Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lineup Shake-Up: Boatright, Roscoe to Start

JIm Calhoun is shaking things up: Ryan Boatright will start at point guard tomorrow night vs. Georgetown and Roscoe Smith will start at power forward. Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi, the team's two captains, will come off the bench.

Also, Niels Giffey returns to the starting 5, in place of DeAndre Daniels.

It's simply a matter of quickening the pace offensively for the Huskies, who have scored 57 and 48 points in their last two games and look stagnant on offense.

"It doesn’t mean ‘Bazz can’t do the job … We just need to get into a better pace," Calhoun said. "From Bazz’s standpoint, he’ll get a better viewpoint coming off the bench.”

“We’ve got to get some cheap, easy points, be it against Georgetown or Seton Hall," Calhoun added. "We just can’t keep getting 50 points a game. We’re just not going to win that way.”

Calhoun said he started pondering such changes a couple of games ago. However, the team had some good practices over the past week, and he felt good about things going into Sunday's Notre Dame game (and, of course, had Boatright practicing on the blue team all week, not knowing if he'd be able to play).

But Sunday's stinker was the final straw.

"It’s not against anybody, it’s for the team," Calhoun said. "It’s what we think is best. (Boatright) is young, and he’s been told to push the ball up. And it’ll be against some three-quarter court pressure, because they will trap us.”

Telling Napier and Oriakhi, the team's captains and key cogs in last year's title run, wasn't easy.

“It’s very difficult, in a lot of different ways," the coach said. "But what I’ve got to do is not what’s best for each individual player, it’s what’s best (for the team) ... The one thing I’ve always felt we need to do as a team is to create easy baskets. It’s pretty hard to win a league as crazy and as close as ours (without doing that)."

Giffey is the quickest player up the floor, according to Calhoun, and Daniels is a close second. But Giffey's got more experience and is back in the starting lineup.

And as for Roscoe, his ability to run the floor should also help UConn's pace.

“He will get up the court," Calhoun siad. "I don’t know what he’s gonna do when he gets there, but he’ll try to make something happen, that’s for sure.”

Pretty intriguing stuff. Of course, Boatright could throw the ball away 37 seconds into the game, and Napier could pop right off the bench to replace him.

Calhoun also defended criticism of Andre Drummond's recent play.

“I’m not saying Andre’s perfect, he made a couple of not-so-good plays, but if he can keep giving us double-doubles, block four shots, it gives us a much better chance to win basketball games," the coach said.

It's also incumbent upon the Huskies to get Jeremy Lamb more than just the nine shots he got against Notre Dame.

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Inside Look at Tilton School

Here's an inside look at the Tilton School, including current UConn targets like Nerlens Noel, Wayne Selden and Goodluck Okonoboh (Alex Oriakhi's cousin).

Tilton, of course, also produced Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, among others. Figured UConn fans might enjoy this.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Here's How I Rank 'Em This Week

Here's my Top 25 this week. Out goes West Virginia, Kansas State, Dayton and Wichita State. Welcome back Louisville, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Harvard. The Crimson sure looked impressive in destroying Yale in a much-anticipated Ivy match-up Friday night.

One small thing I'd like to mention: I'm a little tired of hearing analysts say teams like Murray State and Creighton have a "ceiling" of, say, the Sweet 16. Didn't they learn anything last year from VCU and Butler (and even UConn, a traditional power), who all made the Final Four?

To say a team like Murray State has no chance of reaching New Orleans is just plain silly. Slim chance, sure, but hardly impossible.

1. Kentucky
2. Ohio State
3. Syracuse
4. North Carolina
5. Missouri
6. Duke
7. Baylor
8. Kansas
9. Michigan State
10. Florida
11. Murray State
12. UNLV
13. Creighton
14. St. Mary's
15. Georgetown
16. Marquette
17. San Diego State
18. Gonzaga
19. Virginia
20. Mississippi State
21. Wisconsin
22. Harvard
23. Louisville
24. Florida State
25. Vanderbilt

Boatright Looking to Put Issues Behind Him

Ryan Boatright talked about his recent NCAA issues, and believes they are now a thing of the past:


Boatright Returns to Action

Ryan Boatright returned to action on Sunday in UConn’s 50-48 loss to Notre Dame, scoring six points and doling out a pair of assists in 30 high-energy minutes off the bench. He earned a loud ovation from the 16,294 when he entered the game just over six minutes into play as his second suspension due to eligibility issues officially came to an end.

“It’s finally over with, we can finally put it behind us,” Boatright insisted afterwards. “We don’t have to be worried about me being pulled out again.”

Perhaps, but the ordeal appears far from over. On Sunday morning, Scott W. Tompsett, attorney for Boatright’s mother, Tanesha, issued a statement saying he was “astounded” that the NCAA released confidential information about the case the day before, that much of the NCAA’s information was “false and misleading,” and that the Boatrights are considering legal action.

On Sunday afternoon, the NCAA responded with a statement that said Tompsett’s allegations were not accurate, that its statement on Saturday was factual, that it acted appropriately to ensure false media reports didn’t continue and that it didn’t violate Boatright’s or his family’s privacy in any way.

“In fact,” the NCAA statement said, “both UConn and Mr. Boatright should be commended for their cooperation throughout the process to gather information. The school and student-athlete’s dedication to uncover the facts should be viewed as a positive example … Had Ms. Boatright cooperated fully from the beginning, this matter could have been settled months ago.”

According to the NCAA’s statement on Saturday, Boatright was given limited immunity and allowed to play back in mid-November after a six-game suspension to start the season, but after new information cropped up, his eligibility was still in question until Tanesha Boatright sent the NCAA documents on Friday evening.

Boatright just wants to put the whole situation behind him.

“(The NCAA) shut the whole thing down, no more questions, nothing about anything,” he insisted. “They say it’s over with.”

Asked about what it meant for him to get limited immunity in exchange for honest testimony, he said: “I’ve been cooperating fully the whole time … I don’t even know what the word (immunity) meant, I had never heard it before my whole life.”

And he added that he had no idea of any possible pending legal action: “Whatever my mom and the lawyer have going on, that’s with them.”

Boatright, who has been practicing with the Huskies all along, appeared a tad rusty, missing all three of his 3-pointers.

“I’m sure that Ryan was trying to work out a lot of kinks,” said Jim Calhoun. “He’s always going to give a very good effort. He’s a very good basketball player, and I think he has a great future at UConn.”

Added Jeremy Lamb: “He was Ryan. He was doing what he does. Just like everybody else today, he missed some open shots. I missed open shots, ‘Bazz missed open shots. He definitely played good ‘D,’ tried to give us energy, but everybody wasn’t tuned in.”

Indeed, at times it appeared Boatright was UConn’s only source of energy in the ugly loss.

“I’ve been practicing, but practicing and game-conditioning are a whole other thing,” he explained. “I’m back now, we’re going to hit the ground running, pull together as a team and try to make a run like last year.”

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NCAA Counters Tompsett's Claims

As the awful Limp Bizkit once sang (shouted): "It's all about the he said, she said bull(bleep)."

The NCAA is countering Scott Tompsett's statement (see below post) from this morning. Big time.

Scott Tompsett’s allegations are not accurate. The NCAA statement regarding Ryan Boatright is factual and in response to numerous public misstatements and the resulting inaccurate reporting by some media. The NCAA acted appropriately to ensure the misleading accounts did not continue. The NCAA did not violate the student-athlete or family’s privacy in anyway, nor did it imply that the benefits were used to influence Ryan Boatright to attend the University of Connecticut.

In fact, both UCONN and Mr. Boatright should be commended for their cooperation throughout the process to gather information. The school and student-athlete’s dedication to uncover the facts should be viewed as a positive example, not somehow construed negatively. Had Ms. Boatright cooperated fully from the beginning, this matter could have been settled months ago.

This one is far from over, folks.

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Boatright's Lawyer Responds

Some strong words from the Boatrights' lawyer, Scott Tompsett:

I am astounded that the NCAA released confidential information about Ryan’s case. Ryan and his mother Tanesha cooperated fully with the NCAA with the clear understanding that the information they provided would be kept confidential and would not be released to the public. The NCAA has violated the Boatrights’ privacy by releasing their personal information.

Moreover, the NCAA’s statement contains false and misleading information. For example, the statement implies that the benefits in question were provided to influence Ryan’s decision either to attend UConn or chose an agent, if and when he goes pro. That is false and the NCAA knows it. In fact, the two individuals who provided the benefits are friends of the Boatrights. They were simply helping the family with no expectation of repayment or reciprocation. And there’s not a shred of evidence that they influenced Ryan’s decision to attend UConn or that they intend to represent Ryan if he ever goes pro. The public also should know that the NCAA never told Tanesha and Ryan who made the accusations about them or told them the substance of the accusations so they could defend themselves. Further, contrary to the NCAA’s statement, neither Tanesha nor Ryan received a car from anyone.

Until the NCAA released its statement, the Boatrights considered this matter closed. But the NCAA’s improper release of private and false information has caused the Boatrights to consider their legal options.

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Susan Herbst on Boatright Situation

UConn president Susan Herbst issued the following statement regarding the Ryan Boatright situation:

"We are pleased that Ryan is now eligible to play basketball, and thank his family, friends, fellow students, faculty, coaches and everyone who has supported him and the university over the last several months.

This young man has shown tremendous patience and poise all the while in the national spotlight. This is a strength of character that is seldom demanded of college freshmen and I am extraordinarily proud of him, our team and our coaching staff.

As far as the process that took place over the last few months, the University does have ideas about how it might be improved and we would like continue this dialogue."

Interesting stuff.

We're also hearing that the Boatright's lawyer, Scott Tompsett, may be planning some sort of lawsuit against the NCAA.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

NCAA Explains Boatright Situation

The NCAA explains the Boatright situation:

This situation involves many of the specific concerns expressed by NCAA membership regarding improper third party influence over student-athletes and their families. Specifically, it included more than $8,000 in cash and other impermissible benefits, including a car. These benefits – which are not allowed because they are inconsistent with the principles and values embraced by the NCAA membership – were provided to Mr. Boatright and his mother both before and while he was at UCONN. These impermissible benefits were provided by at least two individuals linked to nonscholastic basketball and professional sports.

Mr. Boatright was granted limited immunity by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, a committee comprised of NCAA members. The limited immunity allowed him to avoid missing a significant number of games and repaying the impermissible benefits. It was granted in an effort to gather information regarding third party involvement. Limited immunity is an important yet selectively used tool for the enforcement staff to gather information that would not otherwise be available.

The timeline is below:

Early October 2011: UCONN and the NCAA enforcement staff began interviewing individuals and collecting documentation based on numerous credible allegations indicating that several impermissible benefits had been provided to the student-athlete and his mother. The source of the allegations had also provided a significant amount of documentation to substantiate the claims.

Early November 2011: The NCAA enforcement staff agreed with UCONN that the student-athlete should not be allowed to compete based on the evidence collected as of that date. While all the relevant information requested from his mother had not been received, the NCAA agreed with UCONN that it was in the best interests of the student-athlete to go ahead and process the known violations while waiting for the other requested records.

November 18, 2011: Mr. Boatright was reinstated by the NCAA with the condition of a six game withholding and repayment of $4,500 in impermissible benefits to charity. UCONN had declared Mr. Boatright ineligible for preferential treatment violations from two different individuals. The impermissible benefits included travel expenses for his mother during four official visits to NCAA schools and approximately $1,200. In addition, Mr. Boatright was provided travel expenses, hotel, meals and training expenses during a two-night trip to California.

November 26, 2012: Mr. Boatright returns to competition.

January 11, 2012: Mr. Boatright’s mother, through her attorney, provided additional requested documents.

January 13, 2012: After a review of those records, the NCAA enforcement staff and UCONN confirmed that an inappropriate source had been making car payments on behalf of Mr. Boatright’s mother as had been originally reported by the source. At this time, UCONN decided to withhold him from competition.

January 16, 2012: After considering all of the facts and circumstances known at that time, including the fact that the student-athlete was likely the least culpable actor, the enforcement staff extended an offer of immunity to the student-athlete conditioned on full, complete and truthful cooperation by the student-athlete and his mother in pursuing the remaining allegations.

January 17 and 19, 2012: To clarify some remaining concerns, Mr. Boatright and his mother were re-interviewed by the NCAA enforcement staff and UCONN representatives.

January 27, 2012, 7 p.m.: Both the student-athlete and his mother sent the enforcement staff additional records.

January 28, 2012 at 2 p.m.: After reviewing the additional records, the enforcement staff notified the university that the NCAA staff believed that the student-athlete and his mother had fulfilled the conditions of immunity and therefore, the student-athlete was again eligible for competition.


Boatright's Back: 'No Words to Describe It'

Less than 24 hours before UConn played at Notre Dame two weeks ago, it received news that Ryan Boatright’s eligibility was again being questioned by the NCAA and suspended the freshman guard from action.

On Saturday, less than 24 hours before the Huskies were to host the Irish at the XL Center, they received much better news: Boatright has been reinstated and will be available to play tomorrow at noon (SNY).

"I don’t think there are any words to describe it," said Boatright's grandmother, Linda. "It’s been a trying of our faith. I had no doubt in God. We have strong faith and beliefs."

Linda said the family received the news around 4 p.m today.

"God’s timing is perfect timing," she said.

And apparently, the family harbors no ill will towards the NCAA.

"Even in a worst-case scenario," she said, "we believe something good will come out of it."

Boatright has missed nine games this season as the NCAA explored his eligibility. In November, college sports’ governing body handed Boatright a six-game suspension (he had already sat out four games) for allegedly accepting a plane ticket bought for him by his former AAU coach, Reggie Rose.

On Jan. 13, the eve of UConn’s bout with Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the NCAA informed UConn that it was taking another look at Boatright. This time, according to a New York Times report, the NCAA questioned a sum of money deposited into the bank account of Tanesha Boatright, Ryan’s mother.

UConn beat the Irish on Jan. 14 but lost its next two games and has clearly missed the 6-foot guard.

“Having Ryan back, would it make a difference? A huge difference,” Jim Calhoun said on Friday, before Boatright’s latest issue had been resolved.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

No Resolution on Ryan Boatright ... Yet

Wish we could give you more info on Ryan Boatright's situation, but as of right now, there's really nothing new to report.

UConn's compliance staff has been working late hours (until 9 p.m. the other night) trying to get some sort of resolution from Indianapolis, but nothing ... yet.

Here's what Jim Calhoun had to say this afternoon:

"Everybody’s working like crazy, trying to get some resolution right now ... There’s no indication of (whether he'll come back at all), the only indication is we’re trying like crazy to get him back."

"One of the worst parts about it, it hangs there. Ryan has a great day of practice today, it hangs there. It hangs with the kids (saying), ‘If we had him.’ We don’t, right now."

“All of us want to have the best team possible. I think we all would admit – good, bad or indifferent – to not play, to play, to not play can wear on you. I know it wears on me. No one cares about that, nor should they.”

Boatright's teammates obviously want him back, as well.

“He’s the same person. He’s not letting it get him down," said Andre Drummond. "He’s still playing twice as hard in practice. He wants to come back really bad, and I just can’t wait for the day that he gets cleared.”

Elsewhere ...

*** DeAndre Daniels, after "probably the best week of practice of his career," will be back in the starting lineup Sunday, ahead of Niels Giffey.

*** Calhoun said Tyler Olander recently has been "logy. He’s looked logy in games, I don’t know why.”

*** Ex-Huskies Donny Marshall, Kevin Freeman, Kevin Ollie and Tony Robertson have been going against UConn in practice over the past week.

***UConn's Super Bowl predictions:

DRUMMOND: "Patriots. They’ve got Tom Brady, what more could you ask for? I’m from New York, I like the New York Giants, but I think the Patriots might get the best of them.”

JEREMY LAMB: “I kind of want the Giants to win. I don’t really watch too much football … I just want to see a good game. But I think the Giants might be able to pull it off.

CALHOUN: “The Patriots will win, I just can’t give you the (details) … Everybody talks about getting injuries from the Patriots, that’s not gonna happen. When Randy Edsall was here, you were much more likely to get a week in advance injury report from him than you would two hours before the Patriots kick off Super Bowl Sunday.”

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Daniels Overcame Katrina, Now Fighting for Playing Time

As we await word on Ryan Boatright's eligibility moving forward, here's a feature on DeAndre Daniels, who has had quite a path on his way to UConn.

Daniels was forced to evacuate his home near New Orleans and move back to southern California after Hurricane Katrina hit in August, 2005. He still has lots of friends and family in the area who were severely affected by the storm.

Returning to New Orleans for this year's Final Four would be quite a homecoming for Daniels. (Yes, I know, ridiculously premature and, based on UConn's recent play, unrealistic). Still, it's always interesting to see what some of these kids go through before they become D-1 ballplayers.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Huskies Will Sport New Uniforms Sunday

Here's a look at the new Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniform that UConn will wear Sunday against Notre Dame (the women will wear red-trimmed unis on Feb. 27 vs. the Irish).

UConn is the first team in the country to wear the uniforms in game action. Next month, other schools will also wear them: Baylor women, and Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Syracuse men.

The jersey, shorts, shoes, and warmup jacket will be available for purchase Feb. 4.

Lamb Will Get By on Character

Talked to Jeremy Lamb's dad, Rolando, on Jeremy's recent "struggles."

Rolando isn't just the guy who knocked Jim Calhoun out of the 1984 NCAA tournament. He's "America's Character Coach," so he's helping his son get through a time when he's the focal point of UConn's offense and teams are making it very difficult for him to get open and score.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Calhoun Starts New Autism Event

Jim Calhoun has launched a new event: The Jim Calhoun CardioRaiser – Workout for Autism Speaks, presented by Farmington Bank, to help raise important dollars for the autistic community. This family friendly fitness event will take place on Sunday, Feb. 26 at Cardio Express in Manchester and Southington from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Participants will be able to choose from a variety of cardio activities including Zumba, spinning, running or walking on treadmills, stair climbing, elliptical training, or riding a stationary bike. No matter the fitness level – there will be an activity for everyone. Panera Bread will be on site at both locations providing breakfast during registration, lunch during the day and food for the closing celebration at 3 pm.

Said Calhoun: “I am deeply committed to the cause of helping families confronting the many challenges of autism. It is my hope that this event will bring Connecticut families together to raise dollars so important to all those facing this complex neurobiological disorder. I am extremely grateful for all of the community support we have received thus far – presenting sponsor Farmington Bank, Cardio Express, The River 105.9, Country 92.5 and Panera Bread."

The dollars raised will go to the Connecticut Chapter of Autism Speaks and be used to fund global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bring hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder here in Connecticut.

“With Autism becoming a world-wide epidemic and Connecticut statistics of 1 in every 99 children being diagnosed even higher than the national CDC average, it is more important than ever to spread awareness, education and raise funds for research and family services. Autism Speaks in CT is grateful to Coach Calhoun and Farmington Bank for their dedication to this mission. We are hopeful all Connecticut families will support this wonderful event”, said Lauren Joyce Autism Speaks Connecticut Director.

Registration is open to anyone 14 years of age or older. To find out more or to register visit: www.calhouncardioraiser.com or call the event office at 860-674-1500 today.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Top 25 -- No UConn

Sorry, but for the first time this season, UConn is out this week. While losses to Cincinnati and an improving, young Tennessee (on the road) doesn't comprise the worst week in the history of basketball ... well, you saw the same games I did. The Huskies aren't a very good team right now, for a variety of reasons.

Bottom line: there's too much parity in college basketball today to keep a team that's lost two straight and four of its last six in the Top 25 and keep out some burgeoning teams with lesser pedigree. So UConn is out (along with Indiana, Illinois, Cincinnati and New Mexico). I welcome in West Virginia, Kansas State, Dayton, Wichita State and Florida State.

Yeah, I know the Seminoles are only 12-6 overall. Yeah, I know UConn beat them in the Bahamas. But when you beat North Carolina so bad that Roy Williams drags his scholarship players off the court with 14 seconds to go one Saturday, then beat Duke at Cameron Indoor the next, you're worthy of a Top 25 vote.

1. Kentucky
2. Missouri
3. Ohio State
4. Syracuse
5. Kansas
6. North Carolina
7. Duke
8. Baylor
9. Michigan State
10. Georgetown
11. San Diego State
12. UNLV
13. Florida
14. Murray State
15. Creighton
16. St. Mary’s
17. Mississippi State
18. Marquette
19. Gonzaga
20. Virginia
21. West Virginia
22. Kansas State
23. Dayton
24. Wichita State
25. Florida State


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rocky Top, Rocky Times for UConn Right now

Jim Calhoun heavily recruited both Cuonzo Martin and Jarnell Stokes, some 20 years apart.

He didn’t wind up with either. On Saturday, both helped lead Tennessee to a 60-57 victory over the Huskies at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Martin’s hard-nosed, defensive-minded work ethic is starting to rub off on the Vols in his first year at the helm, and it showed on Saturday.

“He was a great kid, he’s obviously evolved into a good coach,” Calhoun said of Martin, who was down to UConn and Purdue before choosing the Boilermakers as a prep recruit back in 1992. “He’s done something that we haven’t done – he’s gotten his team to play hard.”

He later added: “I don’t think Cuonzo needs my advice. I’m not in very much of a position to give advice about teams playing hard.”

UConn’s pursuit of Stokes was far more recent. UConn was one of the final six teams on Stokes’ final list of colleges last spring. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they were sixth.

Just a few days before UConn was slated to have an in-house visit with the Memphis native, Stokes dropped the Huskies from consideration. He wound up selecting Tennessee, and after graduating from high school in December, enrolling at Tennessee just before Christmas and receiving eligibility clearance on Jan. 12, he’s been a force already.

Stokes averaged 10 points in his first two games but easily had his best game against the Huskies, notching a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Stokes just turned 18 two weeks ago.

“He’s a house. He’s huge, man,” said UConn frosh Andre Drummond. “He keeps playing the way he’s playing, he’s going to make some money in this game.”

Stokes was flattered by UConn’s interest, though he never did visit Storrs.

“I definitely love Coach Calhoun and Kevin Ollie,” he said. “I definitely liked their school. Any time you get recruited by the defending champions, you’ve got to pick up his calls, basically.”

Stokes recalled playing against Drummond one summer at the adidas Nation camp.
“We played against each other. I held my own,” he recalled. “I believe we got in a little tussle on the court, but that had nothing to do with this game right here.”

*** There’s not much more Calhoun can or will say about the Ryan Boatright situation. A New York Times report on Friday shed some more light on the issue, however.

The Huskies clearly miss Boatright, and Saturday provided another reason why: without him, UConn can't press nearly as much as it would like.

Trailing late, UConn was forced to press, and that seemed to rattle the Vols, leading to turnovers that helped fuel the Huskies’ comeback bid. But UConn couldn’t press earlier in the game for fear of losing Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb to foul trouble.

“If we had another player who’s not here, we definitely would have,” Calhoun said. “We saw the Georgia game, the 20 turnovers … we have been, at times, a good pressure-type team. But I can’t afford to have either one of those guards out of the game at this particular point. I was in a quandary, to some degree … To lose them early would have been suicidal, I think.”

Some stats and quotes to chew on:

*** Lamb and Napier combined for 27 of UConn's 30 second-half points. Too often, the Huskies offensive sets were one-and-done possessions consisting entirely of Lamb or Napier taking off-balance jumpers late in the shot clock and the Vols grabbing the offensive board.

There are myriad reasons why, not the least of which is the ineffectiveness of the big men inside. Alex Oriakhi had five points before fouling out. Drummond had six points and nine rebounds (I missed most of the latter).

"You get bumped on a screen or set a screen, you either stay on it or you back off it," said Calhoun. "Those kind of plays, boxing out on a couple of foul shots. Not posting – who are you going to throw it to? Alex occasionally, maybe. Nobody else made a presence in there ... I'm disappointed, perplexed, why some of these guys aren’t growing."

It's also worth noting that Tyler Olander didn't put up a single shot in 18 minutes of action. In fact, UConn got zero points from its four players off the bench.

“In the final analysis of 40 minutes, we got outworked,” Calhoun said afterwards. “That’s something I hate, despise, I don’t sleep (after) saying that. But they outworked us.”

*** Don't blame the refs, either.

“It was a physical game, very well-officiated, in my opinion,” Calhoun noted. “I have no problem with the officiating whatsoever. They allowed the game to be physical, and they were more physical than us. Thus, they won the game.”

*** Napier's not going to get on the big men too much.

“I’m supposed to, but they’ve been getting yelled at all day," he said. "I’m not going to yell at them. I’m going to tell them the truth: they need to score more and rebound more. But there’s a lot of things I need to do better. I need to be a better leader, a better scorer, a better distributor. Just because they had two bad games, they’re going down there and working hard. Everybody has to play better.”

*** UConn doesn't play again until hosting Notre Dame on Jan. 29, giving it eight days to sit on this loss.

“It’s tough to sit on it for a day,” said Napier.

*** Calhoun still has faith in his big men.

“I love those kids, and I’m not giving up on them by any stretch of the imagination.”

*** Gotta seriously consider dropping UConn from my Top 25 this week. Had 'em at 13, so that's a big drop. Lots of other teams lost, and losing to Cincy and Tennessee on the road isn't the worst week ever. Still, can't imagine I'll have them any higher than 22-23, if at all.

We'll have some video a little later. Do come back ...

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Huskies Back Pat

Here's a look at the "We Back Pat" t-shirts UConn is wearing today during pregame warm-ups. On the front it says "I Bleed Blue and White, but I Wear Purple to Back Pat," and on the back it reads, "I Back Pat." It's all to show support for Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, who went public with her diagnosis of early onset dementia, Alzheimer's this summer at the age of 59.

In fact, this was "We Back Pat" week in the SEC. During all 17 women's and 12 men's basketball games since Jan. 15, the home teams made various efforts to increase awareness of trhe Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.

*** Prior to heading over to Thompson-Boling Arena, had a nice lunch down the road with Dom Amore and Ed Daigneault. Name of the joint? Calhoun's. How ironic.

Jim Calhoun will not be a happy man if UConn loses today to Tennessee. The Vols have some talent, but they are 8-10 overall, 1-3 in the SEC, and have lost three in a row. They've beaten Florida at home and lost to Kentucky by three, and gotten a nice bump from recent addition Jarnell Stokes. But still.

Impressive young man, this Stokes: graduated from Southwind High in December and received final eligibility clearance to play at Tennessee about 10 days ago. Was a high school honors student and a chess enthusiast who has won multiple junior tournaments. Just turned 18 two weeks ago. He's 6-8, 250 wears a size 20 shoe (Shaq wore size 22, Wilt and Yao both wor 18), and averaging 10 points and six boards in his first two games.

Anyway, a loss today, with eight days before UConn's next game, would leave a bad taste in Calhoun's mouth.

*** A bunch of UConn donors will be making the trip to today's game, flying out of Hartford in the morning and returning by evening. Their charter plane has already logged plenty of miles.

Last night, with the UConn women's team's flights to Chicago cancelled, the donor plane was summoned to fly the Huskies to the Midwest. Due to weather, Indianapolis was as far as they could go, so they were dropped off there and bussed 2 1/2 hours to Chicago.

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Live Chat today from Knoxville

I'll be hosting a live chat from courtside at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville for today's UConn-Tennessee game. The chat starts at 3:30 p.m., game begins at 4.

Hope to see you there.

Friday, January 20, 2012

UConn Supports Summitt, Still Missing Boatright

Greeetings from Knoxville, where tomorrow's UConn-Tennessee game will unfold. Hotel's right next door to the Women's College Basketball Hall of Fame.

In that vein, UConn will be supporting Tennessee's Hall of Fame women's coach Pat Summitt tomorrow by sporting "Back Pat" t-shirts during pregame warm-ups. The t-shirts will read: "I Bleed Blue and White, But Wear Purple to Back Pat."

Summitt, of course, went public with her diagnosis of dementia in late August and has formed a foundation in support of Alzheimer's programs.

“We’re more than happy to support Pat Summitt, whom I’ve been friendly with for a long period of time," Jim Calhoun said.

In other news:

*** Nothing new on Ryan Boatright, who didn't make the trip.

“Obviously we’ll miss him," Calhoun said. "We certainly could use Ryan, but we’ve really pushed Brendan (Allen).”

With that in mind, Calhoun got a kick the other day out of one of the rare e-mails he reads.

“I don’t see many e-mails because I don’t necessarily have a place you can get to me, but I did see one (which said) we should have taken Shabazz out when we got the lead for a little bit of rest," the coach said. "I felt like writing back, ‘You mean, so he could make three 3-pointers in a row from, like, 25 feet with 1:28 to go in the game, because he was so fatigued?’”

Enosch Wolf isn't here, either. He had to take two exams that he missed earlier while suffering from a concussion, but the second exam has yet to be posted, so he was left behind in Storrs.

*** Niels Giffey is back in the starting lineup, replacing DeAndre Daniels.

*** Jeremy Lamb is 3-for-19 on 3-pointers the last four games, and his patented floater so prevalent in last year's title run has been MIA.

Said Calhoun: “Jeremy’s just got to shake out of this, move quicker, come off screens better … They’re gapping him so he can’t drive, they’re muscling him low and on top of screens so he can’t quite get free. He’s got to find a way to get free.”

*** Michael Bradley won't play tomorrow (and maybe the rest of the season), but he'll have about a good amount of fans cheering him and UConn on.

Bradley spent much of his childhood at the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, about 90 miles down the road in Chattanooga. Lynn Jordan, one of the home's organizers who has developed a close bond with Bradley over the years, will bring about 40 kids currently living at the home to see the game. The tickets were donated to the children's home by a couple from the Knoxville area.

"A lot of our churches around the area do things for us at Christmas," Jordan explained. "Several churches have met Michael and knew him when he was living here. They've kept track of him."

Most of the kids have never met Bradley, but are aware of his story. There is a plaque in Bradley's honor inside the home's gym, and the cottage he lived in still has his picture in it.

Jordan said she was happy that Bradley wound up not having to surrendering his scholarship so that Andre Drummond could play at UConn, but didn't offer any details.

"I think just it worked out that he didn't have to," she said.

Calhoun said Bradley (who fractured his ankle back in the fall) is still noticeably limping in practice.

“There’s a chance that ankle won’t be better for a year," Calhoun said. "He really had extensive surgery, he was out an incredibly long time, so there’s a chance he may not get into a game this year.”

*** UConn is 1-1 all-time against Tennessee, beating the Vols last season at Gampel, 72-61, in a game where Bruce Pearl emerged from his 8-game SEC suspension to coach the non-conference tilt. Pearl, of course, was fired after the season. His opinion is still highly valued by a local sports talk radio show, though (he's a regular guest, apparently).

The Vols are now coached by former Cuonzo Martin, who was heavily recruited by Calhoun in the early-1990's. Martin's final two choices, in fact, came down to Purdue and UConn.

*** This is the second time Tennessee has faced UConn with the Huskies as defending national champs. In a second-round NCAA tournament game on March 19, 2000, the Vols posted a 65-51 win in Birmingham, Ala. Khalid El-Amin was bothered by an ankle injury and held to just one basket.

*** Lucky 13? Tennessee's big home upset over Florida two weeks ago came when the Gators were ranked 13th nationally, as the Huskies are (for now).

*** One more note on Tennessee: I tuned into the Classic Rock radio station on the drive from Nashville to Knoxville (don't ask). Most of the standard fare: Zeppelin, Springsteen, etc., etc. Then came Black Oak Arkansas, a heavy-handed Southern rock band that (I think) was pretty big in the early 70's. You certainly don't hear them on the radio anymore, at last north of the Mason Dixon line.

Their front man was a wild guy named Jim Dandy, whom David Lee Roth has admitted to nicking parts of his act. Roth took it to a much higher, more entertaining level, of course. Unfortunately, Roth's voice now sounds like what Dandy's used to sound like.

And if you don't believe DLR took part of his act from Jim Dandy, watch Black Oak Arkansas's "Jim Dandy to the Rescue.", then watch Van Halen's "So This is Love."

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cincinnati Bungle

Jim Calhoun didn't name names. He didn't have to.

“I just had a little talk with Kemba about a couple of players he played with, and he said, ‘It doesn’t look like them,'" Calhoun said following UConn's 70-67 loss to Cincinnati. "And that’s exactly how I feel, too ... I like what Kemba said ... 'Those aren’t the same guys I played with. Or at least they didn’t play that way tonight.'”

Specifically, he was referring to Alex Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb, Walker's former teammates. And though he was never officially a teammate of Andre Drummond's, he may as well have mentioned him, as well.

Oriakhi had just two points, Drummond just four, along with three turnovers as he looked completely out of sort and made too many short interior passes, rather than taking the ball strong to the hole.

"I thought we had a great advantage inside, it didn’t look like that worked out very well," Calhoun said. "We were jumping and throwing one-foot passes inside. That’s very disappointing.

"When you start game the with a 6-10, 280-pound guy, and another guy who’s 6-9, 245 pounds, and they can’t rebound or you can’t throw them the ball … that was our game plan, and it didn’t work out very well for us.”

Lamb finished with 14 points, second only to Shabazz Napier's career-high 27. But Lamb hardly escaped Calhoun's wrath -- including once during a timeout, when the sophomore guard seemed to turn his head and ignore Calhoun's castigation.

What wasn't working for Lamb tonight?

“Total game package might be a good word," Calhoun said. "He’s a guy we want to go to, and he got 12 shots up, which is remarkable he even got that many up. He wasn’t very good.”

Calhoun said Napier "wasn’t great, but I thought he was gutty and competitive ... Roscoe played better the other night, but he worked hard. Niels gave us a pretty good effort."

Otherwise, he didn't have much good to say about anybody. Check that, there was one other player who got a compliment -- Brendan Allen, a walk-on. Allen came into the game a little over seven minutes into the action when Napier left with what appeared to be an injured knee. Allen made the most of his two minutes, scoring on a nice driving layup to give UConn a 15-14 lead before Napier returned.

“Maybe I should play Brandon Allen more minutes," Calhoun said, only half-kiddingly. "At least he had enough guts to take it to the rim, and didn’t look like he was gonna fumble it.”

*** Not to make excuses, but Drummond said yesterday he was battling a bad cold and after the game reported on Twitter that he was "sick as a dog." And certainly, the Huskies miss Ryan Boatright.

“Would Ryan have helped? Clearly," said Calhoun. "We didn’t have Ryan … stuff happens. The guys we had were good enough to win tonight’s game.”

*** Niels Giffey said his last-second, three-quarter court heave "felt good. It felt really good. But, that happens. You can’t win a game with a last shot like that … we had so many chances.”

*** I had a bit of trepidition voting for Cincy for the AP Top 25 on Sunday, but the Bearcats seem to have proven me right. Good, tough team. Seven straight Big East road wins. Very impressive. They've obviously got some size and strength in Yancy Gates, but they're 3-point shooting and ability to force turnovers gives them a whole new dimension.

*** DeAndre Daniels started but went scoreless in six minutes. He was in the gym, shooting and working out, long after the game had ended.

That's all we've got for now ...

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Kemba's Mom in the House

Kemba Walker's mom, Andrea, is at Gampel tonight, sporting here UConn, No. 15 jersey. Maybe that's not entirely surprising, as she's from New York (though now lives in Charlotte with Kemba).

"I'm a UConn fan for life!" she said.

What was more surprising was seeing Andrea at the Notre Dame game in South Bend on Saturday -- even though Kemba's Bobcats were hosting Golden State that night.

No fear -- Andrea flew out of South Bend after the 11 a.m. game and made it to Charlotte to cheer on her son, who she says is doing well and enjoying NBA life.

Perhaps we'll be able to ask him about it later -- Kemba is expected to be at tonight's game, as well.


*** Nothing new on Ryan Boatright to this point, though his Tweet about an hour ago was interesting: Lets get this W tonight Fellas. I hope i get dis leash of my neck soon and be back down. #FreeBoat

Both Boatright and Enosch Wolf are in civvies on the bench right now.

*** There are nine NBA scouts/GM's credentialed for tonight's game, including Danny Ferry of the Cavs.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New-Look Cincy Comes to Town

I could be way off-base here, so give me a minute.

The Cincy-Xavier brawl back on Dec. 10 has been labeled one of college basketball's ugliest incidents in years. Yancy Gates' right hook to Kenny Frease's face certainly is an ugly lasting image of the whole situation. At 6-9, 260 pounds (at least), Gates is lucky he didn't cause further harm to Frease than just the nasty gash under his left eye.

“It was crazy," Jeremy Lamb recalled. "It was a competitive game and stuff got out of hand. I watched it a couple of times.”

Added Andre Drummond: “I heard one thing led to another and bad things happened. It’s a good thing they cleared that whole thing up.”

Oddly, both players were asked if they believed a similar incident could erupt tomorrow night.

“No, I don’t expect to see us fighting, no," a perplexed Lamb responded.

“We’re just going to go out and play basketball," added Drummond. "We’re not looking to fight anybody. We’re just trying to win the basketball game.”

Gates and numerous others were suspended (rightly so, some perhaps not as long as they should have been). It was an ugly incident that has no place in the game of college basketball.

But here's a question I really would appreciate some help on: Why do we get all up in arms about college basketball kids doing something that happens in NHL games every single night. Every. Single. Night.

In all seriousness, if anyone can answer this one, I'd appreciate it. I honestly can't understand why fighting in hockey is encouraged so much, but I could very well be missing something here.

Anyway, on to UConn:

*** Jim Calhoun wasn't overly happy with practice today, cursing and raising his voice at times. He was happier with Monday's practice, however.

*** Cincy has taken the negative of the Xavier brawl and turned it into a positive. With Gates suspended for six games, the Bearcats converted into a pressing, 3-point gunning team, with very positive results.

“They’re an open team now, they put four outside," said Calhoun. "They were forced into it, and by doing so, when you’re forced into a situation, it turns out to be good for you.”

The Bearcats are 14-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big East, their best start in conference play since joining the league in 2005. Cincinnati has won nine of its last 10 games overall and nine of its last 11 Big East regular season games.

Perhaps most impressively, the Bearcats have won six straight and eight of their last nine Big East road games.

Cincy has won five of its last seven regular-season games against ranked foes.

*** Calhoun on the Big East: "It's a league that makes no sense from 2 to 16 ... There’s a one, far and away, and no clear two as I can see it.”

*** DeAndre Daniels turned his ankle during practice and limped off the floor. After about 10 minutes, he rejoined the action and seemed fine. However, he was helped off the court by trainer James Doran and a teammate afterwards.

Also, Tyler Olander still isn't 100-percent but is better than he was Saturday, when he was limited to six minutes against Notre Dame. Calhoun fully expects him to play tomorrow night.

*** No word on Ryan Boatright, but it appears he won't be playing tomorrow. If Shabazz Napier and/or Jeremy Lamb get into foul trouble, would Calhoun have faith in walk-on Brendan Allen, who hasn't played in a month?

“I do have faith in him," the coach said, "he just hasn’t had the experience yet, so he’s hard to throw in the midst of a game. But if need be, we certainly will.”

*** Former UConn guard Tony Robertson played on the "Green Team" in practice today. He's on campus taking some classes in order to graduate.

Robertson looked pretty smooth burying some 3-pointers (though his defensive intensity was, shall we say, less than stellar).

*** Tomorrow night will be UConn's first game at Gampel since a Dec. 8 bout with Harvard. That's a span of some 41 days and eight games.

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Lamb a Wooden Candidate

UConn sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb has been named a Top-25 candidate for the Wooden Award, as announced today by The Los Angeles Athletic Club. Lamb is one of four BIG EAST Conference selections for one of the nation’s most prestigious awards.

The Huskies had two player selected to the preseason Wooden Award Watch List. Junior big man Alex Oriakhi (Lowell, Mass.) was not selected for the Midseason Top-25.

Joining Lamb from the BIG EAST are Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Syracuse’s Kris Joseph. North Carolina led all teams with three players selected.

Here's the list:

Name Ht. Yr. Pos. University Conference
Harrison Barnes 6-8 So. F North Carolina ACC
Will Barton 6-6 So. G Memphis Conference USA
William Buford 6-6 Sr. G Ohio State Big Ten
Anthony Davis 6-10 Fr. F Kentucky SEC
Marcus Denmon 6-3 Sr. G Missouri Big 12
Draymond Green 6-7 Sr. F Michigan State Big Ten
John Henson 6-11 Jr. F North Carolina ACC
John Jenkins 6-4 Jr. G Vanderbilt SEC
Orlando Johnson 6-5 Sr. G UC Santa Barbara Big West
Darius Johnson-Odom 6-2 Sr. G Marquette Big East
Kevin Jones 6-8 Sr. F West Virginia Big East
Perry Jones III 6-11 So. F Baylor Big 12
Kris Joseph 6-7 Sr. F Syracuse Big East
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6-7 Fr. F Kentucky SEC
Jeremy Lamb 6-5 So. G/F Connecticut Big East
Damian Lillard 6-3 Jr. G Weber State Big Sky
Scott Machado 6-1 Sr. G Iona MAAC
Doug McDermott 6-7 So. F Creighton Missouri Valley
Mike Moser 6-8 So. F UNLV Mountain West
Arnett Moultrie 6-11 Jr. F Mississippi State SEC
Thomas Robinson 6-10 Jr. F Kansas Big 12
Mike Scott 6-8 Sr. F Virginia ACC
Jared Sullinger* 6-9 So. F Ohio State Big Ten
Cody Zeller 6-11 Fr. F Indiana Big Ten

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Monday, January 16, 2012

My Top 25 This Week

Here's my AP Top 25 I submitted last night. Welcomed in Cincinnati, which comes to town Wednesday to play UConn. The Bearcats are 14-4 overall, 4-1 in the Big East, including a win at Georgetown a week ago. They've won nine of their last 10 and have won six straight Big East road games (dating back to last year, of course). They've obviously put that ugly brawl with Xavier behind them.

Ironic, though, that Yancy Gates will be playing Wednesday night and Ryan Boatright -- in all likelilhood -- won't be.

In adding Cincy, I wound up bouncing Louisville. I almost never drop a team from No. 12 to unranked, but I can't get that ugly loss at Providence last week out of my head. That was the Cardinals fourth loss in five games, and their win later over the week over DePaul wasn't enough to change my mind, either.

1. Syracuse

2. Kentucky

3. Baylor

4. Ohio State

5. Missouri

6. North Carolina

7. Duke

8. Kansas

9. Michigan State

10. Georgetown

11. San Diego State

12. UNLV

13. UConn

14. Florida

15. Indiana

16. Murray State

17. Mississippi State

18. Virginia

19. Creighton

20. St. Mary’s

21. Gonzaga

22. Illinois

23. Marquette

24. Cincinnati

25. New Mexico

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

No Irish Need Apply

Nice win by UConn, eh? True, Notre Dame's just not that good, but still. UConn snaps Notre Dame's 29-game home winning streak. Three years earlier the Huskies had snapped Notre Dame's 45-game home streak, its longest ever. Impressive.

Lots of stuff to blog about today. Here we go:

Roscoe Smith insisted that his reduced role in recent times hasn't affected him, and that's believable. The 6-foot-8 sophomore always seems to have the same upbeat, devil-may-care demeanor -- even after going scoreless in three of his prior four games.

“It hasn’t been frustrating,” Smith insisted. “It’s just something I’ve been going through, it’s part of basketball. I went through it in high school and I went through it in middle school. I just love to be around the staff and the players. I just love to be out there and contribute any way I can.”

Smith really came up big for the Huskies today, coming off the bench for 10 points and six rebounds -- including a trio of key offensive boards in the latter half -- in just 15 minutes of action.

What is it that led to Roscoe -- a stalwart on last year's national title team -- to see a grand total of just 22 minutes in UConn's prior four games?

“(Lack of) a position," Jim Calhoun explained. "Before Tyler banged his heel up and maybe a little before that, Tyler was really, really valuable to us – and still is … For the past two days, (Smith) has been with the starting team. That rotation has worked well. He’s earned himself more playing time. It’s like everything else: sometimes, unless it really happens, you don’t believe it’s going to happen."

Smith's best sequence came early in the latter half. On consecutive possessions he grabbed tough offensive rebounds, putting one back for his first basket in three games (and second in five games), and getting fouled and converting both freebies on the other.

A short while later, Smith grabbed an offensive board to keep another possession alive. He wound up sinking a 15-footer on that possession.

"Roscoe, last year, played 25 minutes on a national championship team, started most of our games, and kind of just expected he was going to do that this year," Calhoun continued. "But Tyler had a good summer, and Tyler expected to start. They had a good battle.”

Smith's position this season has primarily been power forward, as opposed to small forward. He's fine with that.

“I just like being on the court," he said. "I’m a basketball player. I don’t really go by numbers. Anything I can do – rebound, play defense – I’m willing to do.”

Can Roscoe continue his good play moving forward?

“I plan on doing it … ‘we’ plan on doing it," he said. "Our new motto is ‘we.’ We plan on doing it.”

*** That's the kind of attitude Olander has always displayed. He was a real gamer today, as a game-time decision with a really sore, bruised right heel. In six short minutes, Olander squeezed in four points and four rebounds -- then plenty of encouragement from the bench.

“It’s the small, little things that make a coach happy,” said Calhoun. “The enthusiasm that Tyler had on the bench. He got into the game, made his two foul shots and twice made us break pressure. That’s what a team’s all about.”

*** Oh, and of course, Alex Oriakhi. Twelve points, seven rebounds. Very active defensively. We're not gonna give you the obligatory "Alex is back" stuff, but ... well, he just may be back after two strong games in a row.

“I never get too, too excited, because you’ve got a game in a few days, he said. "Anything can happen then. I’m just happy I was able to play, and we were able to win.”

Calhoun said Oriakhi looks "happier. He's one of the greatest kids in the world. He was very effective tonight, obviously.”

*** Ryan Boatright apparently really did have about 300 friends and family scattered throughout the building. Dennis Shamblin, a sports booster and graduate of East Aurora (Ill.) High (Boatright's alma mater), was one of them. Shamblin and his wife, Debbie, had dozens of UConn shirts with Boatright's name and number on the back made for the game by Spiritwear Wholesales in St. Charles, Ill., where Debbie is a sales consultant.

The Shamblins were obviously disappointed not to get to see Boatright play. They know about as much as we currently know about what the NCAA is looking into, only that it's something that happened long before he enrolled at UConn.

UConn got the news about Boatright at around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, shortly after arriving at its team hotel in South Bend. Calhoun pulled Boatright out of a team dinner to tell him he'd have to sit out the game -- and possibly many others.

“He was in my arms when I told him," the coach said. "He was in my arms, that’s all I can tell you … I’m not going to do anything that’s going to hurt Ryan Boatright. I feel a lot about it, but I have nothing to say about it.”

His teammates did.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that the NCAA would do that to him, especially a game where it’s close to home for him," said Oriakhi. "He had a lot of people come out to see him play. But we were able to get the win. Coach said guys are going to have to step up without Ryan, and we did that.”

Oriakhi added that Boatright was "upset, like anybody would be. But there’s not much you can do. He just has to wait it out and see what happens. He’s definitely upset, and he had every reason to be.”

Added Shabazz Napier: “It was kind of short notice. I really missed him a lot. He does a lot for this team. He comes out with that energy burst. We had to play without him today, but hopefully we won’t have to play without him at Cincinnati.”

Said Roscoe: "We dedicated this game to Ryan Boatright."

*** Napier played all 40 minutes (as did Jeremy Lamb) and may have to get used to that while Boatright is out.

"Me and Jeremy can’t be too aggressive on defense," he said. "It kinda takes away from our game."

Napier had a team-high 15 points but Lamb had a season-low six points on 3-for-11 shooting. UConn found a way to win, anyway.

“We’re not going to get used to that or anything," Oriakhi grinned. "We know Jeremy’s going to play like the old Jeremy. But it definitely gives us confidence. It shows guys can step up. To get a road win in the Big East is definitely hard.”

*** I showed up to Purcell Pavilion at about 7:45 a.m. on Saturday, and Mike Brey was already in the midst of leading his team through a pretty thorough pregame practice.

UConn showed up around 8:45 a.m. and definitely was vocal and spirited during its shootaround.

“We were energized," Calhoun said. "We had a pretty emotional talk about, ‘It’s about us.’ We can’t control the world, but we can control what we do.”

*** UConn held Notre Dame to 32-percent shooting. The Irish canned five 3-pointers in the first half ut were 1-for-15 from beyond the arc in the latter.

"We really, really defended," said Calhoun.

“When you’re a coach, that’s the biggest thing you want, when your team is thrown a challenge, as we were last night around 6:30, 7 p.m.,” said Calhoun. “I thought we responded great.”

*** An 11 a.m. start (and 6:50 a.m. wake-up call), the Boatright situation, and John Cahill on the whistle. This had the potential to be a cranky day for Calhoun. Instead, he was all smiles afterwards.

“When you’re a coach, that’s the biggest thing you want, when your team is thrown a challenge, as we were last night around 6:30, 7 p.m. I thought we responded great.”

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Live Blog Right Now

Please join me for a live blog/chat from courtside of Notre Dame-UConn game.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Boatright Out For Notre Dame Game

Ryan Boatright said he expected some 400 friends and family to watch him play Saturday morning at Notre Dame. They won't be getting the chance.

Boatright will be held out of tomorrow's game as the NCAA and UConn reviews his eligibility. This development arises from additional information provided by the NCAA that pertains to conditions and events that pre-date UConn's relationship with Boatright.

Boatright will continue to practice with the team and may sit on the bench during games, but will not dress or see action while the joint review takes place.

He was suspended for UConn's first six games this season for receiving improper benefits dating back to his high school/AAU days.

Boatright hails from Aurora, Ill., just outside Chicago, and expected a whole lot of family and friends to make the 1 1/2-hour trip to South Bend.

UConn may also be without Tyler Olander, who participated in a good portion of practice Friday but will be a game-time decision tomorrow, depending on how his bruised right heel feels.


Live Blog Tomorrow from South Bend

Please join me as a live blog from courtside of Saturday's UConn-Notre Dame game at the Joyce Center in South Bend. We'll start at 10:30 a.m. (game starts at 11 a.m.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Calhoun, Boatright, Napier Talk Notre Dame

Jim Calhoun talks about Notre Dame, the improvement of Irish forward Jack Cooley, and what the Huskies need to do to win Saturday. Also, Ryan Boatright talks about how he could have about 400 friends and family cheering him on at Purcell Pavilion, and Shabazz Napier talks about how Boatright must handle a hostile environment.

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UConn Heads Straight into the Storm

The nation's first real snowstorm of the new year appears to be brewing as we speak, and UConn (and the writers that cover it) will be heading straight into the teeth of it.

Some 10-16 inches of snow are expected to fall in South Bend over the next couple of days. It's supposed to be particularly brutal tonight through tomorrow.

UConn is slated to practice at Gampel tomorrow, then take a 2 p.m. flight out of Bradley straight to South Bend. We'll see.

Saturday's game, of course, is an 11 a.m. start, in an attempt by ESPN to avoid going up against NFL playoff games. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey doesn't see the early start as a big deal.

“I don’t really think it’s a factor," he said. "When you’re practicing preseason, you’re weekend practices are usually 10, 11 a.m."

Alex Oriakhi doesn't think much of it, either.

“You’re not used to playing so early, but we practice pretty early, too, so it’s really not an excuse," he said. "You’ve got to get used to it. We practice at 8 a.m., so it shouldn’t make a difference. It’s basketball.”

But guess who does have a big problem with the 11 a.m. start?

“I’m not crazy about it," said Jim Calhoun. "I continue to say it’s a bad idea for everybody involved. Nine o’clock (p.m.) games are bad for people, and I don’t think 11 a.m. games are good … It’s the way things are, I guess you’ve got to live with it.”

*** UConn may be without Tyler Olander on Saturday. He's sat out the last two practices with a bruised right heel that's hurting him pretty badly. It happened in the West Virginia game.

DeAndre Daniels is expected to reclaim his starting spot over Niels Giffey, and Roscoe Smith will be the first power forward off the bench if Olander can't go.

Said Oriakhi, of the possibility of Olander being out: “I’m just looking at it as an opportulnity to hopefully play more minutes. I’ve got to step in there if he’s not able to go.”

*** Ryan Boatright, who hails from Aurora, Ill., just outside Chicago (about 120 miles from South Bend), says he could have some 400 friends and family at Saturday's game. Yup, 400.

Boatright is most looking forward to seeing his brother, Deahjay McAllister, who's now starting at point guard for Aurora High.

"It’s been a while since I’ve seen my little brother. I haven’t seen him since I left in the summertime ... The fans back at home aren’t really used to seeing me lose.”

*** As always, Shabazz Napier had some interesting things to say:

(on going scoreless in the win over West Virginia)

“I don’t look at how much I score, I look at how much we score. I’m not worried about that ... All my shots, except for the last one, were wide-open. I shot too strong, sometimes too short … Lamb and Andre finished around the basket, so I’m not worried about my shots not going in.”

(on his team's biggest problem)

“We’d be undefeated if we didn’t turn the ball over a lot. That has to do with myself, with Ryan, some of my other teammates.”

(on his comments after the Rutgers game that he didn't feel his teammates viewed him as a leader)

“I’m not even worried about that anymore. If it happens, it happens. We’ll find (a leader) sooner or later. We’re going to win games and lose games without a leader. I feel as though if we play team basketball, we should be fine. Within that, we’ll find a leader.”

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Excuse for Hitting Players, Jim

Although I was at the UConn-Rutgers game Saturday night, I didn't see Jim Calhoun's interaction with DeAndre Daniels during a late-game timeout. Too busy tweeting and writing a game story.

I hadn't even heard of the alleged incident until a few days later, and didn't see the video until this evening. After watching it, there is no doubt in my mind that Calhoun hit Daniels. There is also no doubt in my mind that it is not a fireable offense, in the vein of Bob Knight or Woody Hayes. Or, you could argue, past incidents by Calhoun, as detailed in this column by the Courant's Jeff Jacobs that needed to be written.

Two or three years ago, I saw Calhoun hit Stanley Robinson in the abdomen with both (open) hands, out near the middle of the floor after callling a timeout. Really whacked him hard. A collective gasp could be heard from the first 10 or so rows behind UConn's bench. Nothing was made of it by any writer -- myself included. Maybe I should have, maybe not. Just Jim being Jim, y'know?

But there's no room for that. I don't even believe there's room for Calhoun's in-your-face screaming at Ryan Boatright the other night. We laugh about it, tweet about it, and the players usually seem to be able to brush it off pretty quickly. But there's no need to embarass an 18-year-old kid like that before 15,000 people and on national TV. Why? Because he made you look bad, Jim?

Calhoun is a tremendous coach, even a bit underrated (you rarely hear his name mentioned in the same breath as Coach K, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Dean Smith, even though he's got more national titles than Smith and as many as Knight). Perhaps no one in the history of the sport has done a better job at building a program from nothing than Calhoun.

But there's no room for making physical contact with kids, no matter how innocuous it may seem.

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11 O'Clock Tick Tock

So why is UConn's game at South Bend on Saturday an 11 a.m. start? Blame the NFL.

ESPN and the Big East want to avoid going head-to-head with NFL playoff games at any measure. With Saturday's NFL games at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., the UConn-Notre Dame game will be long over by the time people start tuning into NFL pregame shows and the like (though ESPN's own NFL Countdown runs from 10 a.m. to noon that day; the UConn game is on espn2).

And the game is an 11 a.m. local start, too. South Bend is on Eastern Standard Time. So it's not really that big a deal that the game starts at 11 a.m. rather than noon (even though the losing coach might gripe about it).

*** As for the game itself, while Notre Dame may be a bit down this season with the loss ot Farmington's Tim Abromaitis, it has won 29 straight home games, including last night's win over South Florida.

Remember, there is no such thing as an easy road game in the Big East -- unless your Cincinnati. Somehow, the Bearcats have won six straight Big East road games, including Monday night's upset of No. 11 Georgetown.

And, of course, UConn host Cincy next Wednesday at Gampel.

*** Finally, here's my story today about the maturation process of Andre Drummond.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Coaches

Jim Calhoun was in a relatively good mood after UConn's win over West Virginia Monday night. Predictably, Bob Huggins wasn't.

Also, Ryan Boatright talks about the ... ahem ... conversation that Jim Calhoun had with him at midcourt on Monday, as well as his big steal.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Calhoun: 'They May Throw Me Out, But I'm Gonna Fight'

I'm not fully prepared to credit Jim Calhoun's technical foul for UConn's renewed vigor and intensity over the final 11 minutes or so Monday night.

Several players, after all, said they didn't even know Calhoun had been slapped with a 'T' by Pat Driscoll after arguing an Andre Drummond over-the-back foul during a timeout.

"We didn't even pay attention," claimed Ryan Boatright.

But some inspired talk by Calhoun at some point after that 'T' certainly did seem to light a fire under the Huskies, who suddenly started to rebound and defend with urgency. Drummond and Jeremy Lamb stepped up big-time, an effective zone press certainly helped as well, and UConn rallied to victory.

“I told them, ‘If we’re not going to fight, they might throw me out of here, but I’m going to fight,’” Calhoun said. “(The technical) wasn’t planned, but we just couldn’t keep them going the way we were going.”

Added Boatright: "Coach has got our back, he’s on the refs. If he sees something going on, he tells us not to say anything to the refs and he’ll take care of it.”

Ah, Boatright. A real trick-or-treat player, someone who is going to draw Calhoun's ire quite a bit over the next few years. He certainly did on Monday. With about 14 1/2 minutes left and UConn trailing by five, Boatright threw an inbounds pass over Tyler Olander's head that went out-of-bounds. The freshman seemed to be upset at Olander, and Calhoun yelled from the sidelines, "Don't blame your teammate!"

Boatright appeared to say something back, and Calhoun soon called a timeout, raced out to near midcourt and started screaming right in Boatright's grill.

“I don’t even really remember what he said," Boatright recalled. "It was just the heat of the moment. Coach is going to be Coach. That’s what he does all the time. He does it to everybody. I made a mistake, and you’ve just got to be culpable and be able to play through it.”

Indeed, Boatright later had one of the plays of the night when he stole the ball at midcourt and flew in for a dunk that tied the score at 48 and put a huge charge in the near-sellout crowd of 15,805.

“I just played ‘D’, like I always try to do – stay in front and not gamble," Boatright said. "Coach has been preaching to us not to gamble. He lost it by himself, he gave it to me, and once I got the steal, I was preparing for the contact. I thought he was going to jump and I just went up strong and tried to dunk it, and I got up high enough. That definitely fired the crowd up and fired the crowd up.”

Oh, and about that crowd -- Calhoun has rarely heaped so much praise on an XL Center gathering (even if it was a snooch short of a sellout).

“The crowd was more than special," the coach said. "We were down eight, we cut it to six and I thought we went ahead by four … just by the way the crowd reacted. In the past, we’ve had crowds waiting for us to do things … "

*** Andre Drummond was immense, particularly in the latter half. He followed Lamb in the scoring column with 20 points while also hauling in a game-high 11 rebounds and three blocks – including a Darryl Bryant 3-point attempt in the waning seconds that sealed the deal.

“Andre Drummond was special tonight,” said Calhoun. “He hasn’t been special all season – he’s been good – as you would expect from a freshman. But tonight, he was special.”

Drummond’s biggest play of the night came with 1:27 left and the Huskies clinging to a one-point (58-57) lead. Lamb misfired on a 3-pointer, but Drummond grabbed the rebound and hit a short baseline jumper – one of several such shots he made throughout the night in between rafter-shaking dunks.

I also thought Drummond did a decent job on Jones, the Big East scoring and rebounding leader who finished with 22 points but just five rebounds -- by far his lowest total of the season.

Jones, a 6-8 forward, is a tough guard for Drummond when he steps out to shoot the 3. He buried a trio of treys in the first half but none the rest of the way.

“I think I did a pretty good job of keeping him off the boards," Drummond said. "That’s what he really feeds off of, rebounds to get his points. I slipped up a little bit near the end of the half, letting him get three quick rebounds. Coach said you’ve got to stop letting him to that.”

WVU missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts in the latter half.

*** UConn didn't grab its first offensive rebound until late in the game, though it finished with six.

“I thought we might set the all-time record without getting an offensive rebound," Calhoun quipped afterwards.

He can quip about this after a win. Had UConn lost ... not so much.

*** Neither Drummond's 20 points or 11 boards were career-bests, but he matched his career-high with four fouls. He's starting to learn what Big East refs are going to call.

“Yeah, I mean, they were killing me," he said. "But they were great refs, man. I’m not going to complain or say anything bad, because they’re good refs. I did something wrong and they called it. I’m not going to argue with them. They’re the higher power, so, it was a good call by them.”

*** Bob Huggins didn't seem quite as enamored by the officiating crew.

"There's some things I'd like to say about that, but I can't, y'know what I mean?" he said, in reference to a fourth foul call on Deniz Kilicli.

*** Hate to nitpick, but UConn is really getting very little out of its small forwards -- DeAndre Daniels, Roscoe Smith and now Niels Giffey, who has yet to score a field goal in his two starts the last two games.

I think that's all I've got for now.

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Is Bob Huggins Underrated?

I’m not a big Bob Huggins fan. I’ve seen him behave far too boorishly with the media over the years. Tries to be too much of a bully, if you ask me.

But there’s no denying he’s an excellent basketball coach, as evidenced by his 703 career wins. Which raises the question: Why doesn’t Huggy Bear get more respect as a coach?

I don’t recall much of any fanfare surrounding Huggins’ 700th win, achieved a few days before practice. Only 19 other coaches have won more games than him, and only three of them active – Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. Huggins recently passed Denny Crum for 20th on the all-time list, but I remember Crum being a much bigger name in the coaching world than Huggins ever has been.

Then again, Crum won two national championships. Huggins has zero, with two trips to the Final Four and none to the national championship game.

Maybe I just answered my own question.

But here’s something else to consider: At age 58, Huggins would seem to have plenty of more years left as a coach. A lot could happen between now and then, of course, but if Huggins gets in 10 more years and averages 20 per year, we could be talking 900 wins – something only two coaches (Coach K and Bob Knight) have achieved to this point.

*** Bit of a different vantage point for me tonight, and from here on out, for games at the XL Center. Press seating has been scattered all about, with my seat moving from just a bit past midcourt across from the visitors’ bench to near the far corner, across from UConn’s bench. Not a bad vantage point. Certainly better than along the baseline, where we have to sit at Syracuse, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Pitt, DePaul, etc. Hard to get a good feel for the game from those seats.

There is no reason for you to care about where the media is sitting, of course, except for this: the reason for the move is that there are now high-priced, courtside seats for the well-heeled where much of press row used to be. More money into the program can only be good for UConn and its fans (if not so much for the media covering the game).

*** Celtics GM Danny Ainge is among the 11 NBA scouts/GM’s, etc. expected at tonight’s game.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Top 25

Tough one this week. I figured, driving home from UConn's loss to Rutgers on Saturday, that I'd have the Huskies drop considerably in this week's poll after losing to both Seton Hall and Rutgers. And they do, from No. 6 to No. 13. It likely would have been more, except that 12 of the 25 teams I had ranked last week lost at least once, and two others (Marquette and Wisconsin) lost twice.

So I'm comfortable with the Huskies at No. 13. I still think they have a good, deep and talented team. They're just a bit lost right now, and it'll be interesting to see if they can rediscover themselves. Jim Calhoun certainly started them on that track with a feisty practice this afternoon.

Elsewhere, I booted Wisconsin (five losses) and Harvard (Fordham? Really?) and introduced Virginia (belatedly) and Seton Hall. More than happy to vote for the Pirates, who certainly seem as capable as anyone else in the Big East whose uniform isn't orange.

Really wanted to include West Virginia this week, too, but just couldn't quite find a spot. They're my No. 26, for what it's worth, and that will certainly rise with a win over UConn tomorrow night.

1. Syracuse
2. Kentucky
3. North Carolina
4. Ohio State
5. Baylor
6. Michigan State
7. Indiana
8. Missouri
9. Georgetown
10. Duke
11. UNLV
12. Louisville
13. UConn
14. San Diego State
15. Gonzaga
16. Kansas
17. Virginia
18. Florida
19. Murray State
20. Kansas State
21. Mississippi State
22. Creighton
23. Marquette
24. Michigan
25. Seton Hall


Jim Calhoun Fired-Up Today at Practice

Despite his in-game histrionics, Jim Calhoun is usually pretty reserved during practices. Not today.

Calhoun, quite simply, was as vocal and animated as I've ever seen him in a practice in my five years on the UConn beat. The F-bombs flowed like wine, and while he was as hands-on and engaged as I've ever seen him in terms of individual instruction, he was equally as critical.

At times, the team's effort was questioned, it's "softness" pointed out. At other times, poor execution was the focus.

No one was spared -- not even little-used Michael Bradley and Enosch Wolf, the latter of whom Calhoun chastised for essentially getting the perks of traveling with and being on the team while hurting the team in practice.

“Why would I come out dead-ass, if I expect them to respond?” Calhoun asked, rhetorically. “Life’s all about getting up in the morning,” Calhoun said afterwards. “Hopefully it’s a good morning … other times you get knocked on your ass. It’s now how you get knocked on your ass, it’s how you get up and what you do after that. We got knocked on our ass the last couple of games a little bit, and we’ve got to get back on.”

And then, the strangest thing happened. When the 90-minute practice was over, Calhoun seemed happy with the team's overall effort.

“I thought they worked incredibly hard today … we really went hard," he said. "Today it was very good, effort-wise."

But Coach, what about all those F-bombs and ... ah, never mind.

Was today the worst Andre Drummond has seen Calhoun in his brief UConn career? No.

“I’ve been to games before, I’ve seen worse," Drummond said. "He wants to win, you can’t blame him. Who doesn’t like to win?

*** Ryan Boatright won't find it awkward tomorrow night playing against West Virginia, the school from which he de-committed.

“I don’t even think about it, especially coming off two losses," he said. "Just thinking about winning, I don’t even think about that stuff.”

Boatright committed to the Mountaineers, but a few days later fellow point guard Jabarie Hinds did, as well, miffing Boatright and his family. Boatright re-opened his recruitement and soon settled on UConn.

He said he doesn't know Hinds and hasn't talked to him about it.

“It’s in the past," Boatright said. "I’m where I want to be, it’s just the way it went. I’m here. I’m where I wanted to be the whole time. It worked out best for both parties.”

*** Jeremy Lamb is finding that being a preseason first team All-American leads to special attention by opponents. Lamb seems to be getting grabbed and bumped a lot during games to keep him from getting the ball, but Jim Calhoun says he must adjust to it,“because I can guarantee the officials aren’t going to adjust to us.”

*** Niels Giffey gets another start despite going scoreless in 22 minutes vs. Rutgers. Roscoe Smith continues to struggle for playing time as Calhoun searches for a position for him. The coach would like Smith to play more at power forward.

*** Shabazz Napier is still banged up. He practiced Sunday and participated in most drills (though was on the stationary bike at times, as well), but had to be helped back to the locker room by trainer James Doran when practice was over.

*** Drummond was asked how the bus ride home from Pisacataway was last night.

“You heard a lot of crickets," he said. "You couldn’t really hear any talking at all. Everybody was pretty quiet.”

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Calhoun's Postgame Reaction

Jim Calhoun was rather calm and reserved after UConn's bad, 67-60 loss to Rutgers Saturday night. The apparent burst blood vessel in his right eye wasn't a result of screaming from the bench during the game; he had the redness in his eye the previous day at practice, as well.

But Calhoun certainly wasn't pleased by his team's performance, and that comes through in some of his terse, snippy responses to reporters' questions.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Leadership? 'There's None,' Says Jim Calhoun

Jim Calhoun was asked if there is currently a lack of on-floor leadership with UConn right now.

"There's not a lack of it," he responded, curtly. "There's none."


With words like that, all eyes immediately turn to Shabazz Napier, the sophomore point guard and team co-captain (along with Alex Oriakhi). Napier had some very interesting words after Saturday's loss to Rutgers, acknowledging that Calhoun may have largely been centering the criticism on him.

“I took it a little personally, but I understand what he’s saying," Napier said.

He then went on to say how his teammates don't always respond to him the way he'd like.

"I try to tell the guys, I feel as if I’m their best leader. Sometimes they give me a chance, sometimes they don’t," Napier continued. "That’s just how it is. It’s just basketball, I guess. Losing like this, I’m not here to … be the captain because it gives you an ego boost. I’m here to win games. I hate losing games as much as anybody in the world. I try my best to be a leader, even though guys don’t give me a chance to be that person. It shows in the game, I can’t lie. When we have a tipped ball and big guys get the ball and I’m yelling for the ball back out, we’ve got a new shot clock and they go back up … that shows I’m not that much of a leader. When a play starts breaking down and I’m yelling, ‘Bring it out, bring it out,’ and Boat or Jeremy takes a shot, that just shows that I’m not a leader. It sucks, because we lose games like that. But I try my best. I’m just a human being, I try to do my best in helping my teammates out. If they don’t want me to do it, that’s on them, but I’m still going to be scratching and trying to do it, because I hate losing. That’s the worst thing ever.”

Napier added:

“I’m not saying (some players) have their own agenda, I just feel they don’t understand what’s going on. I feel as though I’m the closest to Coach. I feel as though I understand what Coach is thinking about. I understand how to play along with Coach, because I’m the point guard, so I have to be the coach on the court. Sometimes the guys don’t listen to me. It sucks, but hopefully this practice on Sunday and this game on Monday go well, because I don’t understand why we’re losing games. I feel we have one of the best teams in the country. You keep on losing games, you’re selling yourself short.”

Napier said he addressed the team in the locker room after the game, before Calhoun came in.

"I just was really focused on what we did last year as a group. I told them our problem, some players only have one identity. You score a lot in the previous game, you come to this game with that same identity. I told the guys, each game is different, you have differnet roles. You have to transform into that differnet role during the game. You score 30 points one game and come back, you’re not going to score 30 points the next game … these guys don’t understand that, they think if they score 30, they’re going to score 30 the next game. Or if you get 20 rebounds, they’re going to get 20 rebounds the next game. Once you have that one identity, you’re not as good as a team any more.”

Interesting stuff.

No one is trying to pin the lack of leadership solely on Shabazz, said Andre Drummond.

“It can’t be just one person," Drummond noted. "Everybody’s got to be a leader, you know? We’ve all got to step up and do our part, and everybody’s got to find their role.”

*** Calhoun noted that he feels his team is resting its laurels too much on last year's national title.

“I think there’s times the hangover continues," he said. "The hangover’s bad for us. Right now, we have guys who think they’re something they’re not. They’re good kids, but the game is won by the hungriness with which they approach the game. (Rutgers) stayed with it, and we didn’t do that.”

Indeed, this is the first time in 12 tries that Rutgers has defeated a defending national champ. Coupled with the Scarlet Knights' double-OT win over then-No. 10 Florida on Dec. 29, it's also the first time Rutgers has defeated top-10 opponents in consecutive opportunities.

Calhoun added: “We went through this last year. We were 9-9 and struggled at times. But we never struggled like this. It’s a lack of other things, it wasn’t a lack of putting forth our best effort and focus every night.”

*** That's it for now. Long ride home, fairly early open practice to get to tomorrow as UConn looks to rebound Monday night against tough West Virginia.

At least that game won't be played in New Jersey.

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