Sunday, December 26, 2010

Monday Night ... Football?

Jim Calhoun, as only he could, set the stage to what promises to be another physical, memorable showdown between UConn and Pitt tomorrow night at the Petersen Events Center.

"When you play at Pitt, it's come to mean you're visiting the Steelers," Calhoun quipped. "At least the officials seem to think that."

And away we go ...

The Huskies made it out of Bradley on their charter early this afternoon, touched down in Pittsburgh at about 3:15 p.m. and were at the Petersen Events Center for practice by 4 p.m. Calhoun and Kemba Walker (as well as Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Gary McGhee) met with the media and talked about the idea of playing such a huge game with potentially big implications just two days after Christmas.

(A reminder to follow me on Twitter:!/DaveBorges)

Calhoun doesn't like it -- a point he made as far back as on Big East media day in October.

"I don't like seeing (one) of our teams playing the team that is, right now, as good as anybody else in our league ā€“ maybe the best," he said. "Let's give us a chance to get through the holiday season and go."

He continued: "The day after Christmas, you're traveling to play the best team in the league. And I'm not just saying that about us, I'm talking about some of the other games in our league. I personally don't like it, (but) the league's not going to change because I don't like it.

"When it comes down to the end and people are looking for high seeds in the Big East tournament, I wouldn't want to see a game here, two days after Christmas, cost somebody. I think everybody should have that time period."

So why are the Huskies playing at Pitt on Monday (8:30 p.m. espn2)?

"We play Texas and Tennessee, that takes away two dates the Big East can use for us," Calhoun noted. "Conversely, I counter that by saying, we might be doing a little something for the league by playing those two schools. I think their power ratings might be among the top 15 in the country. I think our Maui games probably help."

Dixon isn't thrilled with the timing of the game, either.

"It is what it is. We don't make the schedule, the conference does," he said. "Obviously, over the years we've had incredibly close games with highly ranked teams coming together. Every game has been really a battle. Whatever date we've played it, it's lived up to its billing. I'm expecting the same this game."

Not everyone is against the timing of the game. McGhee, Pitt's 6-foot-11 senior center, welcomes it.

"I like coming right from Christmas into a big game like this," McGhee said. "Iā€™m looking forward to it."

Calhoun could perhaps be swayed to that opinion, as well.

"If we're fortunate enough to be on the left-hand (winning) side of the column, I'll say what a great idea it was to play two days after Christmas," he joked. "I won't say that. I just think teams should have as much of a chance to get ready."

***Dixon isn't surprised by UConn's 10-0 start, even though it was picked to finish 10th in the conference by Big East coaches.

"I don't know how you can be surprised by anybody in our league that's had a history of success," he said. "You go through the league, you've got to pick somebody ninth and 10th that has won year after year and had success. Last year, we were picked in the same spot, ninth or 10th, and we finished second. It shouldn't be a surprise.

"Every year, I'd think Syracuse would be rebuilding, and I've finally given up. Same thing with Connecticut and certain teams in this conference."

***Expect a typically physical game. The Panthers are outrebounding opponents by 16.2 per game, easily tops in the conference. They're holding teams to 61.1 points per game ā€“ seventh in the league, just ahead of UConn (62.4). The Huskies' frontcourt of Alex Oriakhi, Charles Okwandu, Tyler Olander and (perhaps) Enosch Wolf will be key.

***It takes a village to stop Walker these days. That seems to be the mentality the Panthers will go in with tomorrow ight. Brad Wanamaker, Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall will all likely take turns guarding Walker, but in the end it's the entire Pitt team that must fill gaps and keep Walker from penetrating and getting out in the open floor, where he can either score on drives to the hoop or dish off to teammates.

"You can't guard him with just one guy," Dixon said. "All five guys on the floor have to be doing what they're supposed to do."

***Why is the game being played at 8:30 p.m.? Well, it follows the 5 p.m. Independence Bowl (Georgia Tech vs. Air Force) on espn2. Gee, there's a must-see game.

***Pitt and UConn, respectively, are the Big East's winningest programs of the 21st Century. Since the start of the 2001-02 season, the Panthers are 257-66 (.796) overall and 109-41 in league play. UConn is 235-79 (.748) and 103-47.

Over that span, Pitt has made nine NCAA tourney appearances, UConn seven. The schools have met in three of the last nine Big East championship finals. In the last nine years, both programs have appeared in five Sweet Sixteens.

Of course, UConn has a national title and a Final Four in that span (not to mention a national title just before that time period). Pitt has never reached the Final Four.

***Calhoun feels plenty of "love" from the fans at The Pete.

"It's good to get back to one of my favorite places, the Peterson Center," he quipped. "I know the fans here love me, so it's always nice to come back where you are loved."

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