Monday, February 28, 2011

Kemba up for an Oscar

Kemba Walker has been named one of the 10 finalists for the Oscar Robertson Award, given annually by the USBWA to the nation's top player.

This year's finalists:

Jimmer Fredette – BYU

Jordan Hamilton – Texas

JaJuan Johnson, Forward – Purdue

Terrence Jones – Kentucky

Marcus Morris – Kansas

Kyle Singler – Duke

Nolan Smith – Duke

Jared Sullinger, Center – Ohio State

Kemba Walker, Guard – Connecticut

Derrick Williams – Arizona


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buckeyes Back on Top

Ohio State is back as my No. 1 this week, thanks to Pitt's overtime loss at Louisville on Sunday. Of my top four, Pitt and Duke both lost while OSU and Kansas both won twice. So it was down to the Buckeyes or Jayhawks, and I went with Thad Matta's boys.

Elsewhere ...

*** BYU moves from No. 7 to No. 4 after its impressive win at San Diego State on Saturday. I've liked the Cougars all season, and think they merit a No. 1 seed.

*** Louisville rises from No. 13 to 9 after its win over Pitt (as well as a trouncing of Rutgers earlier in the week). The Cardinals are playing as well as anyone in the Big East not named St. John's. I've got the Johnnies jumpin up from No. 25 to No. 15.

*** I dropped UConn two spots, from No. 14 to 16, after its 1-1 week. Splitting two games against a pair of bubble teams (Marquette at home, Cincinnati on the road) sort of cancels each other out.

*** I'm loathe to punish a Big East team too much, since it is the best conference in the country, but I've actually dropped Georgetown out of my top 25 after ranking them 10th last week. That the Hoyas lost to Cincy and Syracuse (at home) this week was bad enough. But losing Chris Wright for what appears to be at least the next two weeks really hurts their chances of doing anything.

*** My only new team is Xavier, who I probably should have had ranked earlier anyway. Strongly considered were UCLA (huge romp over Arizona) and George Mason.

1. Ohio State
2. Kansas
3. Pittsburgh
4. Brigham Young
5. Duke
6. San Diego State
7. Texas
8. Purdue
9. Louisville
10. Notre Dame
11. Florida
12. Wisconsin
13. Syracuse
14. North Carolina
15. St. John's
16. UConn
17. Missouri
18. Kentucky
19. Utah State
20. Villanova
21. Arizona
22. Vanderbilt
23. Texas A&M
24. Temple
25. Xavier

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Warrior is a Warrior

Jim Calhoun used to refer to Jeff Adrien as a "warrior" about once a week back when Adrien was a power forward for the Huskies. Now, he literally is a Warrior, having signed with Golden State.

Here's the press release:

The Golden State Warriors signed forward Jeff Adrien of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for the 10th GATORADE Call-Up of the 2010-11 NBA Development League season. Adien’s call-up increases the number of current NBA players with NBA D-League experience, including players currently on assignment to their NBA D-League affiliates, to 84.

In 27 games (21 starts) this season, Adrien has averaged 18.3 points and a league-leading 11.2 rebounds. The NBA D-League Player of the Month for January and an NBA D-League All-Star, Adrien has recorded 20 double-doubles, and has averaged 19.9 points and 12.2 rebounds in 22 games (20 starts) since joining Rio Grande Valley from the Erie BayHawks via trade on Dec. 30.

Adrien (6-7, 245) played 15 games with Golden State earlier this season, averaging 2.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 10.8 minutes.

A second-year pro out of Connecticut, Adrien finished his four-year collegiate career as the first Huskies player to record at least 1,600 points (1,603) and 1,000 rebounds (1,126). As a senior, Adrien averaged 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds in 36 games, earning All-Big East Second Team honors and leading UConn to a Final Four appearance. In his junior season, Adrien averaged 14.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in 33 games and was named an All-Big East First Team performer.

Adrien is expected to join the Warriors today, and should be available when they host the Atlanta Hawks tonight at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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Calhoun: My Bad

Here's Jim Calhoun's statement on the NCAA sanctions handed down to his program, released this evening by his attorney, Scott Tompsett:

First of all I'd like to thank everyone who has offered support over this past week both for our program and for my family during what has been a difficult time. Regarding the NCAA's findings and penalties, I'd like to state the following:

As the leader of the Connecticut basketball program and an ambassador of the University, the buck stops with me. No qualifications. No exceptions. Without going into the details of the case or addressing each of the findings and subsequent penalties, I fully acknowledge that we, as a staff, made mistakes and would like to apologize to the University and all associated with UConn on behalf of myself and the men's basketball program.

Throughout my 39-year career, my intentions have been, and will continue to be, on doing things the right way, in full compliance with the rules of my profession, and more importantly, with a moral and ethical standard that has been at the center of who I strive to be as a person. I remain committed to doing my job with integrity. Clearly, through our actions, there are lessons to be learned for the University, for our basketball family, and for me personally.

Unfortunately, our mistakes have caused unrelated attention to be placed on the young men in our program today who continue to write their own story this basketball season. I will not allow those distractions to continue.

My love for my players, the game of basketball and this University will remain my number one professional priority. As the leader of this program, I am moving forward. I owe this to our players and our staff. I have apologized to them privately for the distractions. My personal feelings about this situation and the NCAA's findings will remain private and I will not have any further public comment on this matter.

I am energized and excited about the remainder of the regular season and what the post season may hold and our program remains committed to making UConn and all associated with it, proud of what we do both on and off the floor.

Tompsett added that Calhoun has not yet decided whether to appeal the NCAA's decision, but if he does, it will be done so privately and confidentially with the NCAA.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Plenty of blame to go around in this loss.

Kemba Walker tried to do too much down the stretch, and while he wound up doing a lot of good (27 points, his usual array of special plays) he did plenty of bad over the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. Walker took some ill-advised shots, had some ugly turnovers and dribbled the ball into double teams a few too many times.

"I (made) two big turnovers at the end of the game," the always accountable Walker said. "They doubled me, and I was careless with the ball ... I think I was trying to force the issue a little too much."

Of course, it would have helped if his teammates had provided some help for him and presented themselves to him while he was being trapped.

Said Jeremy Lamb: "(Kemba) still made a lot of big plays. I feel like I let the team down. I didn't hit shots I usually hit."

George Blaney also could have drawn up some more imaginative offensive sets. And, by his own admission, could have allocated his minutes better.

"I probably ran everybody too many minutes," Blaney confessed. "We needed to get a little bit more production, but some of the guys that came in and didn't get it done when they were asked to do it, so we stayed with the guys that were doing it."

Where was Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who made his second start of the season, down the stretch? On the bench, given his inability to guard Jimmy Butler. Niels Giffey (9 points) did a decent job in his stead, but it was surprising how little run Coombs got in the latter part of the game.

Oh, and the 17 turnovers didn't help either. Neither did teh 36-percent shooting -- a remarkable number, considering UConn grabbed 28 offensive rebound and, ostensibely, had many point-blank shot attempts.

"I don't know if I've ever seen that before, to be honest with you," Blaney said.

Oh, and what exactly was Roscoe Smith thinking, putting up a long jumper off a rebound with 3 1/2 minutes left in OT?

Anyway, here's the game story:
So if I'm a UConn fan, I'm a bit worried right now. But should you give up all hope? Nah, not with a group led by Walker and Jim Calhoun. It won't be easy the rest of the way -- the Huskies play at Cincinnati, at West Virginia and host Notre Dame in their regular-season finale.

They could easily lose all three games. But would it completely shock you if they won all three, or at least two of them? Not in this crazy season.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Calhoun Won't Coach Tomorrow

Jim Calhoun will not be with the team today for practice, nor for tomorrow night's game against Marquette so that he can attend the calling hours and memorial service in Nashaua, N.H. for his sister-in-law, Eileen (McDevitt) Fucile, who passed away on Monday.

Associate Head Coach George Blaney will be available to the media today and will coacht he team tomorrow night.

This is something Calhoun had told us about a little over a week ago, during a meeting with the press in which he also stressed that "there are more important things in life" than winning and losing in basketball.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Quiver and Shake

Three words sum it all up: No postseason ban.

Isn't that what it's really all about? Sure, the NCAA's sanctions against UConn are everything from minor to embarassing to legitimately hurtful. But when it's all said and done, the lack of a postseason ban is really what Husky fans care about the most.

And if you listen to committee of infractions chairman Dr. Dennis Thomas, a postseason ban could have happened.

“There are a lot of options the committee has in its quiver,”
said Thomas, who is the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. “Based upon all of those options, which is inclusive of a postseason ban, we decided to implement the penalties as said forth in the public release.”

Let’s break down what each of the NCAA’s sanctions against UConn means to the program and to Jim Calhoun, and how everything that transpired today affects the program going forward.

Public reprimand and censure.

Little more than public embarrassment. Jim Calhoun takes his image, legacy and place in the history of the game seriously, so I’m sure he’s not happy about it. But it is what it is. Does anybody even remember that Charles Rangel was publicly censured a few months ago? Didn’t think so.

Three years of probation from February 22, 2011, through February 21, 2014. The public infractions report further details the conditions of this probation.

The NCAA adds a year to what UConn already self-imposed. Hardly the end of the world.

The head coach must be suspended from all coaching duties for the first three conference games of the 2011-12 season. He cannot be present in the arena where the games are played and cannot have contact with the coaching staff or student-athletes during the games.

Embarassing, no doubt. A little surprising, too, that the long arm of the NCAA extends into specifically suspending a coach from conference play. Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl was suspended for the first eight SEC games this season for misleading NCAA investigators (sound familiar?), but that was levied by the SEC itself. The NCAA has yet to punish Pearl (who, ironically, coached against UConn, a non-conference foe, in the middle of that suspension last month).

Two-year show-cause order for the former operations director (February 22, 2011, through February 21, 2013). The public report further details the conditions of this penalty.

This obviously only affects Beau Archibald. According to a source, Archibald will appeal this decision.

Permanent disassociation of the involved booster. The public infractions report includes further details.

Did you really think the program would ever associated itself with Josh Nochimson again?

Reduction of men's basketball athletics scholarships from 13 to 12 for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

NCAA adds one more year to UConn’s self-imposed two-year sanctions. Not a shock, and certainly not a back-breaker. Consider: UConn has 12 scholarship players this season (per its own self-imposed sanctions). Seniors Donnell Beverly and Charles Okwandu are gone after this year, and in all likelihood, so is Kemba Walker to the NBA. That’s three spots open for next year, maybe more if there are any of the usual transfers, etc. One spot has been filled by Chicago point guard Ryan Boatright. The Huskies will have at least two spots open for next year and the year after, since everyone else on this year’s roster is a sophomore or freshman. That’s enough.

I’m going to lump these next four together:

Ban on men’s basketball recruiting calls during the 2011-12 academic year until 30 days after the first day that phone calls are allowed.

Reduction in the number of men’s basketball coaches allowed to make phone calls from three to two, not including the head basketball coach, for six months after the university’s response to the notice of allegations (self-imposed by the university).

Reduction of the number of men’s basketball off-campus recruiting days by 40, from 130 to 90, for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 recruiting periods.

Limit of five official paid visits for men’s basketball for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

None of these are good for the Huskies, particularly the reduction of off-campus recruiting days. But again, UConn has a host of good, young players already in stock, and it’s a good bet the Huskies will still be able to get good players despite these sanctions.

The head coach, assistant coach and all members of the compliance staff must attend the NCAA Regional Rules Seminar.


Bottom line: Jim Calhoun says he is “very disappointed” in the NCAA’s findings. I’m sure there is a part of him – the extremely prideful part, the part that will never go down without a fight, the part that is very protective of his place in the history of the game – that is disappointed.

But there almost has to be another part of Calhoun that is a bit relieved that the sanctions weren’t worse. There is no postseason ban, which is about the only thing that most UConn fans really, truly cared about. The lack of a postseason ban and the cloud finally being lifted off the program should be enough to satisfy prospective recruits and limit any more negative recruiting that may be going around.

If nothing else, Calhoun is guilty of his overzealous pursuit of Nate Miles. Now, he’s paying the piper – but the price could have been a lot worse. UConn is going to the NCAA tournament this season and can for seasons to come, as well, provided it deserves a bid.

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NCAA Sanctions vs. UConn

In case you somehow don't know by now, here's how the NCAA has chosen to punish UConn for its recruiting violations, primarily involving Nate Miles:

 Public reprimand and censure.

 Three years of probation from February 22, 2011, through February 21, 2014. The public infractions report further details the conditions of this probation.

 The head coach must be suspended from all coaching duties for the first three conference games of the 2011-12 season. He cannot be present in the arena where the games are played and cannot have contact with the coaching staff or student-athletes during the games.

 Two-year show-cause order for the former operations director (February 22, 2011, through February 21, 2013). The public report further details the conditions of this penalty.

 Permanent disassociation of the involved booster. The public infractions report includes further details

 Reduction of men's basketball athletics scholarships from 13 to 12 for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

 Ban on men’s basketball recruiting calls during the 2011-12 academic year until 30 days after the first day that phone calls are allowed.

 Reduction in the number of men’s basketball coaches allowed to make phone calls from three to two, not including the head basketball coach, for six months after the university’s response to the notice of allegations (self-imposed by the university).

 Reduction of the number of men’s basketball off-campus recruiting days by 40, from 130 to 90, for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 recruiting periods.

 Limit of five official paid visits for men’s basketball for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

 The head coach, assistant coach and all members of the compliance staff must attend the NCAA Regional Rules Seminar.

Calhoun, Hathaway Reactions

Here's what Jim Calhoun, Jeff Hathaway and UConn prez Philip Austin had to say about the NCAA's penalties on the UConn program:

Statement from President Philip E. Austin:

This is deeply disappointing to the UConn community. Let me be very clear, we will comply fully with the NCAA’s sanctions and work with great resolve to restore the luster to our men’s basketball program.

Statement from Director of Athletics Jeffrey A. Hathaway:

We have worked closely with the NCAA from the time we learned of the allegations.

When we submitted our response to the NCAA Committee on Infractions acknowledging violations in the men’s basketball program, we immediately self-imposed a series of penalties and corrective measures that are included as part of the NCAA Committee on Infractions report. We are disappointed that the Committee determined that additional penalties needed to be imposed.

We value the principles of the NCAA and fully recommit ourselves to running a program of impeccable integrity.

Statement from Head Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun:

I am very disappointed with the NCAA’s decision in this case. My lawyer and I are evaluating my options and will make a decision which way to proceed.

In the meantime, I will not make any further statements about the case as our program prepares for what I hope will be an exciting and successful postseason.

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NCAA Decision to be Announced Today

The NCAA Committee on Infractions will discuss its decision regarding UConn's recruiting violations during a conference call today at 3 p.m.

The committee's chair, Dennis Thomas, the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and formerly director of athletics at Hampton University, will be on the call.

Per ESPN's Andy Katz, coach Jim Calhoun will be cited for failing to create an atmosphere of complinace, but the school will not receive a postseason ban.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Some Tix Remain for Marquette

There are only 1,500 tickets remaining for UConn's bout with Marquette at the XL Center on Thursday at 7 p.m. Tickets are SOLD OUT for the game against Notre Dame on Saturday, March 5 in Gampel Pavilion at 2 p.m.

Fans can still purchase tickets for the game against Marquette through the UConn ticket website available through Be sure to order now as tickets will not last

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tenth Place, After All!

So the Big East coaches had it right all along: UConn is the 10th-place team in the Big East. At least that’s where the Huskies are right now. (Actually, they’re in a three-way tie for eighth, but if you check the Big East standings, they’re in the 10th position).

Just another example of how incredibly strong the conference is this season. Jim Calhoun made a great point the other night: the Huskies will almost certainly be a higher seed for the NCAA tournament (right now probably a four or five) than for the Big East tournament (right now, 10th).

As for my Top 25 this week … this was a tough one. It really was.

Who do I rank No. 1, after my (and seemingly everybody else’s) top four teams (Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Texas) all lost over the prior seven days?

Can I actually keep Ohio State at the top after a loss, again, for a second straight week? Yeah, I could. But I won’t. There’s no great shame in losing on the road to E’waun Moore … er, Purdue, and the final score (76-63) didn’t necessarily indicate how close the game was. Nevertheless, a 13-point loss is a 13-point loss. Bye, bye Buckeyes.

Kansas? The Jayhawks looked pretty good blowing out Colorado on Saturday, but looked just as bad getting popped by a disappointing Kansas State team a few days earlier.
Texas? Sorry, I’m not as big on the Longhorns as a lot of people. They’ve got four losses, most recently on Saturday to Nebraska. I mean, come on … Nebraska? I know the Cornhuskers are a borderline bubble team, but … Nebraska? Who’s their center, Dave Rimington?

Can I vault San Diego State, Duke or BYU (my No.’s 5, 6 and 7, respectively) up to the top spot? I’m not prepared to rank San Diego State No. 1, despite the fact that they’re the nation’s lone one-loss team and No. 3 in the RPI. BYU, either.
Duke certainly gets some consideration. Duke, after all, is Duke. They’re on TV more often than ‘Leave it to Beaver’ re-runs. They’re 24-2. But … the ACC is pretty down this year. Not this week.

So that leaves a somewhat unconventional choice: Pittsburgh. Yeah, they lost to St. John’s on Saturday in the Garden but, lately, who doesn’t? Duke did. So did UConn, Georgetown and Notre Dame. The Johnnies are good, and they’re real tough at home. Still, if Dwight Hardy’s reverse layup with 1.2 seconds left goes in and out, the Panthers are 25-2, 13-1 in the Big East and probably atop of a lot of voters’ Top 25.

Oh, and Pitt has also beaten Texas this year.

Here’s my main rationale: Pitt is the best team in by far the best conference in America. That’s good enough for me. Not sure if many other voters will think the same way, so if you see in tomorrow’s AP rankings: 1. Pittsburgh (1) … yup, that’s me.

Elsewhere, I’ve righted a wrong and got Vanderbilt ranked this week. I’m always slow on warming to them, but the Commodores are worthy. I’ve booted out St. Mary’s and Coastal Carolina, which left one other spot open (along with Vandy). I narrowed it down to two: St. John’s and George Mason. Big East or UConn fans’ biggest nightmare?

I went with the Big East. Best conference in the land. (And don’t look now, but Cincinnati is knocking at the Top 25, too).

My top 25:

1. Pittsburgh (24-3)
2. Ohio State (25-2)
3. Kansas (25-2)
4. Duke (25-2)
5. San Diego State (27-1)
6. Texas (27-4)
7. Brigham Young (25-2)
8. Purdue (22-5)
9. Florida (21-5)
10. Georgetown (21-6)
11. Notre Dame (21-5)
12. Arizona (23-4)
13. Louisville (20-7)
14. Connecticut (20-6)
15. Wisconsin (20-6)
16. Missouri (21-6)
17. Villanova (21-6)
18. Kentucky (19-7)
19. Utah State (25-3)
20. Vanderbilt (20-6)
21. Texas A&M (21-5)
22. Syracuse (22-6)
23. North Carolina (22-6)
24. Temple (21-5)
25. St. John’s (17-9)


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kemba's Best? I Think So

Kemba Walker has had some remarkable performances this season.

He scored 42 points against Vermont. He averaged 30 a game in three wins in Maui over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky. He had a triple-double against UMBC. He scored 31 against DePaul, 30 against New Hampshire, 22 with seven assists on Sunday against Providence. He's hit huge, game-winning shots against Texas and Villanova.

But I think Wednesday's effort against Georgetown -- 31 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, one remarkable drive to the hole after another, one of the wildest plays you'll ever see in a game -- tops them all.

Granted, I wasn't at Maui, or Texas, or DePaul. But watching Walker almost singlehandedly take over Wednesday's game, scoring on fallaways, reverse layups, scoop shots and that incredible putback of his own (purposely) missed shot was something to behold.

And like the Providence game, he was efficient. Granted, he took 23 shots, but he hit 13 of them. He also doled out those 10 assists -- most of them to Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (more on him later). Walker really didn't force anything, just took what the Hoyas gave him and found his teammates when nothing was there.

Jim Calhoun was asked afterwards if this was Walker's best game of the season, given the level of competition, the importance of the game, the all-around stat line, etc.

Calhoun paused.

"He did some things in Maui I haven't seen before," he finally said. "I'm sure it was fun to watch. It was fun to coach, I know that."

It was also Walker's best game in a season full of great ones.

Here's my game story:

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'A Great Play by a Great Player'

First off, let's talk about 'The Play' -- the one you'll be seeing on highlight shows for years to come.

Of all of Kemba Walker's 31 points on Wednesday night -- of all the remarkable drives to the hoop for scoop shots and reverse layups, sprinkled in with the occasional fallaway 'J' -- none were more remarkable than the two he scored on a play he apparently perfected on the playgrounds of the Bronx but never had the guts to attempt in a real game.

Just over three minutes into the latter half, Walker, guarded tightly by Georgetown's Henry Sims up near the top of the key, and with the shot clock winding down, leapt forward, threw the ball off the backboard, caught it in mid-air and sank a six-footer.

Jim Calhoun said he may not have ever seen such a play before, though he thought he recalled a West Virginia player trying it -- and missing -- many years ago.

Personally, I think I recall Isiah Thomas do something similar a long time ago. If memory serves me correct, Isiah -- the former Piston, not the current Washington Husky -- threw a ball off the backboard from about 12 feet out and either dunked it or laid it in. It was more for show than anything else.

Walker's, however, was more impressive, considering its importance (in the midst of a 9-0 UConn run in which they'd regain the lead) and the distance from where he tossed the ball up.

"I thought he was throwing it too hard," said Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. "I had no idea what he was doing. It was a great play by a great player. He's playing out of his mind right now. When he's playing like that, we're tough to beat."

Here's what Kemba had to say about it:

"I had an 'iso' with Sims. I stepped back, it was just me and the rim. I just threw it off the backboard and got it back on the way down."

"He was on my side, and it was just me and the basket. That was the only play he gave me."

"I did it a lot in pick-up, never had the courage to do it in a game. But it was there. I'm just happy I made it …"

"It was the only play available. At the time, there was nobody in the middle, everybody was on the outside of the paint, he was on my side and that's what I saw."

Not solely because of that play but because of his tremendous all-around game -- 31 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds -- as well as his terrific effort a few days earlier in a win over Providence, Walker is right back in the player of the year debate.

As in national player of the year, not just Big East.

"I keep hearing, 'Well, he couldn't be the Big East player of the year,'" Calhoun said. "No, you're probably right. He might be the national player of the year."

He might be. And while I've never really heard anyone suggest Walker couldn't be the conference player of the year, there's no doubt guys like Notre Dame's Ben Hansborough and G'town's Austin Freeman had entered the conversation in recent weeks.

Right now, I'm not sure how Walker couldn't win that award. And he's right on Jimmer's and Sullinger's heels again for national POY, IMO.

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Hot Ticket

There are less than 500 tickets remaining for tonight’s game vs. Georgetown at the XL Center.

Fans can purchase tickets online at until 3 p.m. today. Any tickets purchased online will be available for pickup this evening at XL Center.

Also --- tickets are also on sale at the XL Center box office, which opens at noon today and will remain open through tip-off.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

He Can't, Can't, Can't Stand Losin'

My story in today's Register points out Jim Calhoun's absolute hatred of losing, how it rubs off on his players (usually) and often wills his team to victories, and asks if there is another sports figure who hates losing more than him.

Is there? I'm not sure. Tiger Woods comes to mind. He was as petulant as anyone when he didn't win a tournament, often blowing off the media or throwing his clubs around. Now, however, he's almost become a clown. Spitting on the green? Really?

Bob Knight? Ever hear that secretely taped, volcanic rant he gave to one of his Indiana teams about how was sick and tired of having to lose to Purdue? If you listen to it, it kinda proves it was really all about him.

Michael Jordan? Didn't have much practice losing (6-0 in NBA finals). Derek Jeter, Tom Brady -- they're in the running. But I'd argue none takes losing any worse than Calhoun.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Status Quo

It was pretty easy for me to choose this week's Top 25, with the exception of one pesky little position: No. 1.

Otherwise, it seemed pretty clear-cut: kick out Minnesota, welcome in St. Mary's (briefly even consider St. John's) and, voila, there you have it.

But it was very tricky picking this week's No. 1, given Ohio State's loss at Wisconsin on Saturday. Here was my quandary:

For one, I always make my rankings off of my previous week's poll, not the actual AP poll itself. The two are often similar, but there are usually a few significant variances. With that in mind, my top four last week were: 1. Ohio State, 2. Kansas, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. Texas.

The Buckeyes, of course, lost, while the three teams behind them each won twice. Since I almost always penalize a team at least a spot or two for losing, this was easy, right? Leapfrog Kansas to No. 1, drop OSU to No. 2 and keep Pittsburgh and Kansas in their respective spots.

But then I would have Kansas at No. 1 and Texas at No. 4, even though the Longhorns beat the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse a few weeks ago, snapping Kansas's 69-game home winning streak. While you can't always use such logic (UConn, after all, beat Texas in Austin), is it fair to have the Jayhawks three spots ahead of Texas?

OK, easy solution: move Texas to No. 3, drop Pitt to No. 4. But how can I drop the Panthers, who beat two top 25 teams (West Virginia and Villanova, on the road) last week? Pitt is far and away the best team in the best conference in the nation. At 23-2 overall, you can make a strong argument they should be No. 2 or even No. 1. Nah, not dropping them.

And so, I decided to keep the status quo. Ohio State remains my No. 1. A loss at Wisconsin (whom I've got at No. 10 this week) is nothing to sneeze at. Not at all. The Buckeyes may have squandered a 15-point lead in the game, but they were still in it until the final seconds. In Jared Sullinger, they may have the national player of the year. Their starting five is probably the most complete in the country. They are still probably the best team in the country, in my opinion. So, they're my No. 1.

And my top four (in fact, my top seven) remains the same. Texas may be playing as well as anyone right now, but it does have three losses. (Plus, as a former PC fan, I'm never bullish on a Rick Barnes-coached team come tourney time).

I dropped UConn from No. 8 to No. 12. That's what an ugly loss at St. John's (which, like I said, did merit top 25 consideration) will do. Here's my Top 25, submitted late last night:

1. Ohio State (24-1)
2. Kansas (24-2)
3. Pittsburgh (23-2)
4. Texas (22-3)
5. San Diego State (25-1)
6. Duke (23-2)
7. BYU (23-2)
8. Georgetown (20-5)
9. Notre Dame (21-4)
10. Wisconsin (19-5)
11. Florida (20-5)
12. UConn (19-5)
13. Purdue (20-5)
14. Arizona (20-4)
15. Missouri (19-6)
16. Louisville (19-6)
17. Villanova (19-6)
18. Kentucky (17-7)
19. Utah State (23-3)
20. Texas A&M (19-5)
21. Syracuse (20-6)
22. North Carolina (18-6)
23. Temple (19-5)
24. St. Mary's (22-4)
25. Coastal Carolina (24-2)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Coombs-McDaniel's 'Stormy' Night

There's one play, in my mind, that best summarizes UConn's 75-57 romp over PC on Sunday night.

With 4:41 left the Friars still in it (trailing 63-55), Kemba Walker got the ball near the top of the key with the shot clock running down. He took a couple of dribbles and seemed primed to hurl up a 3-pointer.

Walker leapt in the air like he was taking a jumper, but instead fired a bullet down low to a wide-open Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who it a reverse layup with about a second left on the shot clock. That kicked off a 12-0 Husky run that shut the door and gave them the victory.

It also represented everything that was right for the Huskies on Sunday. Walker, rather than forcing up a tough shot, distributed the ball beautifully. He did it all night, racking up seven assists while taking just 10 shots -- a season-low. He hit seven of them (including a trio of 3-pointers), to snap out of a seven-game shooting slump (during which he was 38-for-123, 31 percent overall).

And, of course, Coombs-McDaniel had by far his best night as a Husky, with career highs in points (25), rebounds (eight), minutes (31), praises from Jim Calhoun (who labeled his relationship with the player as "stormy") and postgame questions from the media.

"I'd love to ask him, 'Do you think, in the midst of playing six minutes, say, in Hawaii, did you really think you'd come here and score 25 in a game?'" Calhoun said. "He'd say yes, by the way. His ego would say. But I really wondered that. And yet, in the last couple of games, the one thing he does is comes in and plays hard."

Has Calhoun seen frustration from Coombs-McDaniel?

"I did last year. I don't think I saw frustration. The thing he is, he's probably 15, 20 pounds heavier, worked like crazy on weights. Roscoe (Smith) comes in, Niels (Giffey) was great, and then he kind of got stuck. When you win 11, 12 games in a row and you're 17-2, you're not going to make too many changes. But during his struggle, every time we put him in, he gives us a spark. He did that against Seton Hall, as a matter of fact."

Said Coombs: "It's definitely been tough, but I'm just trying to stick with it. Last year, I would sulk and stuff, and that's not doing me any good. I'm just trying to continue to play hard, get better and earn some minutes on the court."

Fittingly, that 12-0 UConn run was also capped by a pass from Walker out on the perimeter to Coombs-McDaniel, who buried a 3-pointer.

Charles Okwandu (six points, career-high 11 rebounds, four loud blocks) played terrific, and Donnell Beverly (five assists) was as steady as ever. But this game was all about Kemba Walker getting back to being Kemba Walker and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who'll be in the starting lineup Wednesday against Georgetown) having a breakout game.

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Coleman Out

PC guard Gerard Coleman will not play tonight against UConn due to his "failure to fulfill his responsibilities as a student-athlete." Alex Oriakhi, Coleman's teammate at Tilton (N.H.) School, said yesterday he was told Coleman may have fallen asleep during a class.

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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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Friday, February 11, 2011

Walker Still in the Running?

Kemba Walker is on the 2010-11 Naismith List of the top 30 men's college basketball players in the nation. No surprise there, though in the past few weeks, Walker has gone from the national player of the year frontrunner to barely still in the conversation.

Obviously, he still has time to pick things up, and it says here that he will. Great players find a way to work it out. We've already delved into the "what's wrong with Kemba" thing, so we're not going to spend too much time on that again. The one alarming thing lately, though, has been Walker's woes at the foul line.

Over his last six games, Walker is shooting 55 percent (17-for-31) from the charity stripe. In his last three games, he's hitting just 40 percent (6-for-15). And he's missing some big ones, too (like those three in a row late in the game against Seton Hall).

So what's going on?

"I don't know what's going on at the free throw line," Walker said on Thursday night. "I think I'm thinking a little bit too much, because I have been missing lately. I think I'm just over-thinking it. I'm just going to keep working on it."

It's worth noting that Walker didn't look like a defeated man after Thursday's game. Rather, he was surprisingly positive and upbeat about both himself and his team -- as if he realized that both would straighten out of their recent respective ruts.

Would you bet against him?


Thursday, February 10, 2011

St. John's Wart

That was ugly.

Not much positive to this one if you're a UConn fan. Jim Calhoun said this was over at the opening tap, though that's not really true. The Huskies led 31-29 after Jamal Coombs-McDaniels' 3-pointer 54 seconds before halftime.

Then, it all fell apart.

Dwight Hardy hit a 3-pointer (a familiar refrain for the evening). Roscoe Smith turned the ball over. Malik Boothe Kemba Walkered the Huskies, banking in a 37-footer at the buzzer.

Calhoun thought Boothe had traveled on the play and ... um ... expressed as much to referee Mike Eades. He got hit with his first technical of the season.

"I do think four steps is a bit much," Calhoun said afterwards. "I'll take three, but the fourth step got me."

Boothe opened the latter half with the two freebies, St. John's scored on its first possession. Instead of a chance to take the lead in the final seconds of the first halff, UConn suddenly trailed by eight 25 seconds into the latter.

Then, the Johnnies decided not to miss: 12 of their 14 to start the second half, 17-for-24 total (71 percent) over the final 20 minutes. All 16 of their free throws.

The chain of events surrounding halftime surely hurt the Huskies and pumped up the Johnnies, right Coach Calhoun?

"Then we should have lost by 15," he said, regarding his 'T.' "They would have had possession (to start the second half anyway)."

Some of UConn's players clearly thought the sequence was the game-changer, however.

"Malik hit a big shot at the buzzer, that gave them a lot of momentum," said Walker. "They had the tech, more momentum. From there, they kept rolling. They couldn't miss. But, it's alright. We're just going to try to get better and learn from this experience."

Added Jeremy Lamb: "(Boothe) hit almost a halfcourt shot, and then Coach got a technical foul so I think they were really excited, it boosted them. But there's still no reason for how we played."

True enough. When asked what bothered Calhoun the most about his team's performance, he said: "Every aspect that you can possibly name: from the foul shooting, to no defense, to rebounding, to not running, to getting run on …"

Hardy scored a career-high 33 points and became the first Johnnie to score 30 in consecutive games since Marcus Hatten in 2003.

*** UConn shot 37-percent from the floor – thanks in great part to a bunch of baskets in garbage time. Worse, the Huskies hit just 13 of 22 free throws. They were outrebounded 43-33, outscored on the fast break by a resounding 27-2 and inside the paint 40-18.

Walker struggled shooting yet again: 4-for-16 from the floor, 3-for-6 from the foul line for 15 points. Lamb lied down on Broadway, hitting some shots late but wound up hitting just 5 of 16 from the floor for 13 points.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Young Lamb

Lotta talk today about Jeremy Lamb's emergence as a Big East Rookie of the Year candidate, and deservely so.

Lamb has arguably been UConn's best player overall (yup, even better than Kemba) over the past few weeks. He's averaged 17.1 points in his last six games, shooting 57 percent from the floor in that span and upping his Big East average to 12.7 ppg. He's been the league's Rookie of the Week the past two weeks.

So it's hard to argue he's not right in the running for the league's top rookie award. Right now, he's got to be neck-and-neck with DePaul's Cleveland Melvin as the favorite. Melvin (a one-time UConn commit) has the better numbers, averaging 18.2 per game in Big East play, sixth overall in the conference. Melvin's also eighth overall in rebounding (6.7) and ninth in blocked shots (1.45).

Impressive stuff, no doubt. But it's important to note that he's doing it for a team that's 0-11 in league play. On a young, terrible team, Melvin is the focal point of the offense -- and while certainly making the most of the opportunity, it would be interesting to see what kind of numbers Melvin and Lamb would put up if they switched teams.

I'll agree with the opinion of Jim Calhoun, who never mentioned Melvin by name but clearly had him on his mind.

"(Lamb's) team has to win every night, his team is in the top 10. Every game he plays, there’s a great deal of pressure on him ... I give a lot more credit to winning than I do to anything else."

In other words, scoring 14 points in a win over Villanova or 10 in a key, comeback win over Seton Hall holds more merit than tossing in 24 in another double-digit loss. Kinda like debating whether Felix Hernandez of the last-place Mariners or CC Sabathia of the first-place Yankees should win the Cy Young award (of course, King Felix wound up winning that award in a big victory for the sabermetrics crowd).

For his part, the soft-spoken, unassuming Lamb isn't focusing too much on any potential individual honors.

“I haven’t really thought about it," he said. "Of course that would be a big accomplishment, but I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve just been trying to stay focused on what we’re doing right now.”

Lamb said that entering the season, “I wanted to average double-digit points. That was probably the only thing. I just wanted to come in, get stronger, and really just see if I could play on this level.”

He added that his improved play of late really just boils down to being more confident.

"You can have all the experience in the world, but if you don’t have confidence, you’re not going to do stuff you know you can do," he said. "My teammates, Coach Calhoun, have been telling me, ‘You can do this, you can do that.’ My dad talked to me. It’s confidence level."

Noted Kemba Walker: “He’s just more aggressive. He just knows how to score now. He knows how to pick his spots, where his hot spots are. He’s just really finding out how to put the ball in the hole.”

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Lamb, Walker Honored

Jeremy Lamb was named Big East Rookie of the Week for a second straight week after averaging 16 points in two games for the Huskies. Lamb has reached double figures in seven consecutive games for UConn.

On the season, Lamb is averaging 10.1 points on 49-percent shooting to go along with 4.8 rebounds. In Big East games, Lamb has upped his totals to 12.7 points per game on 52-percent shooting. He’s also averaging 5 rebounds per game in conference action.

Also, Kemba Walker has been named one fo the final 10 candidates for the 2011 Bob Cousy Award, given annually to college basketball's top point guard. An original list of 70-plus candidates made up of players from around the country was trimmed by a Hall of Fame appointed, nationally based committee to 20 and has now narrowed that list to a final ten.

Beginning Feb. 8, via the Bob Cousy Award’s website – – fans will be able to vote for the top point guard. The player that receives the most fan votes will receive one vote toward the final committee vote. Fan voting will run one month – beginning Feb. 8 and will conclude March 8.

2011 Bob Cousy Award Finalists:

Norris Cole Cleveland State

Corey Fisher Villanova

Jimmer Fredette BYU

DJ Gay San Diego State

Brandon Knight Kentucky

Demetri McCamey Illinois

Mickey McConnell St. Mary’s

Nolan Smith Duke

Isaiah Thomas Washington

Kemba Walker Connecticut

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

(Coastal) Carolina On My Mind

I've got two young kids at home, a highly competitive beat to cover, water stains on my dining room ceiling, an ice floe for a driveway and, by coincidence, a whole mess of birthdays and Valentine's Days to account for over the next few weeks.

My point? I'm busy. And while I consider my vote for the men's college basketball AP Top 25 a terrific privilege, I can't possibly spend all my waking hours scouring over who deserves a spot in each week's poll and who doesn't.

That's why I can be susceptible to the PR e-mails that some sports information directors send out to voters, asking us to consider their respective school. Inevitably, it's a mid-major program that is doing some very nice things outside the national headlines. Let's face it: the SID's at Duke or Syracuse hardly have to remind everybody what their team has been up to lately.

While I certainly don't heed the advice of all of these e-mails, one in particular caught my attention this week: Coastal Carolina. Who, you ask? Why, the Chanticleers, who compete in the Big South -- hardly a powerhouse conference. They're 22-2, with their only losses coming against College of Charleston and Georgetown back in mid-November. Their 13-0 in the Big South, and their 20-game winning streak is second in the nation to Ohio State's.

More than anything, I ask, why not Coastal Carolina? With so much parity in college hoops this year, how can anybody say the Chanticleers couldn't knock off a few teams in this year's tournament and be this year's (dare I say) George Mason? Who could say it's a crime to rank Coastal Carolina and not a more well-known program like Vanderbilt, Xavier or West Virginia?

So there you go: Coastal Carolina at No. 25.

Otherwise, not too much shake-up in this week's poll. My top five stays the same (Ohio State is really, really looking good. Beating Minnesota on the road is impressive; beating Wisconsin on the road on Saturday would be even more so). UConn drops from No. 6 to 8.

Gone are Washington and the A-10's Xavier and Duquesne. In are Florida, the A-10's Temple and, of course, Coastal Carolina.

1. Ohio State (24-0)
2. Kansas (22-1)
3. Pittsburgh (21-2)
4. Texas (20-3)
5. San Diego State (23-1)
6. Duke (21-2)
7. Brigham Young (22-2)
8. Connecticut (18-4)
9. Georgetown (18-5)
10. Villanova (19-4)
11. Notre Dame (19-4)
12. Missouri (18-5)
13. Syracuse (20-4)
14. Wisconsin (17-5)
15. Louisville (18-5)
16. Florida (18-5)
17. Utah State (22-2)
18. Purdue (18-5)
19. Kentucky (16-6)
20. Arizona (20-4)
21. North Carolina (17-5)
22. Minnesota (16-7)
23. Texas A&M (17-5)
24. Temple (17-5)
25. Coastal Carolina (22-2)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jersey Barrier

UConn beats Seton Hall. That's just sorta what it does. Eleven straight now, dating back to 2001, and 18 of the last 19. The players come and go (coaches, too, in Seton Hall's case -- including one George Blaney), and the Pirates just can't beat UConn.

They should have Saturday night, mind you. This one was for the taking for the Hall, which led by 14 with about 13 minutes left and by 10 inside of eight minutes. But Seton Hall simply doesn't beat UConn.

Even though the Huskies hit just 12 of 21 free throws (8-for-15 in the second half). Even though no one on UConn -- including Kemba Walker and recently red-hot Jeremy Lamb – played particularly well. Even though the Hall outrebounded the Huskies 42-33 and outplayed them for most of the game's first 32 minutes.

Even though Walker missed three straight free throws -- after being fouled on a 3-point attempt -- in the midst of UConn's comeback bid.

Afterwards, a reporter asked Walker, "How did you just win that game?"

"That's what I said after the game," Walker said with a smile, before adding. "We just gave effort, that's what it was. In the second half – not the whole second half – but with about seven minutes left, we just got it done."

It also helped that the Pirates are the Pirates. They scored one meaningless field goal in the game's final 8:17. In fact, they scored just three points over that span, missing three of four free throws. Seton Hall, which hit six 3-pointers in the first half, missed all nine from behind the arc in the latter. It shot just 29 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes.

Obviously, UConn's defense deserves plenty of credit for finally clamping down when it needed to. Still, if the Hall hits just one basket -- or a couple of those free throws -- down the stretch, it probably wins.

"That ranks with anything we've done this season," said Jim Calhoun. "They found it within themselves to go out and win a basketball game."

And Seton Hall found a way to lose it.

***Really, the comeback was a team effort. Several players contributed -- both in a good way and in a bad way. Walker hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:32 left and was once again the spearhead, finishing with a team-high 19 points, though he also missed a bunch of shots down the stretch.

And, of course, there were those three missed freebies.

"I don't know what to say about that. I just missed," Walker noted. "We're usually a good free throw shooting team. Those rims were tough. But, we won."

Added Shabazz Napier (who finished with seven points and five steals): "I was shocked. I was like, 'Oh, man.' I knew we were going to still win, but what went through my mind was Louisville, when I missed my free throws. I was like, 'This is not going to go well.' But he got it back. I'm happy for him."

Alex Oriakhi had a huge tip-out that kept the ball in UConn's hands in the final minute, and blocked Jeremy Hazell's 3-point attempt in the final seconds, then hit the game-clinching free throw with 3.7 ticks left after Herb Pope flagrantly fouled him.

(Tyler Olander, Oriakhi's good friend, ran out on the court after Pope's hard foul and was practically shoved back to the bench by an enraged Calhoun).

Napier had a big steal and layup to get the Huskies to within a point. He also inexplicably threw the ball inbounds towards the Seton Hall basket after Oriakhi's second free throw, allowing Fuquan Edwin to hit a layup that could have been disastrous had he been fouled while trying a trey.

"That was stupid," Napier admitted afterwards. "The funny thing about it, once I heard, 'Throw it to the backcourt,' the first thing that went through my mind was, 'This is going to be a turnover.' I just threw my hands up and said, 'Oh man, please.'"

And Roscoe Smith had a couple of huge rebounds down the stretch, the latter on which he was fouled with 19.3 seconds left. The freshman calmly stepped to the line and hit both free throws to give UConn a 60-57 edge.

"He doesn't have that personality that things really bother him," said Calhoun.

Added Smith: "It was really normal. They were big, but I knew I could knock them down, so that's what I did."

The biggest free throws of his young UConn career, no doubt ... so far.

"I think I've got many more to come."

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Minor Shake Up in Newark?

We're told Niels Giffey and Charles Okwandu will be in the starting lineup tonight for UConn. Okwandu isn't really a surprise, but Giffey is, to a degree. He's barely sniffed the floor recently, although Giffey did play seven minutes against Syracuse on Wednesday and made a couple of nice contributions.

The coaching staff seems to like Giffey's defense, though I wouldn't bank on him guarding Jeremy Hazell tonight. That honor looks like it will fall on Jeremy Lamb, at least to start the game.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Pirate Booty

A few tidbits heading into tomorrow's bout with Seton Hall at the Prudential Center in Newark:

***Jeremy spoke: Jeremy Lamb has scored 20 or more points in three straight games, the second-longest streak for a freshman in Jim Calhoun’s 25 seasons. Only Richard Hamilton’s four-game stretch during the 1997 NIT is longer.

Lamb has averaged 18.3 points over his last six games to up his season average to double figures (10.1). He's shooting 57.7 percent from the floor in that stretch and is 40 percent (12-for-30) from 3-point land in the last five contests.

***Jeremy silenced? The Huskies must pay attention to high-scoring Jeremy Hazell, who’s averaging 17.7 ppg. Hazell missed 13 games earlier this season due to a broken left wrist while also surviving a gunshot wound while walking home from a party in his East Harlem home on Dec. 26.

Hazell, who’s never met a shot he didn’t like, poured in 28 in the win at Syracuse but was held to a season-low five, on 1-for-8 shooting, against West Virginia.

Roscoe Smith has done a nice job keeping other top swingmen (see: Corey Stokes, Scotty Hopson) in check this season, and he may be asked to do the same tomorrow night.

***Jersey sure. UConn has defeated Seton Hall 10 straight times and has won 27 straight regular season games against the Big East’s tri-state schools: Seton Hall, Rutgers and St. John’s.

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A Look at Kemba's Recent Woes

Here's my story from today's Register about Kemba Walker's recent shooting slump.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is Kemba Burned Out?

Kemba's tired.

And frustrated. And upset that he's not getting a consistent whistle. And perhaps simply not as great a shooter as he appeared in the first 15 or so games this season.

But as much as anything, he's tired -- physically and mentally. He's played too many minutes, too often with two or three defenders swarmed over him, preventing him from getting much of anything uncontested. Combine that with the mental fatigue of feeling he has to be "The Man" every night (which is ironic, since Jeremy Lamb has been "The Man" at least the last three games and others have stepped up in recent games, as well), and there's a legit reason why Walker is shooting 31 percent (27-for-88) from the floor in his last five games and 19 percent (4-for-26) from 3-point range in his last four.

In UConn's last five contests, Walker has played 39, 40, 39, 47 and 38 minutes. That's about a combined seven minutes of rest in five games. Couldn't Shabazz Napier be seeing a few more of those minutes? We'd say Donnell Beverly, too, but tonight's performance was about as bad as it gets for that usually steady senior.

In a way, it's hard to say this wasn't expected. Did anyone really think that Walker, all 6-foot-1 (yeah, right), 172 pounds of him, was going to continue to put up 30-point games through the rigors of the Big East schedule? I certainly didn't.

Will Walker -- who scored a season-low eight points on 3-for-14 shooting Wednesday night -- get his groove back? Most likely. But he needs to take some pressure off himself, and Jim Calhoun should try to find a few more minutes here and there for Walker to rest.

*** There was one positive from tonight's 66-58 loss to Syracuse: UConn freshman Niels Giffey saw his most playing time (seven minutes) in the last five games and made the most of it, hitting Charles Okwandu for the assist on a game-tying hoop in the latter half and draining a 3-pointer with 8:35 left to get UConn to within three (48-45). He soon followed with a bad turnover, however, and found himself on the bench the rest of the way.

Okwandu had a trick-or-treat game with eight points and also eight rebounds, but also three turnovers and some misses on easy inside baskets.

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Game On!

Tonight's UConn-Syracuse game will be played as scheduled. Here's the official release from UConn:

The men’s basketball game between the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University set for Wednesday, February 2 at 7:00 p.m. at the XL Center will be played as scheduled.

Fans choosing at attend the game are urged to use extreme caution when traveling to Hartford, as well as parking and walking to the XL Center.

If you choose not to travel to Hartford for tonight's contest, the game will be available on ESPN and on WTIC NewsTalk 1080 and the UConn Radio Networ

UConn's Football Signing Day public event in the XL Center Exhibition Hall will also take place as scheduled (4:15 social/reception, 5:00 program).

Any additional updates will be posted on

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Lot of Wins for the Jims

When (if?) UConn and Syracuse square off tomorrow night, Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim will set a record for the most combined wins between two head coaches with 1,687. The prior mark of 1,665 was set in 2006 by Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton. Last season, Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski totaled 1,647 in a game at Madison Square Garden.

A little more on tomorrow night's scheduled game:

Syracuse will look to avoid its first five-game losing streak in Boeheim’s 35 years at the helm. The 17th-ranked Orange, undefeated and ranked third in the nation just two short weeks ago, aren’t as fluid offensively and seem a bit slow in their traditional 2-3 zone, according to Calhoun. They’ve fallen to 18-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big East on this recent skid, which includes a baffling 22-point home loss to lowly Seton Hall.

But Calhoun also realizes that the Huskies will be facing a desperate team this evening – always a tough draw in the Big East.

“In this league, it always seems that desperate teams, especially ones as talented as Syracuse, come up with great efforts,” he noted.

*** The Huskies (17-3, 5-3) are also limping into the game a bit, on the heels of Saturday’s frustrating, double-overtime home loss to Louisville.

“It’s two teams coming off a loss, desperate for a win,” junior guard Kemba Walker pointed out. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be an intense game.”

Walker is hoping to break out of a shooting slump that’s seen him hit just 32 percent (24-for-74) of his shots over the past four games. Finding holes in the Orange zone – particularly around the free throw line extended – could be one way to get his shooting touch back.

“I’ve just got to get to my comfort zone, my mid-range shot, just get back to that,” Walker said. “That’ll give me a little better rhythm for my (3-point shot). I’ve got to use screens better, I just can’t force up shots.”

Walker is 3-for-20 from 3-point land in his last three games.

*** Calhoun knows that Walker can snap out of his slump at any time. Similarly, he knows Syracuse can do the same.

“I think Syracuse is still one of the best teams in this league,” he said. “It’s possible for anybody to get on a role – and anybody, unfortunately, to get on a slide.”

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Storm Update

Word is that Syracuse is planning to fly out tonight around 5. Since the snow is supposed to have tapered off by then, seems likely the Orange will get into Hartford tonight without a problem.

UConn is practicing today at 12:30, then slated to bus up to Hartford and stay overnight, banking on classes being cancelled for Wednesday.