Rocky Top, Rocky Times for UConn Right now
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 ...