Putting the 'D' in DeAndre Liggins
He’s torched guys who were the defensive players of the year in their conferences, shot over smaller guards, blurred past 6-foot-8 forwards and forever resigned poor 6-10 Gary McGhee to Craig Ehlo status after an ankle-breaking move for a game-winning shot.
Tomorrow night, DeAndre Liggins gets his chance. Liggins, a 6-6 junior who was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, is certainly ready.
“The thing with me is taking on the challenge, being competitive,” the Chicago native said on Friday, “having confidence that I can stop the other guy.”
Liggins has stopped other top players this season, most notably Tennessee star Scotty Hopson (5-for-18, 24 points in his two meetings with Liggins this season). Of course, he wasn’t so successful guarding Walker in the Maui Invitational championship game on Nov. 24. Liggins – and several other Wildcat defenders – allowed Walker to pour in 29 points and lead the Huskies to the title.
“He killed me, he killed us,” Liggins recalled. “He had it going offensively. He has great confidence and my job is to contain him a little more.”
Walker has all but said that no one can stop him in the past, but he was judicious in his praise of Liggins on Friday.
“He’s one of the better defenders because he’s extremely active and had a height mismatch over me,” Walker said. “He’s got great length. I know it’s going to be a difficult, tough night for me. But I’m just counting on my teammates to give me the ball in the right situations and set up some great screens.”
Liggins is anticipating a tough night, as well.
“You can’t stop players like (Walker),” he said. “You just have to do your best on them. If he makes shots over you, then you have to live with that. But he is going to make shots over me (tonight). He is going to make some crazy shots, but I have to keep playing. I can’t get frustrated.”
Cal vs. Cal, Pt. Deux
Not to belabor this, but it is fun: Jim Calhoun and John Calipari are having fun with the (correct) perception that the two don’t get along well.
When asked about their bitter feuds back when Calipari was coaching UMass, Calhoun said: “He was loud, 50 miles away, trying to fight for a little bit of turf in New England … John really was trying to claim New England, he could never say he ‘parked the car in Harvard yard,’ he didn’t know what clam chowder really was. He had the red stuff, not the real clam chowder. I took umbrage to it, but I take umbrage to a lot of things.”
Calhoun did add, however: "He's developed into, in my opinion, a terrific coach. I watched the way he coaches. His kids play hard, play great defense and play together. He's been getting, as you well know, tremendous, big-name players. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and no disdain for him as a person."
Calipari addressed Calhoun’s “My Three Sons” reference earlier in the week, when he referred to the other three (younger) coaches in the Final Four as “my two sons, and my problem child.”
“I did tell him that I knew (“My Three Sons” star) Fred MacMurray, Mr. Calhoun,” Calipari said, “and you are no Fred MacMurray.”
Calipari was asked two questions at today's press conference that indirectly referenced his past, which includes his two prior Final Four apperances (with UMass and Memphis) being vacated later by the NCAA.
First, he was asked if he is the "2000 Jerry Tarkanian."
"I respect everything that Jerry did, his kids, how they played, all those things," Calipari said. "But no, I think I'm the 2011 John Calipari. I don't know what that means and I hate to talk in the third party. But I am who I am."
Later, someone asked him "how it feels to coach in your first Final Four?"
Calipari smiled and said, "I don't deal with that. We've been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to. I'm so proud of what they've all accomplished. It's been fun. It's been a good experience, and this is going to be a good experience."
Not Here to Talk About the Past
Calhoun was reminded of his own checkered past, as well. He was asked about Nate Miles' recent interview with Slam magazine, in which Miles said UConn's athletics administration knew that the Yahoo story was coming out and were looking (particularly A.D. Jeff Hathaway) for a way to boot him out of school.
"I said my personal and private feelings would not be discussed, and are not going to be discussed," Calhoun said. "If anybody wants to drag up an experiene that happened two years ago, bring it back up, that's their choice. I'm going forward because I'm going forward with my life."