he hit the floor for a loose ball and got the ball to Dyson at midcourt. Dyson fired up a long alley-oop pass to Robinson for a dunk.

"The play he made in the first half, going on the floor for that loose ball was something that got everybody's motor going," said Blaney.

Added Gavin Edwards: "That was a huge play. That kind of set the tone for the energy that everybody had to play with. Once everybody saw that, everybody got excited and knew that was how we were going to have to play."

Majok would cause two more jump-ball situations later in the half with hustle plays. He wound up with five points, six boards and four blocks in a career-high 31 minutes, but Majok's contributions went far beyond the stat line.

"I'm not the scorer on the team yet, I'm not the best rebounder," Majok said. "But hey, if they need an energy man, I'm going to be that energy man. I'm going to bring that energy, bring that heart. You've just got to keep working."

***Jim Calhoun spoke to his team via Blaney's cell phone in the locker room after the game.

"He was excited," Blaney said. "He told them how tough they were, and how he believed all along in their heart, never questioned their heart. When you're 10 down to the No. 1 team in the country and come back and go 10 up in a short period of time, that is hard. The kids were all excited, yelling at the phone, 'Hurry up back, Coach. Get well.' He sounded very good."

"We've got to play for him," said Dyson. "We know these wins help him get better, because it takes some of the stress off him, having to worry about us.You could tell through the phone that he was happy and proud of us."

Blaney was asked how much he's had to do with the two wins he's coached since Calhoun's medical leave of absence.

"I think I've had a lot to do with it. I've done exactly what Jim would want me to do, with his team. He prepared the players to play this way. His teams have always gotten better in January. That's when you run offense better, because offense is so hard to teach. That's something he's always done."

***In a gesture to thank the hundreds of students who slept outside of Gampel to get good seats for the game, Blaney invited about 300-400 students inside the gym for Saturday morning's shootaround.

***UConn is now 2-6 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, its other win over Duke in the 1999 national title game. The Longhorns, however, won't be ranked No. 1 come Monday.

***Big East founder Dave Gavitt, who has been battling health issues, was in the crowd and acknowledged on the big screen during a break in the action. Texas coach Rick Barnes, who was mentored by Gavitt when Barnes coached at Providence, got very emotional after the game.

"Obviously, we want to win basketball games," said Barnes, his voice breaking and his eyes welling with tears, "but coming up here today and having a chance to see Dave Gavitt is everything. I'd take a loss to see him."

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More to come ...

Not-So-Sweet 16

Too big, too long, too athletic, too deep.

Texas just appears to be too much for UConn this afternoon. Still, the Huskies should consider themselves luck to be down only eight (42-34) at the half after committing 16 turnovers. You read that correctly: 16 turnovers.

Point guard Kemba Walker has six of them on his own, four in the first five minutes of action. Jerome Dyson has four turnovers. Texas has scored more than half its points (22) off turnovers.

Walker does have five steals, but he's 0-for-4 from the floor.

The Longhorns have played 12 different players, eight of whom have scored. Ater Majok has been active and energetic (if not overly productive) in 17 minutes of action. He's hit the floor at least three different times for loose balls and has blocked a pair of shots. He's also missed both his free throws.

The Huskies could use a big game from a 6-foot-11 athlete like Majok. To this point, he's at least trying his best.

Dyson and Stanley Robinson have combined for 25 of UConn's points.

Otherwise, great crowd, great atmosphere at Gampel. Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt, who has had some health problems lately, was recognized during a timeout. Each time a Texas player goes to the foul line, the UConn student section breaks out into a "You're Not Gonna Make It" chant (to the tune of "We're Not Gonna Take It" – the Twisted Sister version, not The Who's). Creative, I suppose.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge is here, too, along with numerous NBA scouts.

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PRE-GAME PRIMER: Recruits in the House

The Huskies have a couple of visitors for today's game. Angelo Chol, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound Class of 2011 center out of Hoover Senior High in San Diego, and local boy Tyler Olander, who is currently enrolled at E.O. Smith High, right at the foot of the UConn campus. Olander is a 6-9 Class of 2010 power forward who transferred from Worcester Academy.

In other news, Ater Majok is in the starting lineup today after being usurped by Charles Okwandu the prior two games. Majok will be asked to guard Texas's best player, Damion James, a 6-foot-7 matchup nightmare for the Huskies.

Finally, we'd like to make a prediction for today's game. It's probably not the best idea for an impartial beat writer to do so, but I've got a feeling about today. A feeling that UConn will … well, not win, but put up quite a fight. I see this being a tight game, maybe even UConn holding a slim lead with about five minutes left. But in the end, the Longhorns' supreme depth and talent will be enough to overtake the Huskies over the final few minutes for a 5-point win.

Texas 72, UConn 67.

Oh, and no sign of Jim Calhoun here today.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

O's and X's for Texas

Nothing really new to report on Jim Calhoun's health situation. George Blaney, who ran practice again today, said he spoke with Calhoun Thursday night but didn't divulge any new information.

Blaney did, however, report that Calhoun apparently watched Wednesday night's win over St. John's on TV.

"I think he watched … I don't know if the doctor's supposed to know that, I want to be careful about that," Blaney said, with a smile. "By the way we talked, he knew what was going on. He was really happy with it. He was happy that we fought."

***The Huskies had a real good practice today and seem energized to play the No. 1-ranked team (at least for now) in the nation.

"They realize who's coming to town, and are anxious to play the game," said Blaney.

Added Gavin Edwards: "It's a huge game for us, probably one of the biggest games we've played this season. We really haven't won any big games against teams that are ranked, so this would definitely be a great game for us to win."

And Jerome Dyson: "Practice has been good. We're getting a lot of energy from everybody, everybody's been focused."

If you needed any evidence that tomorrow is a big game, the students camped outside of Gampel already this afternoon was all the proof you needed.

"We can be assured Connecticut kids are very intelligent, because they were out in the sun, not in the shade," noted Blaney, who said he spoke with some of the students on his way out to grab a lunch.

***We know UConn will be up for tomorrow's game, but what about Texas. The Longhorns are, after all, coming off their first loss of the season (to Fightin' Curtis Kellys of Kansas State). Texas will almost certainly lose its No. 1 national ranking when Monday's new poll comes out, but that could only fuel their desire tomorrow.

"The three best teams I've seen in the country this year so far have been Kentucky, Kansas and Texas," said Blaney. "They have enough talent to play with anybody, to beat anybody, anyplace. I'm sure that they'll be ready, ripping and roaring to come back after a loss. But I also think we'll be pretty ready, too."

Is it dangerous to face an angry team coming off its first loss, Sticks Robinson?

"I truly believe that. When a team comes off a loss, nobody wants to be in a slump. When we lost three games, we felt terrible … We've just got to overmatch their intensity."

Don't count Texas coach Rick Barnes among those who believe getting a loss out of their system is a good thing for his team.

"A lot of people say that you can't win them all," he said. "My response is that you can lose them all so if you can lose them all, then you can certainly win them all. We lost that game, but we're just going to get better from now on."

***Sticks said he played against Texas star Damion James several times in AAU ball.

The Longhorns are a deep and talented team, with nine players who average at least 13 minutes per game. But James is easily their best player, leading the team in scoring (17.3), rebounding (11.0), steals (29) and double-doubles (10).

"He's expanded his game," Blaney said of James. "He can be a 3 man, a 4 man, a 3 ½, whatever you want to call him. He handles it better, shoots it better, and you don't have to expand your game when you get 11 rebounds a game, but he has."

***It doesn't appear any UConn player has had contact with Curtis Kelly, the ex-Husky, on any secrets on how to beat the Longhorns. Kansas State beat Texas 71-62 on Monday behind 17 points and eight boards from Kelly.

"I was glad to see Curtis do well," said Edwards.

***UConn is 1-6 all-time against the No. 1 team in the nation, 0-1 at home (losing to Kansas on Jan. 19, 1997 in Hartford). The Huskies are also 0-4 this season against ranked teams and 0-2 against top 10 squads, with two more (Villanova and Syracuse) still to come. UConn is 3-2 all-time against Texas.

***UConn is 18-4 in games that Calhoun has missed all or part of over his 24 seasons at the school. Blaney has coached eight complete games in Calhoun's absence, and UConn is 5-3 in those contests.

With 22 games missed (and counting) over the past 24 seasons, Calhoun has missed more UConn games than Phil Chardis, the Journal-Inquirer beat writer. Chardis, who's been covering the Huskies since their Yankee Conference days, has only missed about a half-dozen games over Calhoun's tenure.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Big Three

Their Hall of Fame head coach sidelined indefinitely for medical reasons and their losing streak at three, the UConn men's basketball team looked to its Big Three on Wednesday night.

Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Kemba Walker, the Huskies' top three scorers and one of the top trios in the country, were asked by associate head coach George Blaney to help him out as he took over the head coaching reins from Jim Calhoun.

"I told the three of them before the game that we need them to be great players, we can't have them be ordinary players," said Blaney. "And I thought all three responded."


Dyson scored a game-high 21 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and what amounted to the play of the game. Robinson added 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks and Walker had 17 points, six assists and three steals to lead UConn to a 75-59 win over St. John's at the XL Center.

"We're the big three on this team, he wanted us to take the leadership role," said Walker, who had just one turnover and even blocked a shot. "All three of us haven't been doing a great job of it, but lately through practice, we've been talking to the guys and just trying to get everybody to step up."

Added Dyson: "Coach Blaney got us together on Tuesday when we found out about everything, and he just told us he needed our help. That's what we tried to do for him, just go out and play hard."

(In truth, the Huskies have a "Big Four," if you add senior Gavin Edwards. Blaney said before the game that he gathered all four players on Tuesday to ask them to help lead the younger guys. Edwards wasn't particularly big on Wednesday, saddled by foul trouble all game. He finished with four points and five boards, playing the final 6:38 with four fouls).

***Dyson's play of the game came with 10 ½ minutes left in the latter half and the Huskies up 10. After missing a shot, Dyson flew in from nowhere on the other end of the floor to block a D.J. Kennedy shot, landing hard on his tailbone. Donnell Beverly grabbed the loose ball and hit Robinson up the floor for a layup.

"That was maybe the biggest play of the game, (Dyson's) end-to-end blocked shot," said Blaney. "If he's not the best fullcourt defender in the country, I don't know who is."

Said Dyson: "I missed a shot, so I had to hustle back and get that one. It just got some more life into us. We always play our best when we have energy and life. It carried us into our big lead."

A few other interesting notes and numbers:

***All nine UConn players who entered the game scored at least one field goal, the first time that's happened all season.

***Charles Okwandu made the play of the game prior to Dyson's, if only because it was so unlikely. With 5:07 left in the first half, Okwandu took a pass from Dyson on the wing, put the ball on the floor and soared in for a reverse layup before falling to the ground to tie the game at 21.

Less than a minute later, Okwandu jammed home another pass from Dyson to tie it at 23. He wound up with four points.

***Donnell Beverly can dunk! While it shouldn't come as a surprise that a 6-foot-4 Division I guard can dunk, Beverly's somewhat ungainly appearance on the floor led at least this reporter to question whether he could. But when he stole that pass at midcourt and dribbled in for the dunk with 9:49 to play, he proved it.

""I knew it was going to happen," he said with a smile. "I was waiting, but I'm happy I got a dunk, though."

Beverly had a tidy four points, three assists, two boards, a steal and a turnover. He's steady – sort of a Craig Austrie with better handle but not as good of a shot.

***UConn wound up shooting 65 percent in the second half (57 percent for the game), knocked down six 3-pointers and canned 11 of 12 free throws.

"We didn't guard," was Red Storm coach Norm Roberts' mantra after the game.

They didn't shoot, either, hitting just 34 percent from the floor and a miserable 2-for-17 on 3-pointers.

***UConn scored 16 fast-break points.

"I was particularly pleased with the amount of fast breaks that we had, even though there weren't as many as you would like," said Blaney. "In a low-possession game, that's what happens."

***To a man, the Huskies insisted it didn't feel much different out on the floor with Blaney on the sidelines rather than Calhoun.

""He's just like Coach, except, of course, he doesn't scream and stuff," said Walker, straight-faced.

Blaney said he didn't speak with Calhoun after the game.

***(Non-music) Quiz question: Who were the original "Big Three", pictured above at the Teheran Conference?

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Wally World

Notice who's refereeing the game tonight? It's Wally Rutecki, subject of one of Jim Calhoun's more memorable rants of the last few years. We believe this is the first UConn game Rutecki has reffed since ejecting Calhoun from a game against Northeastern on Dec. 6, 2007 at Gampel.

Noooow we see why Calhoun isn't here tonight ...

After Rutecki ejected Calhoun with 6 1/2 minutes left in that Northeastern game, Calhoun called the ref "incompetent."

"(Rutecki) is not very good. The other two guys actually weren't bad, but that official was a bad official. I'm sure I'll hear about this, but he's a bad official."

Calhoun did hear about it: he was reprimanded (but not suspended by) the Big East the next day.

George Blaney took over and UConn played much better over the final 6 1/2 minutes.

"They loosened up and played much better under George," Calhoun admitted.

UConn isn't playing appreciably better tonight under Blaney. The Huskies do hold a 31-28 lead over a St. John's team that's not too bad.

Some more gems from that Dec. 6 postgame:

(on getting T'd up for laughing at an official's call)

"I think laughing should be banned," Calhooun said sarcastically. "He said, 'I interpreted that as making fun of the official' … I could have been laughing, I might have had gas."

(more on Rutecki)

"He's not advancing to the NCAA Tournament," Calhoun said. "If he's practicing to do that, he's wasting his time right now."

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'His Usual, Cantakerous Self'

George Blaney and Jeff Hathaway met with the media for about 10 minutes this evening to address the last 24 hours. Not a whole lot new was learned: Calhoun's medical condition is still undisclosed, and there is no timetable for his return.

"I have nothing to share, really," said Blaney, regarding Calhoun's health situation. "(It's) exactly what the doctor said. The doctor told him to take time off. (Calhoun) said, 'he finally told me I needed to do this … I'm listening for once.' It's not heart, it's not cancer."

Added Hathaway: "There's only one timetable here, and that is when Dr. Schulman talks with Jim and tells him that it's OK to go back. That is our primary concern, that's Coach Calhoun's primary concern. He has tremendous trust in Peter Schulman as a physician. When he and Dr. Schulman feel they're at the point of a complete recovery, he'll come back. Until then, George will coach the team, and we'll put no artificial deadlines on anything."

Hathaway did add that he has no reason to think that Calhoun's ailment is career-ending.

Blaney said Calhoun called him yesterday and told him he was going to take practice off, and probably the St. John's game, as well. After Calhoun was told by Dr. Schulman to take time off, he called Blaney back.

Blaney first broke the news to Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker, Gavin Edwards and Stanley Robinson, and asked them to help explain the situation with the younger guys, "because they'd been through it before, they knew the program the best. We went out and practiced, and it was fine."

Blaney said of the players' reaction: "I think some of them were very surprised, but they were very good, as I would expect they would be. It's his team, he has shown them how to deal with adversity. I think that's what each kid will pick up right away. They'll learn how to deal with something that's hard. That's one of the lessons he teaches as well as anyone in the country."

And how did Calhoun sound?

"He was his usual cantankerous self. Don't print that, please."

Sorry, George.

Hathaway spoke to Calhoun today, as well.

"His status is same as any other coach who wants to be coaching his or her team, but understands that his health is the most important thing right now," said the AD.

Both Hathaway and Blaney said they saw no signs of any medical situation with Calhoun coming. Hathaway wouldn't elaborate on where things stand with a potential contract extension with Calhoun.

"People that cover this beat know, when we have contracts that are signed, we release them," he said.

Director of basketball operations Beau Archibald has been bumped up as an assistant for the time being.

The press conference was held where the media usually does its pregame dining.

"I understand that this is the room for the food," Blaney said at the start. "That's why everybody showed up. I'll buy cheeseburgers for you if you're really hungry."

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Barnes on Calhoun

Here's what Texas head coach Rick Barnes had to say today on a conference call about Jim Calhoun:

“Obviously, you’re always concerned when something like this happens. I’ve known Jim, I met him while he was at Northeastern and I was an assistant at George Mason. When he was at UConn, I saw him recruiting and went up in the stands to ask him about his teams. That’s the first time we talked about rebounding. I’ve known him for a long time, he was good to me when I came into the Big East. I know he’s had medical issues in the past, so that’s a concern. We’re definitely all getting older.”

“I have great respect for his program. They’ve got one of the coaches I’ve got great respect for in George Blaney, he knows what needs to be done there. As good as their program is, it’s going to remain there because (Calhoun has) laid the groundwork.”

“Emotions could be higher for the players, maybe. We all wish he was there, I can tell you that.”

(Barnes on how he deals with the pressures of coaching. It should be noted that he said he had no idea if stress is what has contributed to Calhoun's medical leave):

"I'm a lot different than I used to be. I used to think this job was the end of all things, and it's not. It's not who I am, it's what I do. I don't think my job is any more important than your job. I've had great bosses, but being around Dave Gavitt at the time I was at Providence, he told me my job was to teach. As I got older, I don't consume myself with winning. I consume myself with trying to do what I can to get these guys to get better ... I don't read the papers, I don't need the distractions. I don't watch TV, don't watch SportsCenter adn all that ... I think I've got it in the right perspective. We want to win, don't get me wrong ... but what I've learned in this business is, all these people that think they know the answer, unless you walk in their shoes, you're guessing and speculating ... I do know I'm getting older, I'd like to think I'm getting wiser. But it's not about me, it's about our players. If you get consumed with it -- and at one time, I did. At one time, I was scared to death, wondering if I would survive in this business. And I see young coaches doing that today. I was very fortunate to have a guy like Dave Gavitt and mentors to help me through those times. Now, as I've gotten older, I can clearly see what they were saying was true at the time."

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Blaney's Pre-Game Talk

George Blaney will meet with reporters tonight at 5:30 to explain the current situation with Jim Calhoun. Please check out the blog around 6 p.m. or so to see what Blaney had to say.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

At Ease?

Assuming Jim Calhoun's current ailment isn't too serious -- and we're told by a university source who spoke with Calhoun Tuesday night that it doesn't appear to be -- we feel comfortable bringing up this point: UConn often seems to play a bit more relaxed and at ease with George Blaney patrolling the sidelines in Calhoun's stead.

This is not to take anything away from Calhoun, a Hall of Famer with two national titles and 816 career victories under his belt. If he is gone for a long time, the Huskies are in some serious trouble. But they can survive -- perhaps even thrive -- for the short term.

UConn is 17-4 in games Calhoun has either missed or left early due to illness (as documented in an only-at-UConn chart the school has on file). The Huskies have won seven of their last eight contests that Calhoun has either missed or left early (and, in two instances, returned). The one loss was a 72-69 heartbreaker two years ago at Georgetown (remember Roy Hibbert's game-winning 3-pointer?).

UConn has won the last two Calhoun-less contests by a combined 87 points. Granted, the opponents were Rutgers and Chattanooga (the latter an NCAA tournament first-round game last year at Wachovia Center in Philly). Still, UConn looked much freer and easier in those games. Likewise in a Dec. 6, 2007 win over Northeastern from which Calhoun was ejected. The team played much more relaxed in the second half under Blaney.

Again, this is not to suggest that UConn is better off without Jim Calhoun. But there's a good chance that, at least tonight, the Huskies will be a little less inclined to be looking over their shoulders each time they take a bad shot or give up an offensive rebound.

***UConn had announced in an e-mail sent out on Monday that Calhoun would not be available to reporters prior to Tuesday's practice, and that the practice would be closed to the media.

Calhoun apparently had a routine medical exam on Tuesday, and it was there he was told he should take the medical leave of absence.

When Blaney spoke to reporters Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., the school had yet to announce Calhoun's situation, and Blaney may not have known himself.

Here's some of what Blaney had to say about the team in general and St. John's in particular:

“Most of Jim’s teams have gotten better from mid-January, late-January on. That’s when their teams really start clicking and really start moving. It seems to me it’s going to be the same this year. “

Blaney, who won 459 games in 30 seasons as a collegiate head coach, also pointed out that two “really, really good” teams last season – Norte Dame and Georgetown – got caught in a rut but could never get out of it. Both teams were picked to finish among the Big East’s elite, but both missed the NCAA tournament altogether.

“Right now, we’re a little caught,” Blaney admitted. “But we can get out of it, I think.”

***Blaney was asked if the team felt a sense of urgency right now.

"The urgency word is a word we use to get them to play every play. The urgency word, the way it sounds like you’re using it, is, ‘Are we afraid or nervous about where we are?’ We know we’re good, I think the kids know we’re good. We’ve not played the full 40 minutes in almost every game this year, to be honest with you. That’s what we’re trying to correct, and what we’re trying to get the players to really zero in on ... We’re not in a situation where things are bad. We’ve lost a couple of games, and they just need to play longer periods of time."

***Blaney on Kemba Walker's recent struggles:

"The only thing that Kemba seems to be doing is he’s passing up really good open jump shots, which he worked so hard on this summer. He’s coming right into the paint, and he’s pretty open. Now he’s taking one or two more dribbles in, and trying to create contact or trying to get to the rim. Quite honestly, it’s Kemba’s first year as a point guard. He really was not the point guard last year, he was someone that came in and gave us really good minutes pushing the ball. Now, he’s got to be a point guard where he’s got to make more and more decisions."

Walker, for his part, recognizes his struggles.

"I can’t get too deep in the paint. Sometimes I go a little too far, guys are collapsing on me and I don’t have enough room to pull up for a jump shot."

He also acknowledges that he has to be a better floor leader.

"It definitely has to be me. I’m the point guard, I’m the team leader. Of course Jerome and Gavin and Stanley have to step in and be leaders (also)."

***Blaney also noted that the team simply has to get Stanley Robinson the ball more often.

"It’s a priority all the time. It does sound like it’s easy. You also have to remember that, normally, the best or second-best defender is guarding him, and they’re not usually allowing him to do as many things as you would like. But we do have to get him the ball. I would like to see us get him the ball curling into the middle of the paint, where he’s so difficult to guard in that area."

***At first blush, it would seem the Red Storm would be the perfect antidote for UConn’s recent troubles. The Huskies have won eight straight against St. John’s, dating back to an overtime loss at Madison Square Garden in 2002.

But the Red Storm (12-5, 2-3) are an improved team from recent years. Still a tenacious defensive team under head coach Norm Roberts, they’ve got now got some offensive punch, led by talented junior forward D.J. Kennedy (15.4 points per game) and the recent return of oft-injured Anthony Mason, Jr., who is still trying to ease his way back into the rotation after returning three games ago.

"I think St. John’s has improved a great deal," said Blaney. "They’re playing exceptionally hard, they’ve always played good defense. And now they have some offensive answers – Kennedy, Horne, Burrell, and now Mason coming back, Hardy. And he’s playing 10 or 11 guys. They’re not slacking off the defense at all, they’re really coming at you hard. This will be a very, very tough game."

***Games which Jim Calhoun has missed or left early due to illness:

1. December 23, 1990 vs. Fairfield (HCC) W, 94-70 Chest-pain, flu-like symptoms
2. February 22, 1993 vs. Maine (HCC) W, 108-72 Food related
3. January 29, 1994 at Pittsburgh W, 88-67 pneumonia symptoms
4. February 1, 1994 at Syracuse L, 108-95 pneumonia symptoms
5. November 24, 1998 vs. Hartford (HCC) W, 95-58 intestinal virus
6. March 11, 1999 vs. UT-San Antonio W, 91-66 intestinal virus
7. January 3, 2000 vs. Sacred Heart (HCC) W, 83-56 stomach cramps
8. February 3, 2001 vs. Virginia Tech (GP) W, 85-72 light-headedness, flu-like symptoms
9. February 5, 2002 vs. Providence (HCC) W, 67-56 food related
10. February 5, 2003 at Virginia Tech L, 95-74 prostate surgery
11. February 8, 2003 at Providence W, 84-68 prostate surgery
12. February 10, 2003 vs. Syracuse (HCC) W, 75-61 prostate surgery
13. February 15, 2003 at Villanova L, 79-70 prostate surgery
14. February 19, 2003 vs. Rutgers (HCC) W, 87-70 prostate surgery
15. March 20, 2004 vs. DePaul (left and returned) W, 72-55 flu-like symptoms
16. January 16, 2006 at Syracuse W, 88-80 dehydration
17. January 13, 2007 at St. John’s (msg) (left and returned) W, 68-59 flu-like symptoms
18. January 8, 2008 vs. St. John’s (left game) W, 81-65 dehydration
19. January 12, 2008 at Georgetown (missed game) L, 72-69 dehydration
20. January 3, 2009 vs. Rutgers (GP) (left after halftime) W, 80-49 illness
21. March 19, 2009 vs. Chattanooga (missed game) W, 103-47

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UConn announced today that Jim Calhoun will take a medical leave of absence from his head coach position, effective immediately.

The following is a statement from University of Connecticut Health Center physician Peter Schulman, M.D., Jim Calhoun’s primary care physician:

“It is my recommendation that Coach Calhoun take a medical leave from his coaching position to address some temporary medical issues, none of which involve any previous medical conditions that he has dealt with.”

The following is a statement from UConn Director of Athletics Jeffrey A. Hathaway:

“Our primary concern is Coach Calhoun’s health and his complete recovery. We will do everything possible to support Coach during this time. Jim and I both know that the men’s basketball program is in very capable hands under the leadership of Associate Head Coach George Blaney.”

Calhoun was at practice on Monday but isn't currently with the team for its 4 p.m. practice today. Blaney dealt with the media today at 12:30 p.m.

UConn spokesman Kyle Muncy said that, at this time, he doesn't anticipate discussing a timeline for Calhoun's potential return.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

My Top 25

Here's the top 25 ballot I submitted last night. UConn and North Carolina (among others) out, Northern Iowa (among others) in. It's a strange college basketball world we're living in right now.

1. Texas 17-0
2. Kentucky 18-0
3. Kansas 16-1
4. Syracuse 17-1
5. Villanova 16-1
6. Michigan State 15-3
7. Duke 15-2
8. Tennessee 14-2
9. Brigham Young 18-1
10. Pittsburgh 15-2
11. West Virginia 13-3
12. Kansas State 15-2
13. Georgetown 13-3
14. Purdue 14-3
15. Clemson 15-3
16. Gonzaga 14-3
17. Georgia Tech 13-4
18. UAB 15-2
19. Baylor 14-2
20. Mississippi State 15-3
21. New Mexico 16-3
22. Wisconsin 14-4
23. Temple 15-3
24. Northern Iowa 16-1
25. Rhode Island 14-2

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pitt and the Pendulum

Some observations tonight from the XL Center, after watching Pittsburgh out-tough UConn to a 67-57 victory.

***The Panthers are hardly the most talented team in the league, but they get the most out of their players with hard-nosed, gritty defensive play. How else do you win three straight Big East road games against, two of them against ranked opponents (Syracuse and now UConn).

How do they do it?

"Good players is probably the first thing," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. "The second thing is probably good players, and the next thing is probably good players."

Oh, and good coaching. Dixon is easily the early frontrunner for Big East Coach of the Year, and it's not even close.

***UConn doesn't exactly have an imaginative offense. Particularly over the last 10 minutes of the second half, the Huskies were far too reliant on letting Jerome Dyson or Kemba Walker drive to the hoop. And while Dyson made some big shots and scored 10 of his 14 points over the final 10 minutes of play, not enough other players were involved.

"If you had Jerome Dyson … you'd send him to the rim, too," Jim Calhoun pointed out. "He's pretty effective doing that. But that's late in the shot clock, when we haven't got anything out of our offense."

Stanley Robinson had 13 points by halftime but scored just six the rest of the way – none over the final 13 ½ minutes. He admitted afterwards that "at times" he gets frustrated not sniffing the ball enough.

"Sometimes," said Robinson, "I get in a rhythm and score easily, but … yeah, I think I do want more touches."

The 6-foot-9 jumping jack also grabbed just two rebounds on the night.

"That's almost bewildering to me," said Calhoun, "and the way he was playing, he wasn't going to get more than two rebounds … Stanley Robinson, soup to nuts, may be the most gifted kid on the court. He didn't look like the most gifted kid in the last 10 minutes, and that's a great time to be the most gifted guy."

Calhoun continued: "He's a great kid, but he's got to be a great player. And right now, he's a great talent who knows how to play basketball and knows how to score the ball, but he's got to do more than that. His man (Brad Wanamaker) scored 19 … if he holds him down to 12, maybe we win the game."

***Pitt is tough. Always has been, seemingly always will.

"That's what the Big East is about, out-toughing the other team," said Wanamaker. "In the second half, I think we did that."

After being out-rebounded by four in the first half, the Panthers easily won the battle of the boards over the final 20 minutes, 26-13. Pitt finished with 19 offensive rebounds – 12 of them in the latter half – as it spoiled some strong UConn defensive stances with second-chance points.

"We're not playing with a sense of toughness," said Calhoun. "At times, we stopped them stone, cold dead … and then we'd give them a second chance."

***Ater Majok made a "where-did-that-come-from?" low-post backdown hoop with three minutes left (to go with a two-handed putback dunk earlier in the half) and had four points and two blocks ini 10 minutes.

***Expect Pitt to move up several slots in next week's Top 25. They certainly will on my ballot.

"We haven't lowered our demands or expectations," Dixon said. "Nothing's changed for us. Other people may look at us differently, but any team that commits to playing together can be as good as they want to be."

The Huskies? Right now, they're perilously close to falling out of my Top 25. A loss at Michigan on Sunday and they definitely will.

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Pinky Higgins

The light on the possession arrow didn't seem to be working early on, and on a jump-ball situation, veteran referee Tim Higgins couldn't tell whose ball it was.

"Can you see that arrow?" he asked the nearby media at the press table.

"No," we responded.

"I thought it was the end of my career," Higgins responded, jokingly.

As far as some UConn fans are concerned, that day couldn't come soon enough. In truth, Higgins doesn't need Lasik surgery and is a good referee. And tonight's game hasn't really been poorly officiated, even if the (near?)-sellout crowd at the XL Center might disagree.

Higgins waved off Alex Oriakhi's dunk at the buzzer, but it was the right call. The freshman got a pass from Kemba Walker, but rather than lay the ball in or even dunk it quickly, he cocked back for a two-handed authoratative slam, and it was too late.

Only really bad call against UConn came on Jerome Dyson's charge with 3:25 left, his second foul. While the Pitt defender's feet were not set, Dyson also really barrelled into him and appeared out of control. Could have gone either way; went Pitt's way.

Otherwise, fouls and foul shots are even: 8 apiece on both counts.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Rivalry

Somehow -- a product of good, tough teams and gritty, physical battles, etc. -- UConn-Pitt has emerged as the Big East's best rivalry, at least over the past decade.

As Pitt's game notes eagerly point out, the Panthers and Huskies, respectively, are the Big East's two winningest programs over the past 10 years. Pitt is 233-58 (.801 winning percentage) overall and 99-36 in the Big East, while UConn is 218-67 overall and 98-38 in league play. During that period, Pitt has made eight NCAA tournament appearances and UConn has made seven. The schools have met in three of the last eight Big East championship games (with UConn winning two of them), and both boast five Sweet 16 appearances in the last eight years.

(Pitt's notes conveniently neglect the fact that the Panthers have yet to reach a Final Four, while UConn has been to three and won a pair of national titles).

Over the series' last 10 games, it's tied at 5-5, with each game decided by 10 points or fewer. In nine of the last 10 matchups, both teams entered the game ranked in the AP Top 25, as they do again tomorrow night (UConn at No. 15, Pitt at No. 16).

Their battles over the past decade have left indelible images on the college hoops landscape – from double-overtime classics in the Big East tournament championship game to DeJuan Blair flipping Hasheem Thabeet over his back last February.

Both teams suffered huge defections to the NBA last spring (Thabeet and A.J. Price from UConn, Blair and Sam Young from Pitt) and other key losses (Jeff Adrien, Craig Austrie, Levance Fields, Tyrell Biggs).

“Jamie Dixon probably has done as good a job of getting his team ready (as anyone in the country),” Jim Calhoun said of the Panthers’ seventh-year head coach. “They lost some very, very good players, certainly – as we did ourselves … We have some good players back, they have some good players back. They’ve been able to avoid a couple of losses that we haven’t been able to avoid.”

The Panthers, who entered the Top 25 for the first time this season this week, have topped No. 5 Syracuse on the road and won at Cincinnati on Jan. 4. The Huskies, of course, lost at Cincy in their Big East opener.

The Panthers have won six straight and nine of its last 10. After early-season losses to No. 1 Texas, as well as a double-overtime set back to Duquesne and a loss to struggling Indiana, Pittsburgh has been bolstered by the return four games ago of Jermaine Dixon (right foot injury) and Gilbert Brown (academic suspension).

Pitt has won four straight road contests and nine of its last 12 away from home. A win over UConn would give the Panthers three straight Big East road wins for the first time in school history.

***It's hard to believe, but tomorrow night will be just the second time Jerome Dyson has ever played against Pitt and the first time since his freshman season. Dyson was sitting out a suspension two years ago when the Panthers came to Hartford and missed both of last year’s battles after suffering a season-ending injury against Syracuse.

“I feel like I’ve watched a lot more games than I’ve played in,” Dyson noted. “This time last year, I was looking forward to the big game, and I got hurt. It’ll be nice to get out there. We definitely need the win.”

***It will be interesting to see how UConn responds in its first game since squandering a 19-point lead Saturday in a loss to Georgetown. Jim Calhoun said he’ll know if his team is over that loss “somewhere around 9 p.m. (tonight),” adding that the team had a decent practice Monday after Sunday’s day off. According to Dyson, the Georgetown loss “is still tough for me, even now … It’s definitely still lingering around us.”

***Calhoun was asked today at practice about the recent firing of DePaul head coach Jerry Wainwright, who hasn't won a league game over the past two seasons.

“It’s hard to believe that, all of a sudden in the middle of January, it’s going to change anything. If you have those plans, you’re going to be able to execute them in the first week of March. It doesn’t make anybody look good – the university, college basketball. I happen to know both the A.D., who I like very much, and Jerry Wainwright, who I have great respect for, one of the best guys in the business. If you pull the plug in mid-season, it’s not exactly the best example to make."

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Oriookhie of the Week

After averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in UConn's two games, Alex Oriakhi has been named the Big East's Rookie of the Week. It's the first time the freshman has been so honored.

Elsewhere, here's the Top 25 ballot I submitted late last night:

1. Texas
2. Kentucky
3. Kansas
4. Syracuse
5. Purdue
6. Villanova
7. Michigan State
8. Duke
9. West Virginia
10. Baylor
11. Tennessee
12. Georgetown
13. Brigham Young
14. Georgia Tech
15. Kansas State
16. North Carolina
17. Miami
18. Pittsburgh
19. Connecticut
20. Virginia Tech
21. Wisconsin
22. Florida State
23. Gonzaga
24. Missouri
25. Temple

And here's today's follow-up story in the Register on UConn, which examines how, thanks to the Huskies' relative lack of depth and overall talent, nothing has or will come easy for them the rest of the way. UConn's margin of error is very slim, meaning little things (foul trouble, a poor effort by any of their top three players, bad foul shooting) could easily mean the difference between a win and a loss in any given game.

Case in point: In their four losses, the Huskies have shot 58 percent (55-for-95) from the foul line. In their 11 wins, they’re at 71 percent (209-for-296).


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Strange Day

It was a little odd.

Jim Calhoun was surprisingly (for him) upbeat. Or, more accurately, he didn't appear as outwardly upset over UConn's stunning, 72-69 loss to Georgetown as one might expect.

Meanwhile, Jerome Dyson, the eternally stoic (if always pleasant) senior guard, was downright downtrodden.

Calhoun labeled Saturday's loss "the most heart-breaking loss this year, it's not even close." He lamented his team's "awful, awful" second-half offense and its inability to find its hot hand (Stanley Robinson) compared to the Hoyas' ability to find theirs (Austin Freeman, career-high 33 points). He recognized the first five minutes of the latter half, in which Georgetown sliced its deficit from 17 to four, essentially decided the outcome, long before Robinson misfired on a 25-foot 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

But there was no shouting or podium-stomping from Calhoun. No railing at the officials, or any of his individual players, and very little visible frustration.

"I'm not, by any stretch, disappointed," he insisted, "except for the first five minutes of the second half where we took our 20 minutes of work, threw it away and said, 'Now let's play an even game.' That doesn't make much sense, but that's exactly what we did."

But he added that the 13th-ranked Huskies are "a better team today than we were a week ago," and surmised: "Credit to (Georgetown). I don't say discredit to our kids, because I still think we have a chance to be a very good basketball team."

Dyson, on the other hand, seemed disconsolate – no doubt in part due to a disappointing homecoming for the Potomac, Md. native (and the recent death of his cousin, whose funeral Saturday kept most of his relatives from attending the game).

"I think this one, I'm more mad than any of the other ones," he said, the brim of his Yankee cap nearly covering his eyes. "We definitely shouldn't have lost this one."

No, they shouldn't have. Not after leads of 19 late in the first half, 15 at the break and 17 two minutes into the latter half. But they did, and Georgetown nabbed its biggest comeback win in 32 years.

"I thought we got beat, we didn't lose," Calhoun insisted. "I think we're a better team today than we were a week ago. The biggest disappointment is we had a great opportunity to win that game. We just have to stay with things longer, be it defense or anything. We really have some talent."

And there was Calhoun, trying to stay as upbeat as possible on a day when absolutely nothing was normal.

***UConn has now lost close games to Kentucky (64-61), Cincinnati (71-69, on "a 0.7-second something, I'm not sure what it was," according to Calhoun) and now the Hoyas.

"I had no control over what happened the last .7 seconds in Cincinnati, nor did our kids," Calhoun said. "I had no control when John Wall made a play of plays to get to the rim. This one, we had control because we had the lead."

***It's Georgetown's biggest comeback win since rallying back from a 22-point deficit to Manhattan in the 1977-78 season. Oh, and the Hoyas are now a perfect 4-0 against Dyson, Robinson and UConn's senior class.

*** The Huskies' halfcourt offense has been particularly stagnant for much of this season, and never more so than in the second half on Saturday.

After running and gunning their way to a 40-25 halftime lead, the Huskies slowed down in the latter half and ran what Calhoun termed "an awful, awful offense."

"That is becoming very difficult for me, personally," the coach added. "That is one thing we continue to do. I don't have a solution."

While Calhoun refused to pin the blame on any individual player, it's clear that a bulk of it falls on Kemba Walker, the team's sophomore point guard. Walker finished with nine points (2-for-7 shooting) and five turnovers on Saturday as he continuously drove into traffic to poor results – a habit he's had all season.

"He's got to find open people and stop trying to challenge everyone in the world," Calhoun admitted. "It's not working out, it hasn't worked out. Kemba's a very talented kid, you know he's going to make good plays at the end of games, you know he's going to make foul shots … it's not just Kemba, (but) I don't think Kemba's playing as well as he should."

For his part, Walker acknowledged he has to "find guys. I've got to do a better job. I've got to penetrate more and be more under control."

Specifically on Saturday, Walker – or any UConn player – didn't find Robinson enough in the second half. After scoring 12 first-half points, Robinson took just six shots and scored only four points in the latter.

"I would have liked Stanley to take 25 shots, in and around the basket where he's almost unstoppable," Calhoun said. "We didn't do that, and three times I saw him wide open. They did a better job of getting their players the ball when they needed to."

No one more so than junior guard Austin Freeman, who scored 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half. Freeman's prior career-best scoring output had been 21.

***Ex-UConn star (and current Washington Wizard) Caron Butler addressed the team in the locker room after the game.

"He just said keep your heads up because it's a long season," said freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. "Last year, this team lost to Georgetown, too, and ended up going to the Final Four. Hopefully, it's another special season ahead."

Coombs-McDaniel gave the Huskies a big boost off the bench in the first half, scoring 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting. But he played just five minutes and scored just one point over the final 20 minutes.

***As previously mentioned, Dyson lost a cousin to cancer a week earlier, and most of his family attended the funeral on Saturday. Only his mother, Julie Harriday, was at the game.

Dyson finished with 12 points and five turnovers.

***The Huskies are expected to get an official visit next month from Josh Selby, a highly-touted shooting guard from Baltimore.

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Ummm ...

... forget about everything I said in the previous post. Wow, bad loss.

More later ...

Game Face

Walked out of the elevator at the hotel this morning and there were Jim Calhoun and George Blaney, waiting in the lobby for the rest of the team to come down. I waved to the coaches; Calhoun looked back at me with a "what-are-you-doing-here?" look.

At 9:30 a.m., the coach already had his game face on. Always does on gameday. I'm told not to even bother trying to acknowledge him at any time prior to a game, he'll essentially look right through you.

Apparently, Calhoun's game face transferred over to his players. That was a "Wow!" first-half performance by the Huskies, who shot 50 percent, ran the court beautifully, got 12 points (including three jaw-dropping dunks) from Stanley Robinson and 10 from Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who hit his first four shots, including a pair of 3's).

Meanwhile, Georgetown shot 8-for-27 (29.6 percent), and went nearly the last 10 minutes without a field goal, going 0-for-10 in that span as the Huskies outscored them, 22-2.

Maybe the Hoyas really aren't that good. Maybe the Huskies are a lot better than a lot of us (myself included) thought they were.

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PRE-GAME PRIMER: The No-Arenas Arena

No sign of Gilbert Arenas here at Verizon Center ... literally. The building apparently is doing its best to remove any traces of Arenas (pictures, etc.) as he sits out his suspension for bringing guns into the locker room.

At least one of Arenas's (former?) teammates will be in the house tonight: Caron Butler will be sitting behind the UConn bench. And Donyell Marshall will be seated there, too.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Monroe Doctrine

Greetings from Washington, D.C., home of Kevin Durant, Elgin Baylor, Byron Leftwich, Maury Wills, Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, Gilbert Arenas's arsennal, Dave Grohl, bad baseball and Bad Brains. Oh, and a whole lot of historical stuff.

Jim Calhoun was off on a recruiting trip and wasn't at tonight's media availability at the team hotel. George Blaney did the honors and talked about what he's seen from the Hoyas this year.

"It looks to me like (coach John Thompson, III) is just not playing as many people. They're really playing 6 ½ guys. They're a little more veteran. (Greg) Monroe is a little better, if you can get better. He certainly had his coming-out party against us last year. He's playing very much like a leader, versus just a good, talented player."

Indeed, as a freshman in his Big East debut last season, Monroe ran circles around UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, outscoring him 16-4. A 6-11 center who can step back and hit the 3, drive to the hole and distribute the ball deftly, Monroe is a tough matchup.

"It's tough because he's really long and really athletic," said Gavin Edwards, "and it's kind of tough to play against a kid who's left-handed because it kind of goes against everything you know as a player. It's a little unique, I guess, but he's definitely a good player."

Under the tutelage of Princeton grad and Pete Carril disciple John Thompson III, the Hoyas employ a slow-down, Princeton-style offense that primarily runs through Monroe. Guarding that type of offense requires a lot of work and patience – on both ends of the floor.

While the Huskies (11-3, 2-1) will have to fight through screens and backdoor cuts on defense, they'll also have to be more patient on offense. Possessions, after all, will be at a premium, and UConn must try to make each one count.

"If we have no good shot, we've got to kick it back out and run a good offense," said Blaney. "Kemba (Walker) and Jerome (Dyson) have to take care of the opportunities they get on the break. It's hard to get (the score) in the 70's, let alone in the 80's."

***The Hoyas are one of the few teams that have had UConn's number in recent years and have won the last three meetings. Two years ago, a 3-pointer in the waning seconds by 7-foot center Roy Hibbert (now A.J. Price's Indiana Pacer teammate) gave the Hoyas the win at Verizon Center.

***Hometown boy (Potomac, Md.) Jerome Dyson arrived in D.C. on an earlier flight to spend some extra time with his family and wasn't at UConn's media availability on Friday at the team's hotel.

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Smith Commits to UConn

Saying UConn would be "the best fit for me and my style of play," highly-touted small forward Roscoe Smith has committed to the program.

Smith, a 6-foot-8 ½ (according to him) forward at Oak Hill Academy, chose the Huskies over Duke and Georgetown.

"UConn would be the best fit for me and my style of play," he said by phone. "And also, the history of players that Coach Calhoun has coached, players that came through that played my position that made it to the next level."

Smith said that he always modeled himself after Ray Allen until going to Oak Hill, where he now considers himself more of a Rudy Gay-type athlete.

Smith, a Baltimore native, said he'll be at Saturday's UConn-Georgetown game at the Verizon Center.

More later …

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hey Now, You're an All-Star?

The UConn athletic department would like to get the word out that seven of the 13 former UConn players currently in the NBA are on this year's NBA All-Star ballot: Rudy Gay (Memphis), Ray Allen (Boston), Emeka Okafor (New Orleans), Charlie Villanueva (Detroit), Richard Hamilton (Detroit), Caron Butler (Washington) and Ben Gordon (Detroit).

Fans can vote for all-stars at until Jan. 18. The rosters will be announced on Jan. 22.

***Speaking of the NBA, we're hoping we don't run across Gilbert Arenas's personal arsenal on Saturday at the Verizon Center, when UConn faces Georgetown in what should be a good one. Guns among NBA players (and basketball players in general) is a topic on people's minds these days, including some clown on today's Big East coaches conference call.

A guy identifying himself as an Associated Press writer (who was apparently from a radio show out in Portland) asked Jim Calhoun if his players "still have guns in the locker room." Calhoun appeared flustered, perhaps not understanding what the guy said or whether he was serious or not, and eventually the caller was cut off.

***Not a terribly lot of information on the call. Calhoun was asked about Georgetown.

"It's a little different kind of Georgetown team. You're not going to see a lot of bodies, they're basically playing seven people. Greg Monroe is incredibly skilled. He's unselfish, he can score, rebound, block shots. I know they lost a tough one to Marquette (on Wednesday), but we're going to say that, I think, all throught he league season."

***Georgetown coach John Thompson III also spoke:

(on UConn)

"They still are big and imposing on the boards. At the end of day, between Jerome and Kemba, they kind of make the team go It's easy to say, 'let's stop UConn's transition,' that's something they stress. 'Let's keep them off the boards, try to limit their easy baskets.'"

(on the Hoyas' success vs. UConn in recent years)

"I think we’ve been lucky. I don’t know that there’s any one particular thing. We've probably caught them at some times when they’ve been off. You know it’s going to be an extremely intense, physical game. If you can make them work at both ends of the floor, that’s what we try to do."

(on Georgetown's season thus far)

"We’ve gotten a lot better since the season began, but I think we still have a long way to go. I think our guys have done a great job supporting each other at both ends of the floor. That has to be a premium for us. The thing I like, that’s a positive, is that we’ve seen growth."

(on Monroe's development)

"His biggest growth is something the casual fan doesn’t get an opportunity to see. Last year he's gone from a freshman that came in under a lot of scrutiny and performed well, and now he's a leader on this team. He's a leader, he's vocal in the locker room, at the dorm, on campus, in practice every day. He’s standing out with our team."

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hazell Shade of Winter

It was all about Jeremy Hazell at practice today. The Seton Hall junior guard scored 41 and 38 points, respectively, in his first two Big East games this season and should be quite a handful tomorrow night for UConn.

"He's unguardable," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said of Hazell, who popped in 28 against the Huskies as a freshman two years ago. "I don't mean he's going to make every shot, I mean he'll take every shot … He's that kind of player. The game is never safe with him."

Jerome Dyson will get the honor of chasing the wiry, 6-foot-5 Hazell around the floor.

"I was watching the West Virginia game, and he was just shooting it from anywhere he catches it," Dyson said. "It's definitely going to be a tough game where I’m going to have to run around and guard him, no matter where he catches the ball."

***The Pirates are 10-3, 0-2. Their two losses came at home to West Virginia (in overtime) and Syracuse. Then they dropped another overtime bout with a tough Virginia Tech team. Are they due?

"In this league, it always seems like the team that needs to win seems to be able to put forth a great effort to get a win," said Calhoun, whose Huskies are 10-3, 1-1. "It doesn't mean they'll get a win, because we hope to have something to say about that. But, over the years, it seems when a good team is desperate – and they're a good team – when their back's to the wall, they get a win. They're hungry."

***Stanley Robinson (who should see some time on Hazell on Wednesday, too) was sporting an interesting hairdo today. It was combed out and up, sorta like Busta Rhymes (that's about as hip as I get). But don't expect to see it again.

"No, no, negative," he said. "This is a one-day thing."

MUSIC QUIZ: Who sang the originaly "Hazy Shade of Winter"? And who had a hit with it as a cover version in the late 1980's?

***Despite a career-best 10-point effort on Saturday against Notre Dame, Charles Okwandu will still be coming off the bench. Struggling Ater Majok will remain in the starting lineup, though both players will get some run and Calhoun will likely stick with the hot hand.

***UConn has won nine straight over Seton Hall and 24 straight over the three Big East tri-state schools (Seton Hall, Rutgers and St. John's). The last time the Huskies lost to the Pirates was in March, 2001.

***Freshman guard Darius Smith didn't practice with the team on Tuesday since he had a tutorial session, but will be on the bench and dressed for tomorrow's game.

***Why the 9 p.m. start? Well, SNY is broadcasting the Rutgers-West Virginia game at 7 p.m. and backing it up with UConn-Seton Hall for a doubleheader.

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