Saturday, February 12, 2011

All Apologies

It was a surprisingly contrite Jim Calhoun at practice this morning.

Calhoun apologized to his team for the technical foul he incurred at the end of the first half in Thursday night's loss to St. John's. (He had apparently done so at halftime on Thursday as well, per Shabazz Napier).

"I apologize for the two points on the technical foul, but what happened, happened," he said.

He also thanked them for their hard work and told them he appreciated the fact that, the more he gets on them, the more they seem to respond.

"This has been a fun year," Calhoun told reporters afterwards. "It was a fun year when we were 17-2, it's a fun year at 18-5. I don't like losing, no, but there are more important things in life."

Still, it's hard to imagine Calhoun would be in a "fun" mood if the 10th-ranked Huskies were to lose to Providence tomorrow night. UConn (18-5, 6-5 Big East) has dropped three of its last four, with tough games against No. 11 Georgetown and No. 16 Louisville immediately on the horizon this week.

While Providence has defeated both Louisville and No. 9 Villanova this season, it is still just 3-8 in the Big East and hasn't won a road game in over a year (12 games, dating back to an early-January win at DePaul last season. Does that even count?).

The Friars also look like they'll be without talented freshman guard Gerard Coleman, who averages 10.4 points per game. According to Fox Sports' Jeff Goodman, Coleman may miss tonight's game and, possibly, the rest of the season for academic reasons.

(UConn's Alex Oriakhi, a high school teammate of Coleman's at the Tilton School, said Coleman told him he'd be a "game-time decision" in a text message. He said Coleman told him he had fallen asleep in class).

Either way, PC always seems to give UConn trouble in recent years, winning four of the last five meetings, including an 81-66 whitewash last season at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. That game was quite similar to the Huskies' 89-72 loss to the Johnnies Thursday night at the Garden: a close game at halftime (PC led, 36-35), followed by a second half of blistering shooting (49 percent) and high-energy play by the Friars.

Of course, Calhoun wasn't on the sideline for that one, in the midst of a seven-game medical leave. George Blaney coached that game.

PC is led by Marshon Brooks, a smooth senior guard who never met a shot he didn't like and leads the Big East and is fifth in the nation in scoring at 23.2 points per game.

"He's just an amazing scorer," Oriakhi said. "He does everything for that team, really. If we get a lot of help on him, especially when he gets to the hole, try not to have him see any open looks, it's going to be really tough for them, because he really does everything for that team."

Added Napier: "He lets it fly, no matter what. He has to. He's kind of like a Kemba Walker on their team. I don't think he's as good as Kemba Walker. You can stop him, Kemba Walker you can't stop. Kemba Walker has to stop himself … Marshon's a great player, but I think if Kemba gets it going, it's a whole lot of trouble for the other team."

Calhoun said he's not overly concerned with stopping Brooks, noting that he didn't expect St. John's Dwight Hardy to score 33 in a game as he did in Thursday night's win over the Huskies.

"Obviously, Brooks is a tough match-up," Calhoun said, "but they're a tough match-up. They're a very good team. In a lot of leagues, they'd probably be close to a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament."

Who guards Brooks? Most likely Roscoe Smith, with maybe a little Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker sprinkled in. Oriakhi thought Walker might start on him, but at 6-1, he's giving at least four inches away to Brooks.

I'd expect Roscoe to do the honors.

***UConn's ever-revolving starting lineup will welcome back Charles Okwandu tomorrow night. The 7-foot senior didn't start against St. John's but had "two sensational practices" this week, according to Calhoun.

*** Although Coleman apparently may not play, Oriakhi is particularly looking forward to tonight's game.

"We've been talking about this game since high school," he said. "We've been talking a lot of trash. This is definitely a personal game for me. I circled it on the schedule. This is the biggest one of the year for me."

*** Napier on getting through shooting struggles: "You've got to have a shooter's memory. If you miss 10 shots, you've got to believe you're goiong to make the next 10 shots. Not every shot's going to go in, it's human error. You've just got to go out there, shoot the shot the same way every time, same rotation off your fingertips, and hopefully it goes in. Once it leaves your hand, you can't do anything about it."

*** Why is tonight's game at 7 p.m on a Sunday? Apparently, it has to do with the UConn men's and women's hockey games at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, today at Rentschler Field.

Yeah, because I'm sure thousands of fans wouldn't want to miss a women's hockey game just to see the Huskies play.

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