The Big Three
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?