Saturday, February 11, 2012

Drummond Showed Toughness, Character

When he crumpled to the floor after diving for a loose ball with 14 minutes, 19 seconds left in Saturday’s game, Andre Drummond thought he had broken his right ankle.

“It was hurting like crazy,” he recalled.

So were UConn’s chances of pulling off an upset of No. 2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

Drummond was helped off the floor by trainer James Doran and reserve Enosch Wolf and eventually taken back to the UConn locker room, with the Huskies trailing by five.

By the time he emerged a short while later, UConn’s deficit was nine with about 9 ½ minutes to go. More importantly, however, Drummond re-entered the game and, though playing with a noticeable limp and going scoreless the rest of the way, appears to have avoided any major injury.

“It’s a little sore, but I’m not gonna stress out,” the 6-foot-10 freshman center said after UConn’s 85-67 loss to the Orange. “I’m gonna get back to school and take care of it.”

Added associate head coach George Blaney: “I hope it’s not serious, and I hope that it wasn’t the difference (in the game), but it certainly would have been nice to have him that stretch when he was out.”

Indeed, after a poor first half, Drummond came out in the latter and established himself as a major presence down low. He scored eight of the Huskies’ first 10 points on a variety of dunks, spin moves even a couple of free throws. It all came about after some impassioned advice from the coaching staff at halftime.

“We talked about attacking the rim,” Blaney reported. “Andre’s been kind of reluctant to attack the rim. The first half, he put up a couple of soft shots. We started screaming at him, ‘You’ve got to go two-handed, full-force, and rip it down.’ He was much, much better the second half.”

Drummond wound up with 13 pints and a team-high seven rebounds, but was disappointed his injury prevented him from more.

"It’s frustrating,” he admitted. “I was just getting it going, too. We could have had this game. It really killed everything. We had the momentum going, and it slowed us down a little bit.”

Blaney was happy with Drummond’s toughness in returning to the game despite the injury.

“I love that part about him. What’s interesting about his character is that he’s learning. He’s never had to compete before, he’s always been the biggest, strongest, most natural athlete in any game he’s ever been in. Now he’s learning how to compete at this level. You have to do things: take peoples’ legs out, run the court, finish strong at the rim, get people off you so you two-handed dunk rather than one-handed dunk. He’s picking it up and getting better and better as we go along.”

*** Jeremy Lamb led UConn with 18 points but was just 2-for-10 on 3-pointers and, too often, seemed to pas up on open shots.

“I would have liked to have Jeremy a little bit more ready to pull the trigger,” Blaney said. “I think he passed up probably four or five shots. I don’t think he thinks he’s shooting the ball well, and so I think he’s passing up to try to get a better shot. I don’t care, I want him shooting open shots. I don’t care whether he makes them or doesn’t, at this stage, I want him shooting open shots.”

Lamb has now made just 7 of 33 3-pointers (21 percent) over his last four games.

“I’m not hesitant,” he insisted, “it’s just sometimes, I try to move the ball a little too much. I don’t want to take quick shots, that’s what their defense is predicated on. There were probably a couple of shots I could have taken that I didn’t realize I had, but I’ve just got to realize that.”

*** Jim Calhoun missed his third straight game with spinal stenosis, and his return to the sidelines still is in question.

“He’s still in a lot of pain,” said Blaney. “He’s been talking to doctors in New York, Boston and at UConn. The problem with backs is that there are all different supposed solutions, and you have to pick the right one at the right time. That’s what he’s trying to decide. His brother, the heart surgeon, is kind of monitoring everything, and I think they’ll come to some kind of decision shortly.”

Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim said he talked to Blaney about Calhoun before the game.

“You can’t get out of bed, you can’t coach,” Boeheim shrugged. “It’s obvious he’s one of the great coaches of all time. If he’s not there, it makes a difference.”

*** Shabazz Napier had 11 points and seven assists for UConn.

“Probably, as far as leadership was concerned, it was the best Shabazz has been since he’s been with us," said Blaney. "I thought he kept us all together and pushed the ball great.”

*** UConn's probable exclusion from the 2013 NCAA tournament doesn't appear to be weighing on the players' minds

“I don’t even think anybody on this team knew about that," said Ryan Boatright. "At least I had no idea until you just told me. We’ve got this year right now. This is the year we’ve got to worry about. We need to concentrate on getting wins and turning the season around.”

Drummond was asked if the penalty might figure in his decision on whether or not to turn pro after this season.

"Honestly, I don’t know," he said. "I’m focusing on this season. I’m not going to focus on what’s happening next season. We’re right here and now, playing for a national championship. I don’t care what’s going to happen next year.”



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