Sunday, February 28, 2010

Over in a New York Point Guard's Minute

And just like that, it was over. Not the UConn men's basketball team's NCAA tournament hopes … not yet.

But a stirring game that seemed destined for some kind of epic ending – in regulation or beyond – was over in a New York point guard's minute on Sunday. Or, more precisely, over in 8.2 seconds.

Edgar Sosa, Louisville's oft-maligned point guard out of the Bronx, hit a tough, driving layup with 8.2 ticks left on the clock to give the Cardinals a 78-76 lead.

Kemba Walker, UConn's red-hot point guard and former teammate of Sosa's at Rice High, took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor. No timeout called, nor wanted by coach Jim Calhoun.

"I wanted him to go to the rim," Calhoun said of Walker. "We didn't get there."

Indeed, Walker's wild shot was blocked by Samardo Samuels, Louisville grabbed the loose ball and the Cardinals (19-10, 10-6 Big East) had a huge road victory before 10,167 on senior day at Gampel Pavilion.

And for UConn, a tough loss that puts them right back on the proverbial tourney bubble. Just don't ask Calhoun for his assessment on where the Huskies stand.

When asked how he "assesses the landscape of the Big East" right now, Calhoun said: "I assess getting ready for Notre Dame. I could give a (bleep) about the landscape of the Big East … The only landscape I know is Gampel Pavilion (for practice, today), and then to South Bend to play Notre Dame."

UConn (17-12, 7-9 Big East) likely needs a win over the Fighting Irish to stay on the tournament selection committee's good side.

***Today's magic number was 22. As in, the number of consecutive games at Gampel UConn had won, until today.

Also, Louisville had just 22 rebounds to UConn's 50. Heck, the Huskies had nearly as many offensive boards (20) as the Cardinals did total.

But UConn turned the ball over a season-high 22 times (14 of them in the second half), and Louisville had 15 steals and hit 10 3-pointers to help offset UConn's backboard dominance.

"When you steal the basketball and keep your turnovers down," said Rick Pitino, "you get those possessions back."

Ironically, it was one of the mere six offensive rebounds the Cardinals got that had Calhoun most steamed. The Huskies had taken a 71-68 lead on Gavin Edwards' two free throws with 4:06 left. Louisville's Preston Knowles misfired on a 3-pointer from the corner, but Samuels grabbed the offensive rebound, Knowles eventually got the ball back in the EXACT SAME SPOT, and this time swished the trey to tie it up.

"If you had told me coming in we would have (outrebounded the Cards by 50-22), I would have given up the 10 3's," said Calhoun. "Nine, actually. The one when we were up by three was a bad play. Someone had to get out on the shooter."

***The anatomy of Louisville's game-winning play:

After Jerome Dyson had thrown the ball away on a drive, Pitino called timeout with 29.3 ticks left.

"I told them, 'Guys, I know we're making this. You've just got to promise me one thing: that you get back on defense, don't give them a 3 and don't foul them,'" Pitino said afterwards. "I told them, 'Don't celebrate, there will be time left on the clock."

Sure enough, Sosa made his tough shot, for just his second field goal of the game.

"It's a double-screen high, and Edgar decides on what to do," said Pitino. "He did the right thing."

Shrugged Calhoun: "You can't give up a layup on that play."

Meanwhile, Walker couldn't quite counter his former teammate's New York moxie.

"I got the ball and just tried to go coast-to-coast, but I lost it when I went up," he said. "That was it."

Would a timeout have been beneficial?

"I don't know," Walker added. "Maybe not."

Added Calhoun: "He can make it, comfortably, in four seconds, maybe five. We've done all of those kind of things before. Most likely, if he gets to the rim, you'll get a foul on that play, because they're trying to hold onto the win. But it didn't happen that way."

***Louisville pretty much clinched a Big Dance berth with the win.

"According to Joe (Lunardi, not Lombardi), we're in," said Pitino. "With NCAA brackets, in Joe we trust."

UConn? Not there yet. A win over Notre Dame Wednesday will get them a step closer. A loss could put them on the outside looking in.

But take solace in Pitino's words, Husky fans:

"You can't ever get down, because you don't know where the wins are going to come. The old days, you look on paper, 'If we play well, we'll beat this team.' You can't describe the Big East that way, because it's not true. Notre Dame, without Harangody, we beat them in overtime. They go home and beat Pitt by a considerable margin, go at Georgetown beat them by a considerable margin. Who won Marquette-Seton Hall today? ("Marquette, in overtime," a few media members replied) Marquette's had more close games than any team in America. Seton Hall is on the bubble, now Marquette's in. It's amazingly competitive … and it's going to be the same next year. We thought it was going to be a little down this year, but look at it. It's the No. 1 conference, by far. It's even stronger."

***Walker (28), Edwards (career high-matching 17), Robinson (14) and Dyson (13) combined for all but four of UConn's points.

Pitino on Walker: "He's hell on wheels."

Calhoun: "It was a tough play at the end, but overall Kemba played well. He kept us in the game. He helped us get the lead."

***This is the first game this season UConn has lost while scoring 70 or more points. It is now 15-1 in such contests.

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These Are the Times

Charles Okwandu may not be a very skilled offensive player. Witness the airballs he notched on a 10-footer (and a dunk!) in the first half.

But Okwandu has been a real force on the boards so far, with a career-high eight rebounds in 13 minutes. It's helped the Huskies to a commanding 28-11 edge on the boards – yet only a 45-40 lead on the scoreboard. Why just the five-point edge? Well, the 3-pointer is certainly a great equalizer. Louisville has hit six – four of them in the final three minutes – to stay close.

Some observations:

Couple of things I've noticed about Rick Pitino. For one, have his, ahem … "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" been largely forgotten by the general public. Should Pitino (and David Letterman, and Steve Phillips, for that matter) be eternally grateful for Tiger Woods? I heard one rowdy fan yell "Hey Rick, your girlfriend's on the phone," but otherwise, it seems Pitino's romps have largely been forgotten.

Also noticed that Pitino – unlike in his younger days, and unlike his coaching foe today – rarely gets on the officials. He's more interested in instructing his players and yelling at them, if necessary, when they mess up. But he pretty much stays away from the refs, which is certainly different from days past.

It appears Billy Joel's "This is the Time" is no longer the song they play at Senior Days, at least in college basketball. Jay-Z's "Forever Young" played in pregame ceremonies as Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards, Alex Hornat, Kenny Borton and Dave Sevush were honored today.

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Napier Here, Selby Not

Josh Selby was unable to make his slated visit to UConn for today's game. "Car trouble," we're told.

The Huskies do have a recruit in the house, however: Shabazz Napier, a 5-foot-10 guard out of Boston. He's listed as a Class of 2011 by, but apparently he's in his fifth year of school, so he could be ready to enroll in college next fall.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

How the NBA Sees Sticks, Dyson, Edwards, etc ...

Tired of NFL draft coverage already? I know I am. The NFL combine? Seriously? People actually watch that stuff? Unreal. But no worries, the NFL draft is only two months away, so two more months of non-stop coverage. Then a month of post-draft coverage ... ugh.

Anyway, the NBA draft is more relevant around these parts, particularly how it pertains to UConn's players. Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson and Gavin Edwards could each be selected this June (Kemba Walker, too, though it seems extremely doubtful he'll enter this year's draft).

The Internet mock drafts vary on where the players might go, with Robinson as anywhere from the lottery to early second round, Dyson from early second round to undrafted, Edwards from mid-second round to undrafted.

But putting much stock in mock drafts is silly, for a variety of reasons -- none better than Kemba's rationalization: “The mock drafts, those are guys who probably never played basketball a day in their lives. So, it really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

We asked some NBA talent evaluators (an Eastern Conference director of player personnel, and a Western Conference scout, at least one of whom has played basketball a day or two in his life) how they see UConn's potential draftees. Here's a sampling:


(Is Sticks a lottery pick?)

Director of player persononel: “At the end of the day, I don’t think he’ll go there because of the issues surrounding him. People are worried about his makeup: leaving school, going to work in a factory, he’s already got a couple of kids. Not that those are deal-breakers, but they’re things that could scare some teams away. I think he’s got a shot for the first round, with his length and athleticism. He’s shooting the ball real well this year, he’s freaky with his athleticism. Obviously, he’s a little thin, he’s going to have to be a small forward. He’s not strong enough to play down low.”

Scout: “It’s more of a mental thing. He’ll do typically two or three things a game that show his athletic ability, shows flashes. Some games, he shows more flashes than others, but he’s sticking his nose in there, getting better at rebounding. He’s not a great outside shooter, he’s got to keep working on those skills, also. He has the talent, but he’s got to get really focused.”

DOPP: "I think he could go 15-30, right after the lottery, as long as the mental testing and stuff goes OK and people are comfortable where he is mentally. With his shooting, length and freak athleticism, I think he will test very well at the combine. He’ll work out pretty well 1-on-1, he’s a pretty versatile offensive player, defensively he’s pretty long. I think he’s a guy who could actually move up.”


DOPP: “He’s talented. I think he’ll end up fitting on an NBA roster because he’s a pretty versatile offensive player. The thing that hurts him, as far as being a first-round pick, is he’s not a real consistent shooter. He’s more of a scorer than a shooter. The game seems pretty easy for him at times, because he glides to get where he wants to go. He can get pretty much any shot, but he’s not a guy you can rely on as a consistent shooter.”

(where would Dyson fit in on an NBA team?)

Scout: “Some type of combo, backup guard, that kind of player, like a (Keyon) Dooling. A guy that comes in, gives you a little bit of everything. He’ll have to really establish himself. He’s got the physical tools to figure that out, and he seems to have the mental capacity.”

DOPP: “He can play some back-up point guard, because I think he’s a pretty good passer. He’s got pretty good vision … he’s a scorer first, but when you watch him play, I don’t think he’s a real selfish player. Once or twice a game you say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think he’d get (that pass) in there.’ In some ways, I think he’s got better vision than Kemba. I love how hard Kemba plays, but I just don’t think he sees (the floor) very well.”


DOPP: “I really like him, and I see why the coaches like him. He probably won’t get drafted, but a team will take a long look at him at summer league or camp. I love how smart he is. When one of the guys on the team isn’t making the right reads, he’s the one calling that out. It seems he makes the right decision most of the time. He’s not spectacular, but he’s got decent size and athleticism. I can’t say he won’t make it because he doesn’t do this or that, I just don’t think he’s athletic enough or quite skilled enough.”

Toughness is also an issue.

Scout: “One of the worst things you can call somebody is soft. I’m not so sure he is, he just has a real subdued personality … If he had the mentality of a (Jeff) Adrien or a Dyson, he’d be really good. He doesn’t lack talent.”


There is zero indication that Walker will declare for the draft, even if he makes a big NCAA tourney run. And that’s just as well, according to the league sources.

Scout: “I think that would be a real mistake. I don’t see him there yet. He’s a tough kid, comes from a good background. I like his competitiveness and stuff, but I just think he needs a lot more seasoning. That’s a tough position to try to come in right away. I don’t think there’s any rush for him, and that’s not knocking him.”

DOPP: "I don't think he should, because I don't think there's any way he gets in the first round. The only thing that would make sense is, if he knows next year will be his last year at UConn, it makes some sense for him to put his name in, not hire an agent, then return to school. But if he's not sure of your future, he should hold that one free try until next year. People know he can score. But from an NBA perspective, I don’t want a 5-foot-11 guy being a score-first guy. Unless he’s exceptional, like a Nate Robinson – one of those freak athletic scorers, which I don’t think Kemba is.”


Looking to the distant, distant future, the talent evaluators weighed in on these two freshmen.

Scout: Oriakhi “has got to dedicate himself to being a crazy rebounder. I don’t see him having the skill set.”

DOPP: “His body’s interesting, he’s got a decent stroke. I don’t think he has a great feel, though. I feel like he should get more out of his ability than what he does.”

As for Majok?

DOPP: “I don’t think Majok ever gets there. He’s skinny, he’s already old (22) … I don’t see that happening.”


(See a related story in tomorrow's Register)

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Monday, February 22, 2010

'Lombardi' Trophy?

Just when you think they're out, they pull you back in.

These Huskies are making things interesting, aren't they? Monday's 73-62 win over West Virginia puts them squarely back on the right side of the NCAA tourney bubble, in all likelihood. Even Joe Lunardi agrees, though we're not sure if that means anything to Jim Calhoun.

"I don't care what Lombardi, or whatever his name is (says)," Calhoun joked afterwards, referring to Joey Brackets. "He happens to be Italian, so I'm a little bit prejudiced. He doesn't know very much."

Umm, Jim ... I'd have someone else start your car tomorrow morning after that statement. (Just kidding, and so was Jim ... though I am 1/4 Italian, so I guess I can sorta say that).

Anyway ...

The story of the night was the bookend technical fouls called against Calhoun and Bob Huggins. Calhoun's, 47 seconds into the action after WVU had jumped off to a 5-0 start, kicked off a 14-1 UConn run. The Huskies would never trail again, though not before allowing a 15-point lead to be whittled down to one with 8:47 remaining.

"It definitely sparked us," senior Gavin Edwards said of Calhoun's technical, "because we knew it was going to be a real physical game after that, and we had to come out and be physical, too."

Calhoun insisted his "T" wasn't by design.

"Suffice to say, I was ready for the game," he said. "I certainly didn't try to do anything of that nature. But I wanted them to know I was ready for the game."

"Them" being his players, not the refs.

"I have no control over officials," said Calhoun. "I don't assign them, I don't blow the whistle for them, certainly. I'm not sure, after a while, what's a foul anymore in the Big East. I complain about it, but I don't know which way they're going."

Apparently, neither does Huggins, who was hit with a double-T with 42.4 seconds left and ejected from the game.

Huggins, who had to be physically restrained by his assistants after getting ejected, didn't want to get into details about the technical.

"I don't know, you watched it," he told a reporter. "You saw it. You're allowed to report on it, I'm not. You have a tremendous advantage."

When asked why the Mountaineers weren't quite able to get over the hump, Huggins responded: "I don't know if I can answer that without getting in trouble. We played triangle-and-two and zone the whole game, right from the beginning. Usually you don't foul as much when you're in that stuff. Usually."

West Virginia was whistled for 26 of the game's 46 fouls and UConn went to the charity stripe 42 times, hitting 30. WVU was 12-for-23 from the stripe. Aside from the dunks by Robinson and Walker in the final minute, the Huskies' only two field goals over the final 12 minutes of action were by Robinson – a putback with 8:25 to play, and a big 3-pointer with 6:14 left that gave UConn a 61-56 lead. The Huskies did have two players foul out – Edwards and fellow big man Ater Majok -- while WVU had just one (Wellington Smith).

Said Calhoun: "It's unfortunate that Bobby got thrown (out), and I mean that very sincerely. But the most important thing for me is my kids. Always has been, always will be."

***Craftiest play of the night: after Smith fouled out, the UConn student section did its usual "Left, right, left, right!" chant every time Smith took a step to the bench. The chant always ends when the player sits and the students yell "Sit down!" But Smith decided not to sit until just as Kemba Walker shot a free throw, and the students' "Sit down!" may have distracted Walker -- he missed the freebie.

***Jerome Dyson turned his left ankle on a drive to the hoop with about 6 ½ minutes left and left the game. He returned a little over a minute later, however, to a Willis Reed-like reception from the home crowd.

The 6-foot-4 guard held 6-7 WVU scoring leader Butler on to nine points on 2-for-10 shooting.

That's all we've got for now.

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Let's Get Technical

John Cahill is one of tonight's referee, but it wasn't he who whistled Jim Calhoun for a technical 47 seconds into the action.

After Wellington Smith grabbed an offensive rebound – on which Calhoun apparently felt Smith pushed off – and kicked it out to Darryl "Truck" Bryant for a 3-pointer, Calhoun called a timeout and erupted at referee Michael Stephens. Stephens T'd Calhoun up, setting him off even more – and the coach couldn't resist yelling across the court at Cahill, too.

Cahill, of course, has been involved in two controversial calls that have gone against UConn this season and potentially cost them two wins: the Lance Stephenson foul with 0.7 seconds left at Cincy, and the Jim Boeheim timeout at Syracuse.

Anyway, as Johnny Most would have said, "justice was served" as Da'Sean Butler missed both technical free throws and UConn responded with a 14-1 run.

***Didn't realize the Mountaineers were so reliant on jump shots. They've hoisted up 11 3-pointers so far, hitting just three. Most of the rest of their shot attempts have been jumpers.

***Did realize WVU could be susceptible to the press, and while UConn's fullcourt press hasn't led to a bunch of turnovers, it's been pretty effective.

***Who says covering college basketball isn't hazardous work? With 12:17 left in the half, WVU's Joe Mazzulla dove into press row for a loose ball, straight into the Republican-American's Ed Daigneault. Daigneault's soda spilled in his lap, but otherwise he was no worse for the wear. Those Rhode Islanders (Mazzulla is a Johnston, R.I. native) will get ya every time.

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Scout Count

Looks like 18 NBA GM's, scouts, etc. slated to be in the house tonight, including Danny Ainge.

In all, the Celtics, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers have been credentialed for the game.


Walker, Player of the Week

Kemba Walker is UConn's first Big East Player of the Week this season after averaging 22.5 points per game in the Huskies' wins over Villanova and Rutgers.

Walker poured in a career-best 29 vs. 'Nova and followed that by scoring 14 of his 16in the second half at The RAC.

UConn's two wins jumped them four spots in the league standings, from 12th place into a five-way tie for eighth. The five teams, sorted in order by the conference's tiebreaker policy, are: Cincinnati, UConn, Seton Hall, Notre Dame, South Florida. That means, by the tiebreaking formula, UConn is essentially in ninth place right now. The top eight teams earn first-round Big East tournament byes, so it would behoove the Huskies to move up to at least eighth. Those final two road games at Notre Dame and USF could have some pretty big implications.

Oh, also: Louisville has returned some tickets for Sunday at Gampel, so there are about 100 tickets available. Visit And there are tickets remaining for tonight for those interested in walking up at the XL Center.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thabeet, My Top 25

Sandwiched UConn's bouts with Rutgers on Saturday and West Virginia tonight with a visit to the IZOD Center to talk to Hasheem Thabeet for a feature story.

Must admit, as chronicled in the story, the big guy doesn't seem too happy with Memphis. That'll happen when you're playing time is down to single digits and you're part of a rumored trade (with O.J. Mayo to Golden State for Monta Ellis) less than 50games into your rookie season.

Hash hardly dignified himself on Sunday, with two fouls and a turnover in 59 seconds of action. I left soon after (I had talked to everyone I needed to prior to the game and finished my story by halftime. Would you watch any more of a Nets game than you absolutely had to?).

Anyway, here's a few more notes 'n quotes that didn't make the story:

***Thabeet and teammate Rudy Gay planned to head about 20 minutes down the road to UConn's game at Rutgers on Saturday, but the Grizzlies plane didn't get in until about 6 p.m. -- just as the Huskies' game was ending. Thabeet said he still went down to Piscataway to see his former coaches and teammates before they boarded the bus back to Storrs.

***Thabeet, Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams -- all Grizzlies teammates -- were concerned about Jim Calhoun's recent medical leave of absence. Thabeet and Williams tried to contact him, to no avail.

"I knew everybody was at him, so I kind of gave him his space," said Gay. "This summer, I'll sit down and talk to him."

"He's a tough man," Thabeet said of Calhoun.

***Thabeet suffered a fracture alignment in his jaw on Nov. 10 but missed just one game.

***Williams on the UConn bond inside the Grizzlies' locker room: "We've kind of got used to it. We've got a lot of haters in the locker room. UConn's been losing a little bit lately, so of course we're hearing it from everybody: 'UConn lost, you're not that good, you're sorry this year.' We take pride in being alumni of Connecticut."

***Gay and Williams on the Huskies' chances this season.

Gay: "We've had some really good wins, and some tough losses. They're on the right track. It's been tough this year, up and down, with coach being out. But coach is a great coach, and he's going to get it back."

Williams: "They need some big wins, and they need to get far in the Big East tournament if they want anything to happen."

***Thabeet's advice to Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards, who all hope to be in "the league" next season.

"I told them it's a lot of hard work. It looks like it's easy, because everybody's good. But it's all a lot of hard work."

***Williams said he's down eight pounds, from 215 to 207, this season after a summer devoted to getting into better shape.

Oh, and here's the Top 25 I submitted late last night:

1. Kansas
2. Kentucky
3. Syracuse
4. Purdue
5. Kansas State
6. Duke
7. West Virginia
8. Villanova
9. New Mexico
10. Ohio State
11. Brigham Young
12. Michigan State
13. Gonzaga
14. Wisconsin
15. Butler
16. Georgetown
17. Texas
18. Vanderbilt
19. Tennessee
20. Temple
21. Texas A&M
22. UTEP
23. Pittsburgh
24. Richmond
25. Virginia Tech

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kemba "Steve Alford" Walker

This was a very big win for UConn. Why? Because, after failing keep up the momentum following most of its previous strong efforts -- most notably that Jan. 23 home win over then-No. 1 Texas -- the Huskies were able to back up Monday's big win at Villanova with another victory. On the road. Against a team that (don't ask me how) had defeated Georgetown a week earlier and had won four if its last five Big East contests.

Indeed, Jim Calhoun labeled UConn's current modest two-game road winning streak as "the most signficant thing we've done this year" -- and that's not an exaggeration. The Huskies really needed this one, particularly with No. 8 West Virginia on the docket Monday night in Hartford.

"We're a bubble team, and you wouldn't have said that a week ago?" said Calhoun. "You would've said, what bubble? If we're fortunate enough to get a couple of wins, then you have to start thinking something else. Right now, I'm just thinking about the XL Center and West Virginia."

Some notes 'n quotes from UConn's 76-58 dismantling of the Scarlet Knights:

***When Kemba Walker came out of the visitors locker room with a noticeable limp and began the second half on the bench Saturday, the concern among the numerous UConn fans inside The RAC was almost palpable.

But Walker immediately entered the game on the first dead-ball situation, then proceeded to continue his torrid play of late. The sophomore point guard scored 14 of his 16 points over the final 20 minutes, including a pair of dagger 3-pointers in the waning minutes, to spearhead UConn's win.

Walker hit 3 of 4 3-pointers Saturday and has now buried 8 of his last 14 from beyond the arc. When asked about Walker's recent long-distance prowess, Calhoun quipped: "You mean Steve Alford?"

"Guys get into a rhythm," Calhoun continued. "There's nobody on this team right now, nobody, who works as hard as (Walker) does. I told a couple of the other guys, if you come in every night and shoot the two hours that he does (that's what happens)."
Walker had tweaked his ankle while being called for a charging foul – his second – with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first half. He didn't play again in the half, and spent halftime getting treatment on the ankle.

***Walker had picked up his first foul early and played just 12 minutes in the first half, scoring just two points. Donnell Beverly picked up the slack, however, and led the Huskies at halftime with eight points and five rebounds.

"He gave us a great lift," Calhoun said of Beverly.

"That's my mindset, just to go as hard as I can," Beverly noted. "I know that's what coach wants. Today, the ball bounced my way, but I was still going hard and showing a little enthusiasm, which I think helped my team, as well."

***Freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel was suffering from a sprained left ankle suffered in practice Wednesday, and Calhoun figured he'd be doubtful to play Saturday.
But after plenty of work in the morning at the hotel with trainer James Doran – including running up and down the hallways – Coombs-McDaniel felt "70 percent" and knew he could give it a go.

He wasn't sure if Calhoun would feel the same way. But midway through the first half, he got the call to replace Stanley Robinson.

"I wasn't expecting to be in the game," Coombs-McDaniel admitted, "and coach called my name. I was ready."

Indeed, building off his impressive eight-point effort against Villanova on Monday, Coombs-McDaniel hit a 3-pointer late in the first half and finished with four points in 13 minutes.

"Any young player, after coming off a decent game, you want to come out and try to play better the next," he said.

***Coombs-McDaniel's friend and high school teammate, Alex Oriakhi, came off the bench for a second straight game. The Huskies, of course, are now 2-0 in those games.

"I'm motivated by it, actually, to go out there and prove to coach I should be starting," said Oriakhi, who had four points and seven rebounds. "We've been winning so far with me coming off the bench, so I don't think (Calhoun is) going to change it. I don't mind, because I'm still getting the same minutes I was getting when I was starting."

***Stanley Robinson barely managed to keep his double-figures scoring streak alive, extending it to 33 games with a free throw with 38.1 seconds left to play. Robinson finished with 11 points, but it was hardly a strong effort by the senior.

"I think Stanley's still got to get it going," said Calhoun. "If Stanley gets it going, and we get some help off the bench, we could be somewhat of a factor coming down the stretch."

***Rutgers leading scorer Mike Rosario showed up four minutes late to Saturday morning's shootaround and began the game on the bench as a disciplinary measure. Rosario entered the game about 4 ½ minutes into the action and finished with a team-high 14 points (5-for-15 shooting) before fouling out.

***A.J. Price's mom, Inga, was in the house, cheering on the Huskies in her exuberant fashion. Inga was wearing a UConn jersey with Price and the No. 12 on the back.

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Jersey Boys

Well, that wasn't pretty.

Some halftime observations from the Swamps of Jersey:

***Donnell Beverly is getting some serious run (16 minutes) and leads the Huskies with eight ponts and five rebounds. He's also turned the ball over a couple of times.

***Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is playing and has four points in eight minutes, hitting a 3-pointer. Jamaal Trice? Nope.

***Charles Okwandu and Kemba Walker each have two fouls. Okwandu started and made a couple of nice passes out of the high post.

***Rutgers leading scorer Mike Rosario didn't start and didn't get into the game until the 15:21 mark. Not sure why.

***Alex Oriakhi didn't start, though he was listed on the scoreboard and on the in-house monitor as a starter. He was also announced as a starter, even though it was Okwandu who ran out when Oriakhi's name was called.

***New York Giants center Shaun O'Hara was recognized during a break for a $100,000 endowment to his alma mater. Later, a Rutgers student was recognized for having a 4.0 GPA in biochemical engineering. That's more impressive than blocking nose guards, in my book.

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Coombs Will Give it a Go

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is participating in pregame drills and will try to play today. He looks like he's favoring his left ankle a little bit, settling for jumpers rather than layups and dunks in the layup line. But, it appears he'll at least give it that old college try.


Friday, February 19, 2010

The RAC Sells Out

UConn's win in Philly over No. 3 Villanova Monday was not only its biggest of the season.

"It was certainly our biggest 'away' win," Jim Calhoun said with a smile on Thursday, knowing full well it was also the Huskies' first true road win.

It won't be easy to get their second tomorrow against Rutgers. For one, the Scarlet Knights have won five of their last six, including a home upset of No. 10 Georgetown. And the RAC, which used to be one of the toughest places in league to play, may harken back to days of yore on Saturday. The game is sold out to the general public (though a limited number of student tickets remain available).


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coombs-McDaniel Questionable for Rutgers

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel suffered a sprained ankle in practice the other day and is doubtful for Saturday's game with Rutgers.

Jim Calhoun is hoping Coombs-McDaniel can play, but not very confident. Freshman Jamaal Trice has been getting extra run in practice and figures to see some of Coombs-McDaniel's minutes if he can't go.

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All the Way from Memphis

UConn could have a couple or very big fans on hand at the RAC on Saturday afternoon.

Hasheem Thabeet and Rudy Gay are expected to be in attendance when the Huskies face Rutgers at 4 p.m. The two Memphis Grizzlies play a home game on Friday night vs. Miami, then fly to Jersey for a Sunday night bout with an alleged NBA team called the Nets. In between, they're slated to root on their alma mater in Piscataway, N.J.

Thabeet will apparently have extra incentive to cheer on the Huskies. Rutgers has a 7-foot shot-swatting force in the middle, Hamady N'Diaye from Senegal. I'll never forget A.J. Price's quote last year when we asked him if Thabeet would have any extra motivation going up against a fellow 7-footer.

"Yeah," said Price, "I don't think Hasheem likes other Africans."

(Music quiz: Who sang "All the Way to Memphis"?)

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Philadelphia Story

Here's the game story I just turned in that'll be in tomorrow's paper -- scooping myself? -- along with a few extra notes, quotes 'n stats:

PHILADELPHIA --- Jerome Dyson was uncharacteristically vocal during pregame warm-ups Monday night.

"Why not us!" the normally stoic senior guard kept shouting, in an effort to pump his team up two days after its most lethargic loss of the season.

Why not, indeed.

Paced by Kemba Walker's otherwordly 29-point, nine-rebound effort and uncommon hustle from the rest of the team, the Huskies answered Dyson's pregame question and topped fourth-ranked Villanova 84-75 before 18,123 at the Wachovia Center.

"We had to start somewhere, and we can start tonight," Dyson said afterwards. "Why not tonight? And we did it."

Signature win? The signature of that ol' City of Brotherly Love denizen John Hancock wasn't any bigger. Whether or not it's too late, with a 15-11 overall record and 5-8 mark in the Big East, remains to be seen. But an impressive road win – amazingly, the Huskies' first of the season – over a team with Final Four aspirations is a nice way to start.

"(Villanova head coach Jay Wright) has built a terrific team that's capable of getting to Indianapolis, certainly," Calhoun said. "And we're capable of getting to Rutgers right now."

The Huskies take on the Scarlet Knights on Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.

"For me to thinking about the NCAA tournament would be foolhardy," Calhoun added. "My job is to get our team to play the best basketball they're capable of. If that's good enough, fine. If it's not good enough, and they play up to their capabilities, that's fine. But we didn't do that on Saturday."

Indeed, Calhoun labeled Saturday's lethargic, 60-48 home loss to Cincinnati "embarrassing," and one of the worst of his 24-year reign at UConn.

"To use the word 'embarrassment' is a tough one," he said. "I certainly meant it. I'm trying to be very upfront with how I feel, that's how I felt in that situation, that we didn't give it everything we had. If we had lost tonight, they gave everything we had. We were on the floor for loose balls. We responded the way we were supposed to."

No one more so than Walker, whose scoring total (helped by a trio of 3-pointers and 14 of 16 foul shooting) was a career-best.

"He was outstanding," said senior forward Gavin Edwards. "I can't say a bad thing about it."

Calhoun was far more descriptive.

"That was his best game of the year, and certainly one of the best games of his career," the coach said. "It wasn't just the nine rebounds or the assists or the big 3's and the foul shots. Those have an awful lot to do with it, (but) an awful lot of it had to do with the way he competed. He did the same thing on Saturday too, by the way. He competed, in a tough situation."

Said Walker, who was kneed in the thigh with about 2 ½ minutes left to play: "We play hard, that's us. Tonight was a great team effort. Guys got on the floor for loose balls. We played extremely hard, and that's why we won."

Dyson added 15 (despite 3-for-14 shooting), and Stanley Robinson and Alex Oriakhi (off the bench) added 10 apiece. Robinson also had seven turnovers.

UConn had a 36-35 lead at the break after an entertaining, physical first half. The Huskies came out and hit their first eight shots from the floor and eventually built their lead up to as much as 11. UConn attempted just 15 field goals in the latter half but hit 10 of them, and swished 24 of 30 free throws over the final 20 minutes.
The Wildcats fell to 22-3 overall, 11-2 Big East.

"If we play hard like that," noted freshman forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, "I don't think anybody can beat us."

Why not?

RIM RATTLINGS: For the first time this season (and, by extension, his career), Oriakhi, a freshman, found himself out of the starting lineup. He found out at shootaround on Monday, when he wasn't among the first group. Junior Charles Okwandu started at center instead.

"I kind of used it as motivation," Oriakhi said, "and it worked."

Indeed, he finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes of action.

"I'll come off the bench," he said. "If I keep playing like that, I won't mind."

***Oriakhi's high school teammate, Coombs-McDaniel, also came up big, hitting a pair of big 3-pointers and finishing with eight points.

Some extras:

Calhoun: "How many times can you go to the well, and come back? Tonight they did. We were certainly at a crisis in confidence, there was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. So tonight I was Mr. Smiley Face – and understand that's a whole different kind of definition, my Mr. Smiley Face and the real Mr. Smiley Face. But the whole point was to try to get them through it and stay with it. If we stayed with it, we'd have a chance to win the game."

Calhoun on Walker: "I thought that was a special performance. The one great thing about him, anybody who loves the game, covers the game or cares about the game, he's fun to watch play. And I'm not talking just about the things he does quickness-wise, I'm talking about his enthusiasm for the game, and his approach to the game. It's fun to watch a guy who enjoys competing. And he's been like that through a season (which) we haven't had many like this, obviously."

Gavin Edwards on UConn's NCAA tourney hopes: "If we lose another one, it's pretty much 'game over', as far as the tournament goes."

(Not so sure about that. A win over No. 6 West Virginia next week could make up for another loss or two. Maybe).

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Halfway There

Setting themselves up for another heartbreaker? We'll see.

Some observations at the break:

***The Huskies – Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson in particular – are playing hard. Very physical game, lots of wild sequences, very entertaining.

***For the first time this season, Alex Oriakhi didn't start. Charles Okwandu was in the starting lineup instead. Okwandu and Ater Majok have three fouls each, and Gavin Edwards two.

***Scottie Reynolds is the Big East player of the year. Gotta be.

***Stanley Robinson has six points – and six turnovers.

***Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel have banners hanging from the Wachovia Center rafters -- The Boss for 51 sellouts in the building, Joel for 48.

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'Why Not Us?!?!'

Greetings from Philly, home of Rasheed Wallace, Rocky Balboa, Mike Piazza, Will Smith, Pat's, Geno's, Geno (Auriemma), Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, 76ers and the third-ranked Villanova Wildcats ... among others.

Just watched UConn's pregame layup drill and, for what it's worth, I've never seen Jerome Dyson so vocal. "Why not? Why not us?!?!" he kept shouting. Seriously, the kid was pumped, and his teammates (particularly Ater Majok) seemed to respond with some extra intensity to their usually mundane layup lines.

Does this mean the Huskies will win tonight? Of course not. But I can tell you right now that Dyson will come out with a lot of energy and vocal leadership. That's a guarantee.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Syracuse loses at home to Louisville, which had just been crushed by St. John's. Rutgers (!) beats Georgetown. It's official: every team in the Big East has a surprise conference win (DePaul has beaten Marquette and may have beaten UConn if not for a 35-6 discrepancey in free throw attempts) -- except UConn. Maybe tomorrow night in Philly?

I was about to send my AP ballot in with Georgetown ranked No. 6, until Rutgers pulled off the upset. Instead, the Hoyas drop seven spots to 13. That's a lot, but you don't lose to Rutgers -- even on the road.

Here's my ballot:

1. Kansas 24-1
2. Kentucky 24-1
3. Villanova 22-2
4. Syracuse 24-2
5. Purdue 21-3
6. Kansas State 20-4
7. Duke 21-4
8. West Virginia 19-5
9. New Mexico 23-3
10. Gonzaga 21-4
11. Michigan State 20-6
12. Ohio State 20-6
13. Georgetown 18-6
14. Wisconsin 19-6
15. Brigham Young 23-3
16. Texas 20-5
17. Butler 23-4
18. Tennessee 18-6
19. Texas A&M 18-6
20. Temple 20-5
21. UTEP 19-5
22. Baylor 19-5
23. Wake Forest 18-5
24. Richmond 20-6
25. Virginia Tech 20-4

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Next Question ...

I'm going to blog as well as, and with as much effort as, UConn played with today. Which is to say I'm barely going to try at all.

OK, I'll try a little bit. Here are some snippets of Jim Calhoun's postgame presser, in which, at one point, he jousted with a columnist (the Post's Chris Elsberry) and reduced communications director Kyle Muncy to sounding like Drew Rosenhaus. It wasn't exactly a Calhoun-Dave Solomon moment and isnt likely to be memorialized on YouTube. But it was far more entertaining than anything we saw on the court today.

(Calhoun's opening statement:)

"I'll try not to be coy. Very simply, congratulations to Cincinnati. I thought both teams came out in the first 20 minutes, and neither team seemed to want to win the game. Neither team was really going after it competitively. I thought we embarrassed ourselves in the second half, except for Kemba Walker. I thought it was one of the worst performances I've had here at UConn in 24 years. I never thought we competed the entire game, except for Kemba … I'm really incredibly disappointed with the performance. I'm embarrassed by it, quite frankly. If that's passion enough for you, for those who like to dissect every single word I have to say – passionately, I was embarrassed by the way we played. I'm not going to apologize to the fans, but if they were disappointed in us, and me, they had more than a right to be that. Because we were God-awful."

(Calhoun on UConn's big men, Ater Majok, Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu, who had a combined zero points and six rebounds)

"Those guys played 43 minutes (actually 40) and didn't score one single basket. They had the ball bounce off their head, and every other thing. Jerome and Stanley played two of their poorer games of the year."

(On watching Louisville get "smacked" by St. John's at the Garden earlier this week)

"That's an entirely different situation than what occurred here today. Those things happen. The other team played great, makes all kinds of 3's … that's not the situation today."

(Here's where it gets interesting)

Elsberry: Coach, considering the circumstances: you coming back …

Calhoun: I'm coaching. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I can be, and I will need to be if I have to. Very simply, I coached the game today. I didn't die. I was around, George did a magnificent job coaching the team. The only thing I can do is speak about today. I can't speak about tomorrow, yesterday. You probably want to know what happened during the 40 minutes, and that's what I'm going to talk about …

Elsberry: That's what I'm asking you about. Why did this team not play with any fire today?

Calhoun: Because they didn't want to play for me. That's the loaded question you wanted, fine, now you get your answer.

(A few minutes later ...)

Calhoun: One gentleman thinks they quit on me, which is fine, that's his terminology, to twist … but he's been known to do that on occasions.

(After a couple more questions ...)

Elsberry: Coach, did you hear the word 'quit' come out of my mouth? Because I didn't say that.

Calhoun: You need to go see a therapist, he'll help you out. You set your question up, 'how come they didn't play for you?' I don’t know what you want me to say.

Muncy: Next question, please.

Calhoun: If you want to have a one-on-one dialogue, there's other guys here who may want to hear the answer to that, but I don't.

Muncy: Next question.

Okie dokie.

Anyway, Calhoun also noted the team showed "terrific effort" in practices the prior two days. So how do you fix it, he was asked?

After about a 10-second pause, Calhoun simply responded: "Good question."

A lot of questions at the XL Center today. No real answers.

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Half Bad

Jim Calhoun got a standing ovation from the crowd – about 1/4th of which had yet to take their seats – when he walked out from the locker room about 1:30 before the national anthem. He waved to the crowd several times during the ovation, which lasted about a minute.

When Calhoun was introduced prior to the opening tap, he again received a warm ovation and acknowledged it with a wave.

Then, the Huskies went out and played an awful first half. They held Cincy to 29-percent shooting, yet sit here at the break tied, 22-22. The Bearcats have 11 offensive rebounds. UConn missed its first five shots and is shooting 41 percent (9-for-22).

Calhoun? Same ol' self. He yanked Alex Oriakhi 47 seconds into the game after he didn't box out. Eight seconds later, Donnell Beverly was in for Kemba Walker after Walker committed a foul.

And yet, the Huskies will somehow play well Monday night at Villanova. Why they can't play well against bad teams (and Cincy would qualify right now as a bad team – certainly a lot worse than I thought they'd be this season) remains a mystery.

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WLW in Cincinnati

I'm always a bit fascinated by the forays of Dan Hoard, Cincinnati's radio play-by-play man. Hoard is also does play-by-play for the Pawtucket Red Sox and lives in Charlestown, Mass. That means he flies back and forth to Cincy or whatever city the Bearcats are playing in throughout the winter. That's a lot of frequent flyer miles.

We're told this story of Cincy's other radio man, Chuck Machock. In the 2004 NCAA tournament, Machock became the only radio analyst I've ever heard of to be thrown out of a game. Apparently, Machock was riding referee Mike Kitts pretty hard throughout the first half of Cincy's bout with Gonzaga. After halftime, when Machock and Hoard came back out to their seats at the press table, Hoard noticed a group of security guards pointing towards Machock, making sure he was the guy they wanted.

"You know they're about to kick you out of here, right?" Hoard said to his colleague.

Sure enough, while on the air, security asked Machock to leave. Apparently, radio listeners could hear in the background, "Come with me, sir."

Machock's last words: "For what?"

Good stuff.

Anyway, no big recruits at the game today. The UConn coaching staff was up at the Prime Time Shootout in New Jersey yesterday, where Roscoe Smith had a big game. They'll be driving back there today after the game.

Oh, today's officiating crew: Kitts, Earl Walton and Bob Donato.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Calhoun on His Rest ... and Refs

He's baaack, looking thinner (minus about 5 pounds) but sounding just as feisty -- maybe even more so -- as ever in practice. Pretty sure I heard an F-bomb in the 45 minutes or so of practice we witnessed.

Here's what Jim Calhoun had to say in a makeshift press conference inside his office this afternoon:

(On what his ailment was)

"Nothing that hasn't happened to a group of other people. If I thought that what happened to me would benefit other people, I'd be more than happy to talk about it. The only advice I would give you … if you're not feeling particularly well, you should probably go see a doctor. I did, and he was able to help a temporary condition. After about two weeks, it dissipated, and I was able to get back to my duties."

He did say that the health problem would not be a recurring one. Calhoun said his job was "as stressful as you make it. And I would make any job stressful."

(On watching the games on TV)

"It was painful to watch the games. It was exhilarating when we beat Texas, disappointing the last nine minutes against Providence, nervewracking against Marquette and DePaul, heartbreaking against Syracuse."

(Didn't think he wasn't gong to mention the officiating, did you?)

"I don't believe that any one single official has anything against us. You can show me all the stats you want. Last year, if you had us, we were 24-1 at this point … Every official that had us, only three were involved in a loss."

(But ...)

"I never really believed that any good official – and certainly the officials I'm talking about, generally speaking, are good – but you can't do what they're doing. I've been saying that for 15 years. You can't work the nights they're working and give you the best that they can give you. That's part of the sport, part of the game. It doesn't change our record."

(And ...)

"I have contacted the Big East officiating office three times and gotten no response back. But, when I get a response, it's not going to change our record. But I wouldn't be coaching if I thought somebody was out to get us. I think John Cahill is one of the best officials in the country. I don't agree with some of the calls we've had against us this year, but I can make that statement about a lot of officials."

Calhoun believes that NCAA refs should only work four days a week and have one day mandated to watch eight hours of game tape.

"I will bet you -- and I don't know this to be true, I could be 100-percent wrong -- that some guys in this league don't watch eight hours in a season."

(On the prospects of this team over its final seven regular-season games)

"I started with this team, and I want to finish with this team. We started something together, it's gone a little bit astray. I think the team has been somewhat snakebitten, and I think it hasn't taken advantage of everything it could have done.

"I'm not going to be Jim Mora and say, "Playoffs." But I will say that I'm not thinking about the NCAA, I'm thinking about the next game, and hopefully we can get enough wins to get us into postseason play."

(On whether this recent health situation made him wary of signing a long-term contract)

"I wouldn't be here if that was the case. I wanted to be back here 10 days ago. I don't think I've given any indication that I didn't want to be here coaching UConn basketball."

Calhoun noted that he announced his intention to return only a few weeks after last season ended, rather than his normal time around June or July.

"That was premature. By that I mean, I was being protective of something that I thought was being threatened. There was enough stuff going around that I thought UConn was being attacked, and I wanted to be there fighting for us."

(On the job George Blaney did in his stead)

"I think my voice is louder than George's. I did turn the TV sound down, which is always a good idea, and George has learned some new words over the last nine years, that are very apparent in the close-ups.

"George did a magnificent job, probably better than I could have done. I probably couldn't have beaten Texas or some of those other teams."

Calhoun said he was going to go away during his leave, but it was about "36 degrees in Hilton Head," where he has a home. Instead, Calhoun said he read about 7 or 8 novels and drove his wife, Pat, crazy.

He also said that he was cleared earlier in the week (Sunday or Monday) and could have gone to Syracuse, but chose not to "because of the six-overtime (game), Jim (Boeheim) and I meeting, all the other things – quite frankly, even the snow – they just thought it was a great idea if I waited … I was cleared Sunday or Monday. I was going to come back, and they advised me to wait until after Syracuse."

One other thing: there are about 1,500 tickets still available for tomorrow's noon game with Cincy in Hartford.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010


Jim Calhoun is back as UConn's basketball coach. This from UConn's sports information department:

University of Connecticut Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun has returned to his position following a medical leave of absence.

Coach Calhoun returned to the office this morning and has assumed his complete coaching responsibilities with no restrictions.

“I am excited to return to the team and my coaching staff,” said Calhoun. “I appreciate the hard work by the staff and team in my absence and am looking forward to being back on the court for practice this afternoon and moving forward. I am especially thankful to people for their support during the past three weeks, but also for the respect and privacy that everyone has provided me during this time. Dr. Schulman, my primary care physician, and I both felt that the time away was important for my personal and professional well-being and that I am ready to move ahead from this point at full speed.”

Coach Calhoun went on a temporary medical leave on January 19. He missed seven games during that time, during which the Huskies went 3-4.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Heart, Hustle, Effort ... Loss

"Window washing" is how George Blaney described UConn's propensity to pass the ball around on the perimeter in its halfcourt set. The Huskies certainly had the squeegees out for the first 30 minutes of action tonight against Syracuse, unable to get much of anything going against the Orange's vaunted 2-3 zone save for a few acrobatic Stanley Robinson dunks. It was a minor upset that they only had two shot-clock violations.

Then, the Huskies finally started to flash forward Gavin Edwards to the high post and hit him in the paint. With that -- and some Syracuse foul trouble -- UConn's halfcourt offense finally started to click, and the Huskies climbed all the way back from a 16-point deficit with 13:50 to go to tie it on a Jerome Dyson trey with 2:33 remaining.

They showed tremendous heart and hustle in mustering the comeback. But, eventually, they fell short. Again.

Dyson missed a 10-footer with 1:02 left that could have given UConn its first lead since 2-1. Then, things got odd.

After a timeout, Syracuse inbounded the ball with 45.5 seconds left and Andy Rautins missed a corner 3-pointer. Rick Jackson grabbed the rebound and passed to Scoop Jardine, and Jim Boeheim called timeout, though nobody but referee John Cahill seemed to notice. Jardine drove for a layup and was blocked by Gavin Edwards, and UConn grabbed the loose ball. But Cahill had awarded Boeheim the timeout, and the Orange retained possession with 36.6 seconds left.

Why did Boeheim call that timeout?

"I saw Scoop with the ball," he deadpanned. "I didn't look at the rest of it, but I don't think I had to. He didn't know where he was going, that's why I called time out."

Johnson was fouled by Robinson and hit both freebies. After a timeout, UConn ran its offense and Dyson settled for a long wing 3-pointer with about 13 seconds still remaining. He missed.

"We weren’t afraid to take a 3," said acting head coach George Blaney, "but we would have liked to have taken it a little closer. And 'Rome agrees."

Indeed …

"I could have gotten a better one than the one I got," Dyson confessed. "It felt good. I let it fly, and I looked where I was and I was a step or two (behind the 3-point line) … I thought it was going in."

When asked if Dyson's shot was the one the team wanted, sophomore point guard Kemba Walker said, succinctly: "Not really. We just wanted to get a good shot. That's really it."

Kris Joseph was fouled on the rebound and hit both free throws. Walker drove the length of the floor for a layup, but after a timeout, Wes Johnson hit Joseph with a long inbounds pass and Ater Majok was called for an intentional foul. UConn didn't guard the inbounds pass, meaning it had a 5-on-4 advantage, but still allowed Joseph to break free.

"You're trying to press, and what you always try to do in those circumstances is try to be a defensive back and not allow space in between," said Blaney. "They stepped open and created space, and that was all."

When asked if the long baseball pass was what he had designed, Boeheim simply said: "Once in a while, we have a play."

Joseph hit both free throws, Jardine added another for good measure, and Syracuse had survived.

Syracuse, a 65-percent foul-shooting team, hit 23-of-28 (82.1 percent) from the charity stripe.

***Not sure if Blaney was criticizing the refs or not with this postgame remark: "I asked the officials one time that Jimmy Boeheim has 800-and-whatever number of wins, and that he didn't need any help from them tonight. He had enough wins. We were trying not to get him another win tonight."

Blaney said he had been "really angry" with the team the last two days, but "I told them I was really proud of them tonight, because they gave everything they had. We just made some foolish mistakes. The three fouls that we committed just were really killers, and to me, that changed the game for them, and for us."

***Boeheim on Jim Calhoun:

"George Blaney is a tremendous coach, but Jim Calhoun is one of the best coaches ever to coach in college basketball. People don't mention him that much when they talk about great coaches. He's done more -- taking a program from the Yankee Conference to the top of college basketball – than anybody else has ever done, at any school. If you look at the other great programs, they were great before their coaches got there. For them to play this well with Jim not being there is a tribute to George, and the kids themselves."

***Anyway, tough loss, great effort by UConn. But at some point, it's got to turn these close calls against top teams into victories. A Cincinnati team that appears in a bit of disarray comes to town on Saturday, then comes a trip to Philly for No. 4 Villanova, and yet another opportunity to score that signature win.

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Upset City?

Greetings from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, where there's already been one upset tonight -- the weather up here is considerably apparently milder then what's going on back home (though I hear that's not so bad, either). We got a light dusting last night, but otherwise no more than an inch total since we've been here.

Will UConn pull off a second upset this evening? The Orange appear to be about the worst possible matchup for the Huskies. However, guys on the beat a lot longer than I've been point out that UConn has won plenty of games up here they weren't supposed to win. Of course, that was with one Jim Calhoun on the sidelines.

We'll see. Should be fun to watch. Remember, DePaul had a 19-point lead on the Orange earlier this season before losing by two (in Chicago). And Pittsburgh won up here earlier this season (of course, the Panthers also beat UConn in Hartford).


New Unis Tonight

A press release from NIKE:

On Wednesday, February 10, the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team will introduce the latest elite fit from Nike for college basketball, the Nike Hyper Elite uniform which is 70 percent lighter than a traditional elite level basketball uniform.

UConn will be one of several teams in college hoops that will debut the Nike Hyper Elite uniforms this month, which celebrates the rich spirit, tradition and culture of the nation’s top basketball programs.

Paying tribute to the success and history of UConn basketball, Nike designers worked with the university to create a distinctive look for the Huskies. Inspired in part by the program’s two national championships, the UConn jerseys feature two stars representing the two NCAA titles.

Three oak leaves and two acorns are placed at the top of the design, which represents the potential and the desire to grow toward perfection. The ceiling of the Business Building located on the campus, along with the establishment year of the university, 1881, represents the central focal point of the design. An image of UConn’s famed Husky mascot helps to complete the design.

UConn’s new uniforms incorporate several Nike innovations that were originally introduced in Beijing. The Hyper Elite uniforms take advantage of Nike Aerographics - an engineered mesh providing zoned cooling that reduces up to half the yarn, making the uniforms more lightweight and breathable.

Nike made specific adjustments to the jersey, eliminating 13 inches of material, while the use of Dri-FIT woven fabric in the short reduced its weight to six ounces, 66 percent lighter than a traditional elite level basketball short. Overall, the Nike Hyper Elite uniform is a striking 70 percent lighter than the traditional basketball uniform.

Dri-FIT technical fabric is a moisture-wicking material that provides increased comfort and thermo regulation to help enable players perform at their optimal level on the court. The Nike Hyper Elite uniform also dries 30 percent faster compared to a standard professional level short when wet.

Completing the new elite fit for UConn is the Nike Pro Combat, an ergonomically designed base layer that provides basketball-specific protective padding without restricting mobility on the court.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bad Matchup

Stanley Robinson predicted last week that Jim Calhoun would return for Wednesday's game at Syracuse.

Sticks was wrong. George Blaney will be coaching the Huskies for a seventh straight game at the Carrier Dome tomorrow night. As for Calhoun, the usual: still not timetable, will return when his doctor tells him to, hopefully sooner than later.

Apparently, Calhoun hasn't stepped foot on the UConn campus since taking his indefinite medical leave on Jan. 18.

Geno Auriemma walked by as we interviewed Blaney today at Gampel.

"Leave the guy alone, would ya? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the (stuff) he's got going on, he's got to deal with you guys?"

Geno was just kidding.

***As for Syracuse: could there be a worse matchup for a Husky team that a.) is 0-5 on the road, b.) normally views zone defenses as if they're Chinese algebra and c.) is 1-4 against Top 25 teams (and that one win, against reeling Texas, isn't looking so good anymore)?

But the Huskies will show up, Blaney promises.

"I still have the feeling that we're so very close to being good," he said. "That's what's been so confounding about this team all year. They're so capable of playing such great minutes. I keep going back to the Louisville game: 13-for-19 to start the second half. To play that kind of basketball, it's there. For some reason, it hasn't come out in a full game enough times."

No. 2 Syracuse is off to its best start ever at 23-1 overall (10-1 Big East). The Orange are a well-rounded team led by a superstar (Wes Johnson), a sharpshooter (Andy Rautins), a dominating big man (Arinze Onuaku) and terrific talent off the bench (Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine).

But it's that 2-3 zone that could present UConn with the most problems. Always a hallmark of the team's style, Syracuse's zone this season is as good as it's ever been.

"I think the players fit better," said Blaney. "It's probably because of Wes Johnson's ability to go out and in, and to cover as much ground as he does, and as intelligently as he does. It's certainly one of the best that I've seen."

The key to beating it (short of "having Emeka Okafor inside," as Blaney joked), is ball movement.

"Once you change sides," Blaney explained, "then you can attack thte middle, or behind, or at the rim. But the problem is, so many teams – us included, sometimes – get caught in either keeping the ball on one side of the court, or you window-wash up on top with passes. By that I mean you just sort of pass it between each other and there's no penetration or slipping in between two guys."

That collective "gulp" you just heard came from Husky Nation, which realizes that "window washing" perfectly explains UConn's halfcourt offense too many times this season. And that's against the zone defenses of lesser teams like Providence and Michigan.

"And they try to keep you on the perimeter so that you get frustrated, and then take a late 3," Blaney continued. "That's kind of what they try to do. They don’t get too concerned if you make a couple of 3's, particularly if you make them early. I can't speak for Jim (Boeheim), but I'd say a lot of times he's happy he makes 3's against them early, because it becomes a little bit of fool's gold sometimes."

An upset win tonight at the Carrier Dome wouldn't be fool's gold for the Huskies. It would be pure gold for them to beat the Orange.

***Blaney said that Ater Majok (in particular), Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Donnell Beverly have looked real good in practice lately.

"Ater is gaining confidence every single day. He's starting to do more and more things every day. He certainly is a factor in games. He can affect games. That's what you're looking for from guys who come off the bench, or in his case he's starting. He's doing that with his motor, with his ability to block and alter shots, and he's now getting much more confident with the ball. I think he's always thought of himself as an offensive player, but his inexperience is something that's always hindered the offensive part of his game."

***Blaney said he picked the 'Cuse to finish either first or second in the league back in the fall, so they're impressive start hasn't surprised him.

Blaney on Jim Boeheim: "I've never seen a guy that is in the Hall of Fame and has won 800-and-whatever games he's won, get less credit for being a good coach than Jim Boeheim ... The guy wins all the time. He's just like our Jim. They know how to win. You put 25, 27 wins a year for 30 years, you have a pretty good idea of what you're doing."

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Monday, February 8, 2010

'So You're Telling Me I've Got a Chance'

Here's today's story from the Register, focusing on how UConn still has plenty of opportunity left on its schedule. They've still got a chance. A slim chance, to be sure. Obviously, the Huskies have to play much, much better to take advantage. But, being 14-9 with a bunch of potential marquee wins left on your schedule is better than being 14-9 without much chance at improving your lot.

And here's the Top 25 I submitted last night. It's getting tougher and tougher to pick the last seven or eight teams. There really are about 20 teams to choose from for those slots.

1. Kansas
2. Syracuse
3. Kentucky
4. Villanova
5. West Virginia
6. Purdue
7. Georgetown
8. Kansas State
9. Duke
10. Michigan State
11. New Mexico
12. Tennessee
13. Gonzaga
14. Wisconsin
15. Ohio State
16. Texas
17. Brigham Young
18. Georgia Tech
19. Butler
20. Northern Iowa
21. UNLV
22. Texas A&M
23. St. Mary’s
24. Baylor
25. Temple

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Odds and Sods

I'm nervous for this evening. I just hope they play well and represent themselves properly.

The Colts? No. The Saints? Uh-uh. Could care less about the actual game. I'm rooting for The Who.

The Who -- or is it The Two, with just Pete 'n Rog left? -- are my all-time favorite band, but even I admit they're somewhat of an odd choice for the Super Bowl halftime show. I just hope they play well. They are the greatest live act in rock history, although that dates back to the Keith Moon days. I've seen them about 10 times over the past 15 years, and most of the shows have been great. But Roger's voice tends to give out (I'm real worried about the "Won't Get Fooled Again" scream) and the band can sound a bit ragged at times.

We'll see. As for set list, I know they're doing a medley, and I know the songs are "Pinball Wizard", "Won't Get Fooled," "Baba O'Riley" and "Who Are You". (I predicted those four and "My Generation," but that one's not getting played).

My prediction for song order: "Baba", "Who Are You", "Pinball" and "Won't Get Fooled."

Oh, as for UConn: I wouldn't let last night's lackluster win over DePaul worry you any more or less about this season. This team, for better or worse, tends to play better against better opponents, under the bright lights and national TV cameras. I'll even say this: DePaul is long and (somewhat) athletic on defense, which certainly helped make the Huskies look all the more inept offensively. And Will Walker hit some tough, tough shots.

I expect them to play better against Syracuse, though that 2-3 zone might make them look silly. If you're thinking of a big road upset, I'd say the chances are better next week at Villanova.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Like Pulling Teeth

After a game that was like pulling teeth just to watch, George Blaney summed up UConn's 64-57 win over DePaul best:

"The definition of that game is a pure dentist game," Blaney said. "It was grind it out, hang tough."

Bring on Syracuse?

We're just going to post the game story I just submitted for tonight's blog. Enjoy (?).

STORRS --- A big offensive rebound, a tough fallaway jumper, a key defensive stop, a whole lot of free throws.

A win … finally. Barely.

The UConn men's basketball team snapped its three-game losing streak with an important – if unsightly – 64-57 win over DePaul Saturday night at Gampel Pavilion.

The Huskies kept the Blue Demons, losers now of 29 of their last 30 Big East contests, in the game until the very end thanks largely to the hot hand of Will Walker (game-high 24 points) and UConn's own inability to function in a halfcourt set.

A nine-point lead early in the second half had gradually been whittled away and, ultimately, erased after Stamford's Devin Hill hit a jump hook with 5 minutes, 57 seconds left to give DePaul a 52-51 lead.

UConn regained the lead a minute later when Kemba Walker stripped Will Walker of the ball and cruised in for layup. The Huskies would never again trail, though they could never truly put the peaky Blue Demons away until hitting four free throws over the final 35 seconds.

"The definition of that game is a pure dentist game," said acting head coach George Blaney. "It was grind it out, hang tough … I told the team that after the three losses, I felt sick and I felt bad. Tonight, I still feel a little sick, but I feel good, because W's are better than L's. And it's a Big East win that we needed to get ourselves off the deck."

Still, as Kemba Walker cautioned: "We've still got a lot of work to do. But, it's a Big East win. We'll just take it and go from here."

The Huskies (14-9, 4-6 Big East) travel to Syracuse to take on the fourth-ranked Orange on Wednesday night. DePaul fell to 8-15, 1-10.

The key sequence of the night came with about 2 ½ minutes remaining. Mac Koshwal scored inside with 2:55 left to bring DePaul to within three (57-54), and Kemba Walker went to the foul line for two shots. He made the first and missed the second, but Ater Majok grabbed the rebound and kicked it out.

"Me and Coach (Andre) LaFleur have been working on how to get rebounds from the free throw line," said Majok. "That kind of helped, trying to slide and hit the man before he hits you. It worked."

The Huskies moved the ball around until Jerome Dyson hit a fallaway baseline jumper that gave UConn a six-point cushion.

"(Majok) got it out, and Jerome hit a great baseline jump shot," Blaney noted. "That probably won the game for us."

Will Walker countered with his sixth 3-pointer of the game, and after Dyson missed a bank shot, the Blue Demons had another chance to tie.

But UConn forced DePaul into a bad shot, Kemba Walker grabbed the long rebound and, rather than take it to the hole, slowed up and brought it back out. Gavin Edwards hit a pair of foul shots with 35.5 seconds remaining, Nate Rogers missed a three, and Dyson sealed the deal with two more freebies.

Dyson finished with 20 points (10-for-11 free throws), and Edwards and Stanley Robinson contributed 10 apiece for the Huskies, who improved to 14-9 overall and 4-6 in the Big East.

UConn went 25-for-35 from the charity stripe; DePaul was just 1-for-6.

"Over the past couple of years, we've been shooting almost 500 more foul shots than our opponents," said Blaney. "We go to the basket very hard, we generally offensive rebound very hard, and we're generally pretty big. It's a big part of our game, not just a big part of this game."

When asked about the free throw discrepancy, DePaul interim head coach Tracy Webster seemed to chuckle to himself for a moment, then replied: "All I can say is, the six that we took, we need to make all six of them. Hopefully one day, we'll get to the line 40 times."

A technical foul on Webster with 7:13 left in the first half helped spark a 14-2 UConn run that allowed the Huskies to enter halftime with a 34-27 lead.

DePaul would fight back, of course, and eventually take the lead. But UConn had just enough to avoid the upset and remain relevant for another day.


RIM RATTLINGS: Dyson, Robinson and Kemba Walker each battled ailments throughout the contest. Dyson battled a balky knee and ankle and nearly didn't come out for the second half due to stomach pain.

"I don't know what happened, I must have gotten hit," Dyson said. "It was just a pain in my left side, and it was really bothering me … I don't remember what caused it."

Robinson battled cramps in his back and arm and spent several minutes on the bench in the latter half, and Walker has been battling sore legs the past couple of days, according to Blaney.

***Koshwal, who finished with 12 points, is a distant cousin of Majok.

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Harkless in the House

UConn commit Maurice Harkless, a Class of 2011, 6-foot-7 forward, is here tonight with his AAU coach.

Harkless plays at Forest Hills High in Queens, N.Y.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Scissors & Sticks

Big news at Gampel today. As we walked into the gym to catch the last portion of practice, there he was. He wasn't too recognizable at first, but after a moment, we realized who it was.

Stanley Robinson. With a brand-new haircut.

The corn rows are gone, people, replaced by a closely cropped head of hair.

"I just wanted a more professional look," Robinson explained. "I think it looks better on me."

Does it make the high-flying Sticks even more aerodynamic?

"Yeah, a little bit," he said.

Sticks said he got the haircut three days ago -- and it had nothing to do with losing a bet or anything of the sort.

"No, not at all. I just felt like it was time for me to cut it off."

George Blaney said he wanted Stanley to get a haircut "as a sophomore. Everybody learns at their own pace."

Apparently, a season-ticket holder who was watching the earlier part of practice was equally befuddled, asking Blaney, "Who's that guy down there?"

"He did not recognize him," Blaney reported. "I told him it was Stanley, and he said, 'No, no, you're kidding me.'"

So, that qualifies as the big news of the day in Storrs. Otherwise, the Huskies realize they can't overlook an improved DePaul team tomorrow night. They know they've got to cut down on their turnovers, and they've had some "pretty great" practices lately, according to Sticks.

Oh, and this from Sticks on Jim Calhoun's potential return:

"I'm thinking next week," Robinson said. "I'm thinking Syracuse. I've just got that feeling. I'm going to call him tonight, see how he's doing, check up on him and hopefully everything's OK."

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Calhoun Still 'Day-to-Day'

Conventional wisdom for the past couple of weeks has been that Saturday night's game with DePaul at Gampel would be the perfect time for Jim Calhoun to return to the sidelines. Makes sense in a lot of ways: home game, lesser opponent (though the Blue Demons have beaten Marquette and had a 19-point lead before being edged by Syracuse, and are only two games behind UConn in the Big East standings), etc., etc.

And when, for I believe the first time since Calhoun went on medical leave, we got an e-mail today from UConn's men's basketball SID that didn't specifically state that George Blaney would be meeting the media before practice on Friday (rather, simply that "availability will follow at the conclusion of practice,") it made me wonder.

But conventional wisdom doesn't apply in this case. Calhoun's doctors are going to tell him when he's ready to return, and they're probably not looking at the Huskies' schedule to make that determination.

Blaney just said on this week's conference call that he's assuming that he, not Calhoun, will coach the team against DePaul.

"It’s day-to-day, we’re waiting for he and the doctors to decide when is the right time for him to come back," said Blaney. "He seems good, he feels good, he’s feeling better, but we don’t have any timetable on when he’s coming back."

Asked if it's likely Calhoun will return for a home game rather than a road contest, Blaney said: "When they decide he’s ready to come back, I don’t think it will matter if it’s a home game or road game for him. He wanted to come back two weeks ago."

Blaney said the team had an "incredible" practice on Wednesday.

"But you’ve got to translate that into the game," he pointed out. "I told them yesterday, we would have won some games yesterday, but you’ve got to carry that over into Saturday ...."

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No Lawhorn

Been getting e-mails all day regarding the alleged verbal commitment from Danny Lawhorn to UConn, and I'm here to tell you: it is not true. The Huskies are not and have not been recruiting Lawhorn, and he has not made any kind of commitment to the program. No one's really sure how the rumor got started, but it is a false one.


Tix Available Saturday

There are about 150 tickets available for Saturday's 8 p.m. game with DePaul at Gampel, due to returns from DePaul. Tickets can be purchased by visiting

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Top 25, Sporcle's Top 73

Here's the Top 25 I submitted last night:

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

And here's a good Sporcle quiz from yesterday. I only got 39, thought I'd do better (though at least I got all 16 Big East coaches, and spelled Mike Krzyzewski's name right). And no, George Blaney is not an acceptable answer. Interesting that Jim Calhoun is only the second best-known Big East coach on this quiz, after Marquette's Buzz Williams. But there's a reason: people who typed in "Williams" for Roy or Gary also automatically get Buzz.

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