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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