Sunday, March 11, 2012

Calhoun: 'I Like Being the Underdog'

By now, you probably know: UConn has earned the No. 9 seed in the South Region, and will play No. 8 seed Iowa State in an NCAA tourney "second-round" game on Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

Win -- hardly a given -- and the Huskies will play top-seeded Kentucky. In Kentucky, obviously. Calhoun vs. Calipari, rematch of last year's Final Four. It'll be fun ... if it happens.

But don't book that game just yet. And no, I don't believe Kentucky will lose its game with either Mississippi Valley State or Western Kentucky. The Huskies will have their hands full with the Cyclones, who toss up over 24 3-pointers a game and make 38 percent of them. Iowa State hit 16 treys in a game earlier this season and have hit over 10 in a game 14 times in 31 games.

And, of course, guarding the three-ball has been a bugaboo of UConn's all season.

That said, there's no reason why the Huskies can't win this game. Here's some of what Jim Calhoun & Co. said Sunday at Gampel after learning their NCAA tourney fate:

Calhoun:

"We haven’t played a team that has shot 36 3’s in a game and averages 24 3’s a game. They shoot it at 38 percent, that’s as good as anybody I’ve heard of in quite some time ... We’re going to have to chase them off the 3-point marker ... Obviously, they shoot the heck out of the basketball.”

He noted that UConn will experiment with some smaller lineups, and the four position will be "a tad more flexible for this game."

Said Andre Drummond: "I like running around, chasing people."
Calhoun, cont'd: “Would we like to get to Saturday and see Kentucky? Absolutely. But right now, anybody in our camp isn’t thinking about anything but beating a very, very good Iowa State team.”

(Calhoun said he knows ISU coach Fred Hoiberg pretty well, and pointed out that Kevin Ollie was a teammate of Hoiberg's in the NBA).

“My only plans right now are to say hello to Fred and try to get them off the 3-point line," Calhoun said.

Calhoun admitted that UConn needed its come-from-behind, Big East tourney win over West Virginia on Wednesday.

“Deep in my heart, I knew a game we had to win to solidify things. I didn’t want to come in here with a bad stomach.”

Calhoun -- believe it or not -- feels some sympathy for UK coach John Calipari, who probably figured he'd get a better 8-9 opponent as the tourney's top overall seed.

“They protect 1’s always have, always will … then they try to match them up, based upon how good you are. If they’re the best 1, are we the weakest 8-9? Not from what I saw. They may think they’re the team that can handle it the best ... I don't mind being an underdog."

How's Calhoun feeling?

“Tired, but I’m going to be tired for the next month, they tell me. But I wasn’t tired when I saw our name on the board. That gets the adrenaline going.”

UConn suffered its most embarassing loss of the season at Louisville a little over a month ago.
“I wasn’t there … can’t speak to that," Calhoun said with a smile. "It was awful (watching at home). I would have rather been there, really.”

On getting out of the Big East: “Over the years it’s been good for us. Particularly this team, we are not a physical team. The only guy right now who’s been a physical player, Alex Oriakhi, in the past 10 games. We’re not a physical team, and we’re in a very physical league. Personally, I thought that probably should help us.”

Shabazz Napier:

“I feel as though we’ve got a great deal of momentum. That’s a great deal for us. It was great for us to get on that three-game winning streak. To know that we can play with the No. 2 team in the country, that gives us confidence.”

Ryan Boatright:

(asked if getting away from the Big East will be like a breath of fresh air)
“Definitely. I don’t feel like the teams were’ going to be going against are going to be as physical as the Big East is. The Big East is a crazy conference, so to actually see another team that you don’t see that much is kind of like (a breath of) fresh air.”

Drummond, when asked the same question: “The Big East is a very tough conference, one of the toughest in the country. To actually be out of the conference and play some non-conference teams, it’s going to be great.”



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