No Irish Need Apply
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.”