Friday, February 24, 2012

Gampel Gearing Up for Gameday

Nothing normal about Gampel Pavilion today.

The ESPN College GameDay crew is here setting up. Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas are conducting interviews with their media brethren. Students are getting ready to camp out outside the building.

Hard to think of a more eagerly-anticipated game in recent years at Gampel than Saturday night's bout between UConn and second-ranked Syracuse. Texas two years ago comes to mind, when the Longhorns were No. 1 in the nation (ironically, also a George Blaney-coached game). But the Longhorns proved to be a fraudlent No. 1 the rest of the way.

Plus, this is Syracuse -- arguably UConn's biggest rival, and one that's only exacerbated by the fact that the Orange are heading to the ACC soon and this could be the last time they ever play at Gampel.

Oh, and Syracuse is no fraud like Texas was.

“I’ve been saying all week, and I hope Jimmy (Boeheim) doesn’t get mad at me for saying this, but this possibly could be his best team," Blaney said. "He has four guys on his team that could average 20 points per game, so he has answers and depth. Now, it remains to be seen what they do in the tournament, but at this point, from what I’ve seen, it’s his best team.”

UConn trailed by just three points with about six minutes to go two weeks ago up in Syracuse, before the Orange pulled away for an eventual 18-point win.The Huskies are hoping the home crowd can put them over the top this time.

“It’s gonna be rockin’ and rollin’," said Blaney. "The kids know it, we know it."

“Gampel's gonna be like our sixth man out there," added Alex Oriakhi. "The students are out there already. You know it’s a big game when kids are camping out there. It’s gonna be crazy.”

Part of the Huskies' game preparation will consist of watching clips from other rowdy games at Gampel over the years, to show them "what it can be like here."

Ostensibely, that Texas game will be included in those clips ("I thought it carried us," Blaney said of the crowd that day). Jeremy Lamb said last year's win over Villanova (on Kemba Walker's game-winning shot) was "the loudest I've ever seen Gampel. But (Saturday), it's gonna be a white-out, it's gonna be packed and sold-out. It's gonna be loud out there."

Said Blaney: "Syracuse games here have been monstrous, a couple of North Carolina games ... Gampel brings out electricity. It’s one of the great venues I’ve ever been in, from a coaching standpoint. It’s a fabulous place to play."

*** Blaney said Shabazz Napier has been practicing all week and is "fine, ready to go." However, Napier likely won't be in the starting lineup Saturday.
*** Asked about Jim Calhoun, who'll undergo back surgery on Monday, Blaney said: “I continue to check the door every minute, because I’m waiting for him to come back, and I know the team is. I hope, more than anything, that he takes care of the pain. The pain has been tough for him – for anybody – but for him, because he doesn’t acknowledge pain."

*** Digger seems to think it's time for Calhoun to retire.

"Jim, you're 70 years old (in May), what more do you want to do?," Phelps said. "But, it's his call."
*** Lamb and Oriakhi will be participating in ESPN College Gameday's "Know Your Teammate" routine.

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