If there were any worries about how UConn would react to its 15-point loss at Pittsburgh in Monday night’s Big East opener, they were quickly allayed the following day at practice.
A couple of minutes before the 2 p.m. practice was slated to start, Calhoun was waiting in the wings ready to blow his whistle and get things going. But he didn’t have to, as Alex Oriakhi gathered the big guys together and Kemba Walker gathered the guards.
“I just watched it,” Calhoun recalled, “and they put the two groups together and started practice. That’s a great sign for us.”
After a rather light practice with little contact but lots of shooting, Calhoun gathered the team and explained some of the reasons why they had lost to the Panthers. In fact Calhoun, who hates losing as much as anybody in the sports world, even felt the loss might teach the young, fourth-ranked Huskies a valuable lesson.
“If we had to open with anybody – not because of how good Pitt is, because they’re very good – but between the environment, and the fact that they’re going to grind you, it’s a very tough one,” the coach acknowleged.
The key now is to progress, and the first step comes in a New Year’s Eve bout with South Florida at the XL Center.
Losing to the No. 6 team in the country at a rowdy, sold-out arena is one thing. Losing to the Bulls tonight might not make such a pleasant day of practice on Saturday.
The Bulls, a traditional Big East doormat, are one of just two of the conference’s teams with a losing overall record (6-8) right now. They’ve lost to James Madison and Florida Atlantic, among others, and dropped their Big East opener on Tuesday at Seton Hall, 64-55.
But USF boasts a good front line – “probably one of the strongest frontcourts in the league,” according to Calhoun – led by Augustus Gilchrist. A 6-foot-10 sophomore, Gilchrist was recently suspended for three games due to “philosophical differences” with coach Stan Heath. But he has scored 12 points in each of his two games since returning last week. Last year, Gilchrist burned the Huskies with 17 inside points in a 75-68 USF win in Tampa.
“He’s as talented, if not more talented, than any big guy – including the kid (Rick) Jackson at Syracuse,” Calhoun said. “None of us know who said what (between Gilchrist and Heath). I always take the coach’s side, certainly … but you don’t know the circumstances surrounding anybody’s situation. But when he steps on the court, he makes you nervous, because he’s really good.”
The Huskies learned, the hard way, of what a difference a vocal home crowd can make Monday night at the Petersen Events Center. With two tough road games on the slate for next week – Notre Dame on Tuesday and Texas on Saturday – UConn knows it needs to take care of business at home tonight. And a rowdy crowd behind it will certainly help.
“We need to get our people here for games,” Calhoun said, certainly aware the Huskies have yet to sell out a game this season. “Obviously, a lot of people care about our basketball program. We’ve got to find a way to make sure they get into the building. The building’s atmosphere is important … I don’t think a dead gym ever hurts a road team. I think it does affect a home team. We need our fans to show up as much as they possibly can. I understand all the other things, but we only have limited home games. Every home game becomes critical.”
Including tonight, as the Huskies try to put the Pitt loss behind them and keep improving from game to game.
“I hope we learn from (the Pitt loss) and we bounce back,” said Oriakhi. “Maybe that loss was good for us, but I’m just ready to get out there and get on the court again. They’ve got a strong frontcourt, but we have a strong frontcourt, as well. It’s going to be a battle.”
Added freshman Jeremy Lamb: “We’re mad we lost, but we don’t want to dwell on it. We just want to learn from our mistakes and get it right for the next game.”
***P.S.: Calhoun has scratched his plans of possibly flying a red-eye out to Glendale for Saturday's Fiesta Bowl. Not worth rushing out of the XL Center, not to mention the threat of some sort of weather issues.
MEN’S BASKETBALL GAMEDAY
SOUTH FLORIDA at No. 4 UCONN
When: Tonight, 6 p.m.
Where: XL Center, Hartford
Records: South Florida 6-8 overall, 0-1 Big East; UConn 10-1, 0-1
Radio: WTIC 1080
Keep an eye on
‰Shoot it! Freshman Jeremy Lamb is averaging a little over seven shots per game. Jim Calhoun would like it to be more like 10 per game. “Sometimes, I play too passive,” Lamb admitted. “I pass up shots that I can make, so, yeah, I think I’ve got to be a little more aggressive, help Kemba out.”
‰Giffey’s been iffy. Frosh Niels Giffey has scored just four points in the last three games and is struggling with the release point of his shot. Like Lamb, he’s been expected to help take some of the scoring load off Walker.
‰Slow Bulls. USF likes to slow down the tempo and play more of a halfcourt game, something the Huskies don’t particularly care to do. Calhoun hopes UConn can speed the game up a bit.
Name Ht. Yr. Pos. PPG
Augustus Gilchrist 6-10 Jr. F 10.9
Jawanza Poland 6-4 Soph. G 10.8
Jarrid Famous 6-11 Sr. F 9.5
Hugh Robertson 6-6 Jr. G 8.5
Ron Anderson 6-6 Jr. G 8.7
Name Ht. Yr. Pos. PPG
Kemba Walker 6-1 Jr. G 26.9
Jeremy Lamb 6-5 Fr. G/F 8.0
Roscoe Smith 6-8 Fr. F 6.9
Alex Oriakhi 6-9 Soph. F 11.0
Charles Okwandu 7-0 Sr. C 2.2
Off the bench
South Florida: Toaryln Fitzpatrick, 6-8 Soph. F, 4.1; Shaun Noriega, 6-4 Soph. G, 4.0; Mike Burwell, 6-6 Soph. G, 3.3.
UConn: Shabazz Napier, 6-0 Fr. G, 8.5; Niels Giffey, 6-7 Fr. G/F, 4.7; Tyler Olander, 6-9 Fr. F, 2.3.
Labels: Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb, Jim Calhoun, Kemba Walker, Niels Giffey