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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Blogger Anthony Jackson said...

I'm puzzled as to why DeAndre Daniels isn't playing. Giffey & Olander played weak and Oriakhi & Drummond appear lost. Why not play Daniels (a top 10 player coming out of prep school)? I can see him leaving like Curtis Kelly and having a successful college basketball career elsewhere.

Please Jim, play Daniels, he gives UConn what they lack, length combined with quickness, speed and athletic ability.

January 22, 2012 at 2:03 AM 
Blogger David Borges said...

DeAndre Daniels simply isn't strong enough right now. He's a talented kid with a decent stroke, certainly hasn't shown everything he can do to this point. He may be worthy of more than the four minutes he got Saturday, but he is NOT the answer right now for UConn -- particularly as a post player. Just not physically strong enough.

January 22, 2012 at 9:53 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if there's some friction between Napier and some of the other players, Lamb in particular. The comments made to you two weeks ago indicate that multiple players are not listening to Napier when he calls for the ball.

I can understand it somewhat. I'm a season ticket holder and have watched most of the year as Napier misses Lamb coming off the screen. He's only open for a moment before the switch or his man fights to the screen, but Napier has not been getting him the ball at the moment he comes open and in a position to shoot. Ricky Moore used to hit Richard Hamilton on the numbers every time.

Napier keeps dribbling, and dribbling, and dribbling, not passing the ball. His assist numbers are high, as he likes the spectacular pass. But he doesn't seem to be doing the necessary thing to get his teammates the ball in a position to score, which is the primary responsibility of the point guard.

I will tell you that in our section on Wednesday night, despite his points, people were constantly yelling for him to stop dribbling and pass the ball.

January 22, 2012 at 12:46 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

Maybe a little friction, but I don't think it's as bad as, say, Kemba and Jerome Dyson a couple of years ago.

By and large, these kids like each other -- a lot. They're going through a tough stretch right now, for a variety of reasons, but I don't think bad chemistry is one of the main ones.

January 22, 2012 at 9:59 PM 
Blogger Anthony Jackson said...

Am I wrong to believe that despite their youth, these guys are simply underperforming relative to their talent. UConn has better talent than most teams in the Big East, notwithstanding Syracuse. They appear soft, losing the loose ball battle, failing to dominate the opponent in the rebounding category and a failure to get to the basket on a consistent basis. I don't believe this is 2009 though with a team led of (misled) by a number of underachievers. Indeed there is hope.

January 23, 2012 at 2:37 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont understand how you develope a player like deandre daniels if he is never allowed to play thru a mistake...thats part of understanding the game and making adjustments let alone a way to help build confidence i couldnt imagine playing on egg shells afraid to make a mistake knowing i'd be pulled and sat the rest of 35min remaining..i fell jim is a great coach that sometimes has to understand how to approach each player differently to bring the best out of them and showing a freshman player some trust that he can play at an elite level can make a world of he did with jermey lamb last year half way thru the season u gotta allow them to get a rhythm and feel for the game and that cant happen on the bench!!!! they will need him alot sooner than later best to start that process now...u dont get ranked a top ten player by sitting!!!! best of luck!!!! he will step up believe me i feel it!!!

January 27, 2012 at 3:49 PM 

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