Friday, December 30, 2011

Napier, Roscoe Banged Up

First off, some injury news to report:

Shabazz Napier sat out the latter part of today's practice as a precaution. He suffered a sprain to his left foot during Wednesday's win at South Florida and it's still nagging at him a bit. However, Napier -- who watched the last half of practice from the sidelines with an ice pack around his left knee -- should be OK for tomorrow's St. John's game, per George Blaney.

The news isn't as good on Roscoe Smith, who sprained his left wrist against USF and has sat out the last two practices. Smith's wrist is still a little swollen, though X-Rays have been inconclusive. He's "day-to-day," according to Blaney.

That could be a tough loss for UConn, as Smith would seem to be a strong candidate to guard St. John's fab frosh Moe Harkless. All Harkless did on Tuesday agianst Providence was go for 32 points and 14 rebounds. His scoring total was the most ever by a freshman in his Big East debut, surpassing a guy named Allen Iverson (1994) and Troy Murphy (1998).

“There’s been a lot of good players who have started in this league who haven’t put those numbers up," Blaney marvelled.

How good is Harkless (whose de-commitment from UConn has been well-chronicled on this blog)?

“I don’t think there’s anything that he doesn’t do,” Blaney said. “He’s big, he can handle, he can shoot it in or out, put it on the floor. And he rebounds – 14 rebounds (against Providence) shows me big-time stuff. Most importantly, he believes in himself.”

Added Andre Drummond, who played against Harkless in high school: “He’s like a Jeremy. He plays effortlessly, he just scores.”

*** UConn boasts significant size and depth advantages over the Johnnies, who have just eight scholarship players and don't dress a player over 6-8, and will make a concerted effort to get the ball down low to Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi.

*** St. John’s proved it can run and gun, with 91 points against Providence on Tuesday, but can also slow things down effectively.

“They want to run on your mistakes,” said Blaney, “so we need to take care of the ball and take good shots.”

The Red Storm certainly looked impressive in that win over Providence. But remember, it was Providence.

*** Surprisingly, UConn is looking to start off its Big East slate at 2-0 for the first time since 2003-04. It's also looking to end a two-game losing skid to the Storm, and the losses were ugly: 89-72 last year at MSG, and 73-51 two years ago in the Big East tournament.

Of course, the Johnnies have just one returning scholarship player (backup guard Malik Stith) back from last year's team.

Blaney still sees similarities between last year's St. John's team and this one.

“They play with the same energy," he said. "They’re an exceptionally confident, cocky group. After two wins against us in the last two years, I expect St. John’s to be good.”

*** Blaney said Jim Calhoun is going "berserk" not being able to coach these three games, but said he hasn't had any contact with him. As a matter of fact, he can't, per guidelines of the suspension.

Of course, there's a marked difference between when Blaney runs a practice or game and when Calhoun does.

"We're still running the same style," said Jeremy Lamb. "It's a little different not hearing him on the sidelines."

Blaney did, however, raise his voice a couple of times in practice today over UConn's lethargic defensive play.

Said Drummond: “Coach Blaney’s stepping up really well, he’s doing a great job. I really commend him for taking that position. He’s doing so well with it. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to take that role and do what he’s doing.”

*** Neither head coach will be on the sidelines tomorrow. Steve Lavin will miss his eighth straight game as he recovers from prostate cancer surgery.

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