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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