Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tall Task

Bucknell junior Bryan Cohen is the two-time Patriot League defensive player of the year. As a 6-foot-5 guard, he’s got great size and length for his conference.

Cohen has drawn very challenging defensive assignments in non-conference play, as well: Wake Forest’s George Teague last year, Villanova’s Corey Fisher, Boston College’s Reggie Jackson and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler this season.

However …

“Clearly, his task (on Thursday) is the biggest one he’s faced,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said.

That’s because Cohen’s assignment in the Bison’s NCAA tournament second-round bout with UConn will be Kemba Walker.

“We’ve played against some pretty good guards,” Paulsen noted. “But nobody quite the likes of Kemba Walker.”

Although Walker, the Big East tournament most valuable player and first-team USBA All-American, may be playing better than anyone in the country right now, Cohen is looking forward to the match-up.

“As a player, you always want to play against the best,” he said. “There’s no better stage than playing against one of the best players, on national TV.”

That’s the kind of attitude that has helped Cohen emerge as a defensive stopper.

“It’s my role on the team,” he said. “This year, coach really emphasized that I be the defensive stopper on the team … I think it’s just a mentality that you have, going every day in practice, being focused on trying to stop whoever you’re guarding. I really accept my role on the team.”

Added Paulsen: “We sat him down after his freshman year and one of the things we try to say: ‘Is there something you can do that you can be the best in our league at? And you could be the best defensive player in the league,’ and he’s embraced that and kind of relished it and he’s gained confidence from his teammates in doing that.”

A quick look at Cohen’s other tough defensive assignments, however, may bode for a long night for him. Fisher hit four 3-pointers and scored 24 points against the Bison and Jackson went for 22 on 8-for-10 shooting.

“No disrespect,” UConn freshman guard Shabazz Napier said, “but the Patriot League is not the Big East. It’s a different atmosphere when you’re out there. But, if he does well, he does well. He won’t know until he starts playing him. It’s tough for me to guard Kemba, and they say I’m a good defender.”

Napier then added, with a slight snicker: “Best of luck to him.”

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Roscoe Smith is a native of Baltimore, only about 45 minutes up the road, but he says he won’t have any more family and friends at tomorrow's game than he did at last week’s Big East tournament.

“I don’t really have a big entourage or anything,” he said.

Smith’s right eye is very red, with a sizeable bruise still underneath it. But he says the injury, from a Gary McGhee inadvertent elbow last Thursday, isn’t hampering him at all.

“Even though it doesn’t look good, it’s healing,” he said. “It was swollen more than this. I still have the eight stitches … but slowly but surely (it’s healing).”

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel had a large ice pack on his left knee due to a bout with tendonitis he’s been battling for a while now. He said he’s fine for tomorrow’s game.

Odds and Ends

*** With Donyell Marshall in attendance, UConn practiced at a high school outside the city Wednesday morning, then went to the Verizon Center to meet the press and for a 40-minute open practice that consisted mostly of drills.

*** Nothing’s official yet, but it appears there’s a good chance that, if the Huskies win tonight, they’ll play Saturday’s late game (9:40 p.m. start).

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