Saturday, March 3, 2012

Calhoun Back in Charge, Roscoe Picks Up Big Charge

Roscoe Smith had 14 points and seven rebounds on Saturday, but perhaps his most important statistic didn’t show up on the postgame score sheet: one charge.

In fact, the charge Smith picked up on Pitt’s J.R. Moore with 1 minute, 33 seconds left appears to be the first taken by any UConn player this season. Seriously.

“First charge we’ve taken in six months, I think,” associate head coach George Blaney quipped after UConn's 74-65 win over Pitt. He wasn’t kidding.

“We’ve been trying to get a charge out of anybody this whole season,” added point guard Shabazz Napier. “We (would) tell each other, ‘First one to get a charge, I kid you not it’s going to be big.’ And he got that charge and I couldn’t help my emotions but to jump on him and grab him and tell him, ‘You did it! You got that first charge!’ That was a big moment, a big key because we needed that stop to prevail.”

Indeed, the Panthers – particularly Moore – had been driving to the hole incessantly throughout the second half, turning a 15-point deficit into, at one point, a one-point lead. UConn led 63-61 when Smith took the key charge on Moore.

“It felt good,” Smith said. “They normally hurt, but I didn’t feel any pain. Everybody was very happy. We were kind of competing to get the first one. It was right there for me, I just stepped right in there and took it.”

Napier hit a 3-pointer on UConn’s ensuing possession, and the Huskies never looked back en route to a 72-65 win.

“That’s what you have to do, if people are driving the ball that hard,” Blaney said of Smith’s charge. “They’ve got five or six guys that can put it on the deck and put it to the rim. That remains the most difficult thing to defend in the game, the dribble-drive. To be able to step in and take the charge is very important.”

Smith has now scored in double figures in three straight games as his playing time – and confidence – increases more and more.

“He got a lot of consistent minutes last year, but he was a freshman,” Blaney pointed out. “You expect more out of a sophomore. He still was making mistakes early in the year. He’s getting saner with the ball, not turning it over.”

Added Andre Drummond: “I’m proud of that kid, man. Seriously. He played really well today.”

*** The Huskies were energized by Jim Calhoun's return to the sidelines.

“To have him on the sideline,” Napier said, “words can’t explain what he means for this team.”

Said Jeremy Lamb: "He was fresh out of surgery and still he came to coach us and gave it his all. It meant a lot, so we wanted to play hard for him."

Added Blaney: “It’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame, it’s why he understands a team, how to motivate a team. They were practically crying in the locker room, because he told them he loved them, and that’s why he came back.”

Blaney handled postgame press conference responsibilities as Calhoun, just five days removed from lower back surgery, was simply too exhausted (and emotional) to do so.

While not as active on the sidelines as usual, Calhoun was certainly animated at times – yelling at officials several times, and his players at others. Drummond knew the 26th-year, Hall of Fame head man was truly back when he heard him scream his name after Drummond took an ill-advised baseline jumper midway through the latter half.

“Oh, there he is,” Drummond thought at the time.

Calhoun’s surgeon was at the game, and afterwards told him he was concerned “when you were running up and down the sidelines,” according to Blaney.

“He was clear-headed, emotional when he had to be,” Blaney said of Calhoun. “To me, the only thing he did different was we put a chair out for him to sit in during timeouts … He is exhausted right now. The game’s exhausting, anyway, but to be coming off of surgery, that really can get you.”

But Calhoun told his players on Friday that he’d do anything he could to be there for them, and he came through.

“Coach Calhoun brought a lot of motivation, a lot of energy,” said Smith. “We definitely could feel it out there. It was electrifying when he first walked into practice. He definitely gave us that extra push we needed.”

Added Drummond: “It was great seeing him on the sideline. It gave us that extra spark, knowing that he was out there. Just hearing his voice again, it makes you play that much harder.”

Drummond, of course, had predicted Calhoun's return the day before.

“Should’ve listened to me the first time," he quipped. "I never doubted it.”

*** Barring a possible NIT game, Saturday was the final game at Gampel in the careers of walk-ons Kyle Bailey, Ben Stewart and P.J. Cochrane. All three, along with four senior team managers, were honored in a pregame ceremony, with Jim Calhoun presenting them gifts at midcourt.

Calhoun walked out from the locker room for the ceremony about 15 minutes before the opening tap, to a large, standing ovation from the assembled crowd. It was his first public appearance as UConn’s head coach since a Feb. 1 loss at Georgetown, and his first appearance at a UConn home game since a Jan. 29 loss to Notre Dame in Hartford.

*** Among the visiting recruits at Gampel Saturday was Sam Cassell, Jr., a Class of 2012 guard out of Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., and the son of the longtime NBA star.

*** Napier led UConn with 23 points in what Blaney called “one of his best games of the year.” Lamb added 14 points, Alex Oriakhi had eight and Drummond seven to go with four blocks (all in the first half). Moore led Pitt with 16 of the bench.

*** As of right now, there's still a remote chance of UConn being the No. 9 seed for next week's Big East tourney and playing Tuesday at noon. DePaul would have to beat Seton Hall tonight at 6 for there to be any chance of that happening.

More likely, the Huskies will be the 10th seed and play Tuesday at 7. They can't finish as the eighth seed.

*** We'll have some video up around 6:30 p.m.


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