Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Right Now, This is Not an NCAA Tournament Team. Sorry.

Sorry folks, but I just don't see how UConn is an NCAA tournament team right now.

I don't care what Joey Brackets says. I don't care what their RPI is, or whether they (somehow) still have the nation's No. 1 strength of schedule. I don't care if the ol' "last 10 games" aren't supposed to matter much, if at all.

They should matter. The Huskies have lost nine of their last 12 games. Their only three wins over the past 1 1/2 months came against a Herb Pope-less Seton Hall, last-place DePaul and 14th-place Villanova.

It's all well and good that UConn beat Florida State back around Thanksgiving -- before Florida State was the Florida State that beat both Duke (on the road) and North Carolina in consecutive weekends. It's nice the Huskies have won at USF and at Notre Dame.

It's nice that UConn has played, in February alone, five games against Top 25 teams. The Huskies lost all five of them.

I'm sorry, but getting an NCAA tourney invite shouldn't be based beating a few good teams two months earlier, then playing a lot of really good teams and losing to all of them. There are too many hungry mid-major teams that, while perhaps not as talented, are more likely to make a better showing in the NCAA tourney than the Huskies.

UConn still, believe it or not, can play its way into the Big Dance. I'm not going to get into the scenarios of how for the 900th time, but it's still possible.

But sorry ... right now, UConn does not belong in the NCAA tournament. Not in my eyes.

*** A few revealing quotes from tonight:

A couple of players were just about speechless after the 72-70 loss to PC.
“I’m not sure,” Jeremy Lamb said as he tried to explain how the Huskies had collapsed. “It’s very frustrating. I don’t know.”

Asked why such a talented team has now lost nine of its last 12 games and fallen to 17-12 overall, 7-10 in the Big East, the normally effusive Roscoe Smith shook his head, took a long pause, and simply replied: “I don’t know. No comment, I don’t know.”

But perhaps Shabazz Napier gave the most revealing answer to UConn’s failure to put away the Friars (15-15, 4-13).

“No disrespect to them, but this is one of those games that you put a ‘W’ by it before you even play it,” the sophomore point guard said. “But they came out real hard … and they took this one away from us.”

*** Andre Drummond was hit with a technical after apparently throwing the ball back at ref Roger Ayers with too much force after Drummond had been called with an elbow foul.
“I told (Ayers), ‘It’s Andre Drummond, he doesn’t know how to do that. He’s too nice a person,’” associate head coach Geroge Blaney explained. “I can’t imagine that would be intentional. He just misread it, I don’t know.”

Drummond agreed: “I tossed it to him. I guess he wasn’t prepared for it, and he thought I tried to throw it at him. I usually just toss the ball to the ref. I guess he wasn’t looking and it looked like a cheap shot.”

But Drummond wasn’t about to use the call as an excuse.

“That’s part of the game. I’m not going to complain about the refs and how they officiate the game. They made a call.”

*** Drummond had 12 first-half points – including four alley-oop dunks, three of them in the first 3 ½ minutes – as PC had no answer for the 6-foot-10, athletic freshman.

But after a transition alley-oop dunk to start the second-half scoring, Drummond went scoreless the rest of the way.

“I think we went away from what we were doing in the first half,” Drummond said. “They also did a great job on defense. They went on a really big run, came back and took the game.”

Napier took responsibility for UConn’s inability to get the ball inside in the latter half.

“I just think I didn’t run the ball like I usually do,” he said. “It’s not Andre’s fault, I didn’t run the ball at all. When I did run the ball, Andre had open lanes, alley-oops. In the second half, I didn’t run the ball quick enough.”

*** Jim Calhoun was released from New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center on Tuesday and is back home after undergoing lower back surgery on Monday. Calhoun will recuperate at home and be monitored by his personal physician. The hope is that he will be back on the sidelines for Saturday’s regular-season finale against Pittsburgh, but it’s still too early to tell.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

LaFleur: 'I Never Felt Eclipsed or Pushed Out' at UConn

Just talked to Andre LaFleur, the former UConn assistant coach who left last April to join Ed Cooley's staff at Providence as associate head coach.

Contrary to popular belief, LaFleur says he didn't leave UConn because he felt he had been passed over by Kevin Ollie on the UConn coaching depth chart. It all came about at last year's Final Four in Houston, when he sat down with Cooley shortly after Cooley had left Fairfield to become PC's new head coach.

"It wasn't something I was even thinking about," LaFleur said. "I was trying to position myself for a few head coaching jobs, and I talked to Ed to see if I could get in the mix for (the Fairfield) job. He told me they wanted to go with a sitting head coach, and Ed and I just started talking from there."

LaFleur left UConn shortly after the Huskies' national championship game over Butler. In fact, he missed the championship parade in Hartford as he readied to take over his new position.

"I was thinking maybe it was time for a change, for different responsibilities," LaFleur said. "I had been at UConn for a while."

Although Jim Calhoun didn't appear very happy about LaFleur's departure the day of the parade, LaFleur insists that Calhoun "understood."

"It should be the goal of every assistant coach to do your job somewhere and one day, have the opportunity to run your own program," LaFleur said. "This seemed like an opportunity to do that someday."

Popular opinion was that LaFleur felt eclipsed by Ollie, the first-year assistant coach who drew raves for his recruiting and inspirational leadership with last year's team. LaFleur insists that's not the case.

"I never felt eclipsed or pushed out by anybody," he said. "I learned a lot from Kevin and from Glen Miller (who took over LaFleur's assistant job). On the court, Kevin brought a lot to the table with drills and practice things from his NBA experience. And I thought Glen was one of the best X's and O's guys ever as a UConn assistant coach."

LaFleur said he still has the same type of recruiting responsibilities as he did at UConn, but now has a lot more responsibilities on the court, with scouting, game preparation, etc.

LaFleur, who last saw Calhoun at the Hoops Hall Classic in mid-January, says he's been rooting for UConn all year. That ends Tuesday night, however, when the Huskies face PC at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence.

"For one game, 40 minutes, we'll be trying to beat them," he said. "The atmosphere is going to be tremendous. Historically, UConn at Providence has not been an easy out."

But he added that he still hasn't counted UConn out for this season just yet.

"I still think they're capable of catching fire," he said. "There's too much talent there."

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Calhoun's Surgery Successful; Coaching Status Still Day-to-Day

Jim Calhoun underwent successful surgery Monday morning to address foraminal spinal stenosis, a lower back condition which has forced him to take an extended medical leave of absence.

The procedure, performed at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, removed a large extruded disk fragment that was pressing on the spinal nerve and decompressed the area around the nerve. The surgery took approximately two hours and doctors expect the Hall of Fame coach to make a full recovery. He will remain hospitalized overnight and is expected to be released on Tuesday.

“I am very fortunate to have been treated by three of the very best surgeons,” Calhoun said. “My heartfelt thanks to them and the entire Beth Israel community, who have made every effort to ensure my stay is as comfortable as possible.

“Lastly, thank you to the people across Connecticut and beyond who have reached out to offer their support. It means a great deal.”

Calhoun is expected to recuperate at home after his release from the hospital, where his recovery will be monitored by his personal physician. His coaching status will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.

UConn will play its final two games of the regular season Tuesday night at Providence and Saturday at home against Pittsburgh, then will participate in the BIG EAST Championship next week at Madison Square Garden.


Calhoun Event Raises $100,000 for Autism

The first annual Jim Calhoun CardioRaiser – Workout for Autism Speaks, presented by Farmington Bank, was held Sunday at Cardio Express in Manchester and Southington. Coach Calhoun was unable to attend due to a back problem requiring surgery. Coach Kevin Ollie and President and CEO of Farmington Bank stood in for him.

Hundreds of participants chose from a variety of cardio activities including Zumba, spinning, running or walking on treadmills, stair climbing, elliptical training, or riding a stationary bike. It is expected the event will raise $100,000 for autism.

“I am deeply committed to the cause of helping families confronting the many challenges of autism. It is my hope that this annual event will bring Connecticut families together to raise dollars so important to all those facing this complex neurobiological disorder. I am extremely grateful for all of the community support we have received thus far – presenting sponsor Farmington Bank, Cardio Express, The River 105.9, Country 92.5 and Panera Bread," said Coach Calhoun.

The dollars raised will go to the Connecticut Chapter of Autism Speaks and be used to fund global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bring hope and help to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder here in Connecticut.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Top 25 This Week

Here's how I rank 'em this week. Goodbye, Notre Dame and Brigham Young. Welcome back, St. Mary's and San Diego State.

Wichita State jumps from No. 18 to 12. I like the Shockers this year. Xavier McDaniel should be proud.

If you ask me, after the top 10, maybe 13, it's all a crapshoot. There's really not much difference between No. 14 and No. 25, or even No. 30, really. In fact, even the top 10 is rather volatile. It's gonna be a fun March, that's for sure.

1.       Kentucky
2.       Syracuse
3.       Michigan State
4.       Kansas
5.       Duke
6.       North Carolina
7.       Marquette
8.       Missouri
9.       Baylor
10.   Ohio State
11.   Murray State
12.   Wichita State
13.   Georgetown
14.   Florida
15.   UNLV
16.   Gonzaga
17.   Louisville
18.   Florida State
19.   Temple
20.   Wisconsin
21.   Creighton
22.   Michigan
23.   New Mexico
24.   St. Mary’s
25.   San Diego State

'Who'd You Play, Where'd You Play 'Em, How'd You Do?'

For those wondering about UConn’s NCAA tournament chances, consider these words from – of all people – Jeff Hathaway: “Who’d you play, where’d you play them, how’d you do?”

In a nutshell, that’s the criteria the 10-man NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball selection committee, chaired by Hathaway, will most strongly consider when picking this year’s tourney field.

Hathaway, the deposed former UConn athletic director, repeated that phrase, mantra-like, during a conference call a couple of weeks ago designed to highlight the NCAA's new-found transparency regarding the process. (Yes, the words "Jeff Hathaway" and "transparency" are rarely synonymous, but we digress). At ncaa.org, all the information that the selection committee will be looking at -- the "nitty-gritty" of every team, as well as each program's "team sheets" (they're alphabetical, scroll down a bit for UConn's) -- is available to the public, as well. 

(Of course, all this information was supposed to be updated daily, we were told, but the nitty-gritty page is through Friday's games and the team sheets are only through Feb. 12. Still, it's more info that in the past.)

Essentially, what Hathaway was saying is that a team’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) will be the biggest factor in determining invitations to this year’s Big Dance. I don't necessarily agree with it, but that appears to be the case.

The RPI takes into account a team’s winning percentage (25 percent), its opponents' strength of schedule (50 percent) and its opponents' opponents’ strength of schedule (25 percent). It’s worth noting that the RPI formula also weighs road wins more than it does home wins, while home losses detract more than road losses.

Through games played Saturday (including the Huskies’ heartbreaking, two-point loss to No. 2 Syracuse at Gampel Pavilion), UConn’s RPI was still No. 27 in the land. That’s as good as any of the other NCAA tourney “bubble” teams.

Other factors, obviously, come into play with committee members: the “eyeball” test, how a team’s been playing entering the tournament, how a team has fared without a key injured player, etc. (And yes, Hathaway must leave the room when UConn – or any Big East team, for that matter – is being discussed during the selection process. Hathaway currently serves as a Big East adviser, working predominately from his home).

Personally, I think how a team is playing entering the tourney should weigh heavily. If the tourney were tomorrow, UConn would be 3-7 in its last 10. Its last real good win came well over a month ago. Sorry, that doesn't pass muster in my book. But my book's not the one that counts here.

In the end, it largely comes down to: Who’d you play, where’d you play them, how’d you do?

So where does that leave UConn? Let’s take a look:

Who’d you play? The toughest schedule in America. Hard to believe, considering all the preseason detractors, but UConn’s strength of schedule remains No. 1 in all the land. Many of the Huskies’ non-conference foes – Florida State, Harvard, Central Florida, Arkansas, even Wagner – wound up being better than expected. Add that to the rigors of Big East play, and no one’s played a tougher schedule than the Huskies.

With remaining games against lowly Providence (RPI 155), Pittsburgh (86) and likely a conference weaker sister in the first round of the Big East tournament, UConn’s strength of schedule ranking should take a dip, but likely no more than a couple of spots.

Where’d you play them? UConn has won three games away from home against RPI Top 50 teams: Florida State (20) in the Bahamas, at Notre Dame (39) and at South Florida (47, prior to Sunday’s win over Cincinnati). The Huskies’ worst home loss of the season came against Cincinnati (72, prior to Sunday’s loss). UConn’s worst loss overall, at Rutgers, came on the road.

How’d you do? Against the RPI Top 50, the Huskies are 6-7. They’re 3-3 at home against such teams, 2-4 on the road and 1-0 on a neutral floor.

They’re 2-3 against RPI 51-100 teams – 2-1 at home, 0-1 on the road and 0-1 on a neutral floor – and 9-1 against everybody else.

Add it all up and UConn is still in the NCAA tournament – as of today. Even ESPN “bracketologist” guru Joe Lunardi agrees, apparently even as a 10th seed. But the key words are “as of today.” Beat Providence and Pitt and the Huskies are 19-11 overall, 9-9 in the Big East and almost certainly in – though it would behoove them to avoid a first-round Big East tourney upset. Of course, UConn has yet to win three straight games against Big East teams this season.

Lose one of the next two and UConn would likely need to win at least two games, maybe three, in the Big East tournament to safely get back on the right side of the bubble. Lose them both and just about the only way UConn could get a chance to defend its national title would be to win five games in five days at Madison Square Garden.

And we all know that could never happen, right?


(C.J.) Fair of Foul? 'Tis the Question

Watching live, I thought Fab Melo should have been called for offensive goaltending. Watching the replay ... meh, maybe not.

Didn't have a good view of the final play, but watching the replay, it appeared Roscoe Smith got fouled by C.J. Fair. No call again, however, and Syracuse wins.

The Huskies certainly thought the refs missed the two calls, though they were certainly very classy about it.

Roscoe Smith:

"I made a strong move and I got fouled, but I think the officials did a good job. You really can’t call a foul in that type of situation. You’ve got to live with it.”

He added: “It’s a tough situation for the referees. They probably didn’t want to have the game decided on that. I got fouled, everybody saw it. If you didn’t see it, it’ll be on tonight."

Andre Drummond concurred: "He got hammered, but there was no call, so … You don’t usually see refs call fouls with five seconds left in the game. It’s kinda rare to see that. It was a 50-50 chance to get that call.”

Said Jeremy Lamb: “He definitely got fouled, he purposely grabbed his arm, but we didn’t get the call.”

George Blaney's rsponse: "Roscoe caught it, went to the rim and didn't get fouled. That's all."

I'm pretty sure Blaney was being sarcastic. He certainly was screaming for a foul on the sidelines. Not the way Jim Calhoun would have, but still ...

As for Melo's potential goaltend on his go-ahead putback slam:

“I thought it was on the rim, but it was just one of those games," said Smith. "It could’ve gone either way. They gave him the putback dunk, so you really can’t do anything about it.”

Asked if he thought Melo interfered, Drummond said: “Yeah, but it’s alright, it happens. It’s part of basketball. Some plays go (your way), some plays don’t.”

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Amped up at Gampel

A predictably festive atmosphere at Gampel. Students were let in at 6 p.m. and have been getting pumped up ever since -- first treated to the broadcast of last year's win over Syracuse in the Big East tournament on the videoboard, then put through some rather taxing "cheer routines" for the ESPN cameras. Then, just getting plain old rowdy.

There are 20 NBA scouts expected to be in the house tonight, from three different NBA teams. The Memphis Grizzlies have three scouts here, and that's not including Rudy Gay, the ex-UConn great who will be inducted into the "Huskies of Honor" prior to tonight's game.

Gay met with the media prior to the game:

“It makes you feel kind of old,” he quipped. “I took pride in what I did when I was here and had a lot of fun.”

Gay, now a standout with the Memphis Grizzlies, said he’s hoping UConn gets a new practice facility built … soon.

“Our success in the NBA helps in recruiting,” he said, “and a practice facility will help even more.”

*** An ESPN report Saturday stated that Jim Calhoun plans to return to the sidelines for the Huskies’ March 3 regular-season finale with Pittsburgh, assuming Monday’s back surgery goes without a hitch. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether Calhoun will be ready to go just five days after lower back surgery. His plan since last week was to miss the Syracuse and Providence (on Tuesday) games, and consider his options after that. So, in essence, nothing’s changed.

*** UConn is 4-0 against Syracuse in Gampel, with wins in 1995, 2005, 2007 and 2009. This year's Orange are a whole different matter, though. Syracuse has been ranked in the top five all season and in the top two since Dec. 12. It leads Division 1 in turnover margin (6.7) and ranks second in assist-turnover ration (1.55).

A win tonight clinches the Orange's third Big East outright regular season title. It would also mark Jim Boeheim's 400th Big East victory.

Buckle up ...

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Oriakhi: 'Gampel Will Be Our Sixth Man'

Alex Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb predict the atmosphere for Saturday night's bout with Syracuse, while UConn students begin setting up tents Friday afternoon:

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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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Rudy Gay to be Inducted into Huskies of Honor

Rudy Gay will be inducted into the UConn “Huskies of Honor” Saturday prior to the team’s 9 p.m. battle with Syracuse. Gay will be on hand for the festivities.

The "Huskies of Honor" program began during the 2006-07 season and pays tribute in Gampel Pavilion to the top players, coaches and contributors in UConn men's and women's basketball history.

Gay is one of the most decorated players in UConn basketball history. He was a First Team All-American and All-BIG EAST performer in 2005-06, as well as the BIG EAST and National Freshman of the Year in 2004-05. He is currently in his sixth season in the NBA as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

As a sophomore in 2005-06, he was named First Team All-American by the NABC and the Rupp Award and one of four finalists for the Naismith National Player of the Year Award. He was named a Second Team All-American by the Associated Press, USBWA and ESPN.com. Gay earned All-BIG EAST, All-NABC and All-USBWA All-District First Teams. He was named to the NCAA Washington, D.C. Regional All-Tournament team as the Huskies advanced to the Elite Eight.

As a freshman in 2004-2005, he was named the National Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News, the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and a unanimous All-Rookie Team selection.

The addition of Gay to the "Huskies of Honor" induction list increases the total number of UConn men's basketball honorees to 21.

They are:

Players (17): Walt Dropo, Vin Yokabaskas, Art Quimby, Toby Kimball, Wes Bialosuknia, Tony Hanson, Corny Thompson, Clifford Robinson, Chris Smith, Donyell Marshall, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Emeka Okafor, Kemba Walker, Worthy Patterson, Bill Corley, Rudy Gay.

Coaches (3): Hugh Greer, Dee Rowe, Jim Calhoun.

Contributors (1): John Toner-Director of Athletics.

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To Beat 'Cuse, Oriakhi, Drummond Must Play Big

The biggest key for UConn to pull off an upset victory over Syracuse on Saturday night might be the production of its big men, Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond.

Simply put, when Oriakhi and Drummond are productive offensively – particularly Oriakhi – UConn usually plays well. The Huskies are 5-3 when Oriakhi scores in double figures this season. They’re 4-1 when both Oriakhi and Drummond score 10 or more.

More to the point, think of UConn’s best overall performances this season: 77-40 over Holy Cross (Drummond had a career-high 24, Oriakhi 15), 83-69 over St. John’s (Drummond 16), 67-53 at Notre Dame (Oriakhi 12, Drummond 10), 80-54 over DePaul (Drummond 15, Oriakhi 14), 80-60 over Maine (Oriakhi season-high 16, Drummond 11).  

Not all of those foes are powerhouses, of course, but there’s little doubt that when the two big men play well, UConn usually follows suit. The only game UConn lost in which both Oriakhi and Drummond reached double figures was its 68-63 setback to Central Florida – a game the Huskies led by 17 early in the second half.

Oriakhi has been playing better lately, hitting double figures scoring in four of his last six games (including just his second double-double of the season).

Still, it’s been a disappointing season for the hulking junior forward. Why? Many attribute it to Drummond’s presence, and that the two haven’t learned to play together well. There’s some truth to that.

But UConn assistant coach Glen Miller gives a better reason why.

“We didn’t run a lot of plays for him last year, either,” Miller pointed out. “His big scoring games were games where he got out in transition, or where players dribble-penetrated into the lane, dumped the ball down to him, he takes a step into it and dunks it.”

In other words, Oriakhi really misses Kemba Walker.

Of course, Oriakhi also did a lot of his scoring off offensive rebounds a year ago. Not nearly as much this year. That can be attributed in large part to Drummond, who is grabbing a lot of the rebounds Oriakhi might have had.

Still, it’s more accurate to say that Oriakhi’s production has slipped because of the departure of Kemba Walker rather than the addition of Andre Drummond.

*** Despite the sellout crowd, the College GameDay atmosphere (Dickie V. in the house!) and the big-time opponent, UConn isn't expected, as of now, to have any visiting recruits at Gampel as of now.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Calhoun To Have Surgery; Miss At Least Next 2 Games

Jim Calhoun will not coach UConn against Syracuse on Saturday night in Storrs, and his return to the sidelines at all this season remains up in the air.

Calhoun will undergo a surgical procedure on Monday to help alleviate the spinal stenosis that has forced him to take a medical leave of absence and miss UConn's last six games. He is expected to be hospitalized for one or two nights, followed by a recovery period at home. He will miss the Syracuse game, as well as UConn's game at Providence on Tuesday night.

After that, his coaching status will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.

"I'm glad we have finally determined the best course of treatment to deal with the problem," Calhoun said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to having the procedure done, hopefully recovering as quickly as possible, and putting it all int he past."

Associate head coach George Blaney will remain in charge of the team.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Shabazz Has Pizzazz

Busy couple of days for Shabazz Napier. On Saturday, he publicly lambasted his teammates for lacking heart. On Sunday, he missed practice after re-aggravating a strained ligament in his right foot, and appeared "highly doubtful" to play Monday vs. Villanova.

About four minutes before the game, it was decided Napier could play. He didn't start the game, but he sure did finish it -- with a 30-foot 3-pointer that scorched the nets with 0.6 seconds left to play, giving UConn a badly-needed, 73-70 win.

All in a couple days' work.

Here's what Napier had to say about his injury:

“(Trainer James Doran said on Monday morning) it was highly doubtful (I'd play). I told him, give me some pills, some Ibuprofen, and I think I’ll be alright. It was still hurting, but I was able to play with it. I didn’t play at 100-percent, but I played enough.”

"I told my teammates, 'If I can get out there, no excuses.'"

On his game-winner:

“I looked up, I saw Jeremy had his hands up in the air, but I was like, ‘I’ve gotta take this last shot.’

"I had a flashback. I used to do that a lot in high school, a lot of game-winners. Usually I hit them from real, real deep. I just shot it, and I was able to make the shot."

“In that situation, you don’t take the best shot, you take the most open shot. (Dominic) Cheek was playing me far back. If I got a little closer, he might have come up.”

And, of course, on how his teammates reacted to his postgame quotes:

“They react in their own way. They understood where I was coming from. I probably said too much, and you guys (the media) probably led it to a different point, but I understand. I just want my teammates to go out there and give there all. Today, they did. I can’t complain. We had a lot of problems today, and we stuck with it.”

Never good when we're called "you guys." But I digress ...

His teammates didn't completely understand where Napier was coming from.

“At the end of the day, we definitely didn’t need that from Shabazz, or from anyone," said Roscoe Smith. "But, I kind of think he knew that he messed up. But, as a team, as a unit, we didn’t have any type of judgment on him. We still accept him with open arms, continue to keep our heads up.”

Added Jeremy Lamb: “The team looked at it as, ‘Let’s just respond.’ We didn’t try to dwell on it.”

Asked if Napier's criticism was accurate, Lamb simply said: "Not sure, not sure.”

Said George Blaney: "Shabazz speaks a lot, all the time. (His teammates) knew, in most cases, he was probably right."

*** Lamb, obviously, steppe dup big time with a career-best 32 points, including 10 of UConn's 13 in overtime.

"I think No. 3 was just OK tonight," Blaney dead-panned.

“Jeremy played terrific,” Napier said. “I think he could play like that most of the time. Today, he had to go the extra step, because I wasn’t 100-percent. Once he saw that, I think he really went at it and had to be an offensive threat.”

Roscoe Smith finished with seven points and five rebounds but dozens of hustle plays, including a huge play with 25.8 seconds left in OT when he fought Pinkston for a rebound and knocked it off the Villanova forward out-of-bounds, keeping the ball in UConn’s possession after a Ryan Boatright missed free throw. Lamb followed by knocking down a pair of freebies to give the Huskies a 69-66 lead.

Andre Drummond added eight points and 11 boards for the Huskies.

It’s worth noting that Villanova (11-16, 4-11) was without the services of its leading scorer, Maalik Wayns, who’s out with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The short-handed Wildcats had squandered a 20-point lead to Notre Dame two days earlier, also losing in overtime by a 74-70 tally.

It’s also worth noting that the first 12 minutes of the game were unquestionably UConn’s worst 12 minutes of its season.

At one point midway through the opening half, UConn went 11 straight possessions without scoring – 10 missed shots and three turnovers. Villanova scored 12 points during that span, opening up a 26-8 advantage, and it appeared the Huskies had hit rock-bottom.

But Lamb converted a conventional 3-point play to finally end UConn’s 7 ½-minute drought, and the floodgates opened. The Huskies outscored Villanova 22-4 over the final 8:06 of the half – keyed by 10 points from Lamb – and somehow found themselves tied at the break.

The 18-point deficit was the largest UConn has overcome to win a game this season, trumping a comeback from 13 points down to Coppin State back on Nov. 20.

*** With about four seconds left in the first half, Drummond grabbed a defensive rebounded and unleashed a fullcourt shot. Though there was about a five-second difference, it conjured up images of Roscoe's fullcourt heave with about 10 seconds left in regulation at Texas last season.

His teammates let Andre know about it.

“Someone said, ‘Yeah Roscoe, yeah Roscoe,'" Napier reported. "He didn’t see there was a lot of time left. Then, when he got the ball at .9 seconds, he didn’t want to shoot it. It was like, ‘Why didn’t he shoot that one.’ It was a funny moment.”

*** The Committee on Academic Performance met on Monday but didn't come to a conclusion on whether it will use APR scores from 2010-11 and 2011-12 (rather than 2009-10 and 2010-11) to determine whether teams can qualify for the 2013 tournament.

According to NCAA director of public and media relations Erik Christianson, the committee will continue the dialogue at future meetings. It next meets on April 23-25, and it may meet by conference call before April.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

My AP Top 25 Ballot

Here's my Top 25 ballot for this week. Goodbye, St. Mary's, San Diego State (I've good to you all year, Aztecs, but two losses this week, including one to Air Force, finally changed my mind), Mississippi State and St. Louis.

Welcome aboard, New Mexico, Notre Dame, BYU and Creighton (after a one-week hiatus). Got New Mexico debuting at No. 14. A bit high? Maybe. But the Lobos are 22-4, and they beat No. 13 San Diego State and No. 11 UNLV this past week. That works for me.

UNLV drops from No. 9 to 20 on my ballot after losing twice this week. Baylor drops from No. 10 to 15. Marquette, which really impressed me against UConn on Saturday, moves from No. 11 to 9.

1.       Kentucky (26-1)
2.       Syracuse  (27-1)
3.       Missouri  (25-2)
4.       Michigan State (22-5)
5.       Kansas (22-5)
6.       Duke (23-4)
7.       North Carolina (23-4)
8.       Ohio State (22-5)
9.       Marquette (22-5)
10.   Georgetown (20-5)
11.   Florida (21-6)
12.   Florida State (19-7)
13.   Murray State (26-1)
14.   New Mexico (22-4)
15.   Baylor (22-5)
16.   Louisville (21-6)
17.   Temple (21-5)
18.   Wichita State (24-4)
19.   Michigan (20-7)
20.   UNLV (22-6)
21.   Gonzaga (21-5)
22.   Notre Dame (19-8)
23.   Wisconsin (20-7)
24.   Brigham Young (23-6)
25.   Creighton (23-5)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shabazz: 'I've Got to Question These Guys' Hearts'

Shabazz Napier speaks from the heart.

We learned that after the Rutgers loss, and we learned it even more after today's bad home loss to Marquette.

Here's what Napier had to say about his teammates:

"I've got to question a lot of these guys' hearts. Just simple stuff like allowing alley-oops at the end of the game, just quitting ... it doesn't look like UConn basketball. You don't quit. It doesn't look like basketball at all. Where I'm from, you ain't getting that alley-oop at the end of the game. You won the game, you won the game. Don't try to embarass us. That's just a measure of your heart. If you've got to knock somebody out of the air, you knock them out of the air. The other team's not going to beat you up physically. It can't happen. It looked like we gave up at the end. That's tough to say, because we're a great team. For those words to be coming out of my mouth, it's just horrendous."

He continued:

"When push comes to shove, it's who's out there and who's not giving it back. Some guys don't want to give it back. Some guys get punched and want to throw a pillow at somebody. It's basketball, you're supposed to go out there and give it your all. This is team basketball, it's not tennis, it's not golf, it's not a one-player sport. You get punched, and some guys are throwing pillows back. You're not supposed to throw pillows back, you're supposed to lock up on defense and do the necessary things to get the win."

"I'm blunt. I told guys all the time what I feel, but sometimes I hold a lot back in ... I don't want to say the wrong things. But at the end of the game, I told the guys, 'I've got to question a lot of your hearts.' You're not giving your all. I make mistakes, but at the same time, I learn from my mistakes, I make sure I apologize for my mistakes, and I tell guys, 'I'm not perfect.' The only reason I'm speaking out is because I'm the captain, and at the end of the day, I"m the only one who wants to speak out. Everybody else, when they get in the locker room, they're so quiet, like we just died."

Napier specifically called out Tyler Olander.

"Tyler can be real good for this team. He can knock that mid-range shot down. I don't think any other big can shoot like him. He gets out there and plays timid. We try to tell him all the time, 'Do the things you do in practice, you'll be a good player.' He's timid. We don't understand why he wants to throw a bounce pass three feet away from his other teammate, rather than shoot that mid-range shot."

So there you have it, from UConn's captain. A lot of what he says is true (though defending late-game alley-oops is the least of the Huskies' problems; stopping Marquette's early-game fast break would have been far more vital).

I don't think UConn lacks heart, but when compared to the fire and heart and veteran leadership and smarts displayed by Marquette today, the Huskies sure fell short on just about all counts.

And it should be noted: Marquette is good. A team that can defend like that, with two terrific senior players in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, with the ability to shoot (10 3-pointers) and run the floor, has got to be dangerous come NCAA tourney time.

I know I'll have them advancing pretty far in my bracket, for whatever that's worth.

As for UConn: Yeah, they're still in the Big Dance, based on their RPI and strength of schedule. But do they really pass the eye test right now? Are they truly a deserving tourney team, after losing nine of their last 13 games?

Be honest.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Alex Oriakhi Excelling in Classroom

Alex Oriakhi is averaging just 6.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game this year, both well down from last year's numbers (9.6, 8.7).

But by far his most impressive -- and, in the long run, perhaps most relevant -- number he's logged this season is 3.6. That's his grade-point average from last semester, Oriakhi said on Friday. Prior to Wednesday's win over DePaul, he and three walk-ons -- Kyle Bailey, P.J. Cochrane and Ben Stewart -- were honored for notching GPA's north of 3.0, as well.

“All my hard work studying, keeping my grades up, it’s definitely an accomplishment," Oriakhi said. "I was happy to be recognized.”

Oriakhi, who is majoring in sociology but may switch to communications, said he learned a lot from one particular teammate the past two seasons.

“Just watching Kemba (Walker), he was definitely a role model, even off the court," Oriakhi noted. "Just to see the kind of student he was. It’s easy for kids not to care about their grades and just go to class, but Kemba definitely excelled in the classroom. He was definitely a role model for me, academically.”

(Beating Marquette may be signature win Huskies need).

With so much scrutiny -- fair or unfair -- on UConn's academics lately (APR, etc.), Oriakhi's good grades are a nice representation for the program right now.

"I definitely am going to work hard, and hopefully my teammates can follow suit and get their grades up," he said, adding that he's not even the lead dog, academically, for the Huskies right now.

"I think Boat (Ryan Boatright) has the highest GPA overall, so now I’ve got to catch up to him.”

Oriakhi is leading the team on the court, as well. His 14-point, 10-rebound effort against DePaul was his second double-double of the season (he had 11 last year), and his oncourt leadership has been noticealbe ever since he called a team meeting a couple of weeks ago.

“I just tell myself when I’m out on the court, ‘Just talk,'" Oriakhi said. "DeAndre said when he hit those two 3’s (vs. DePaul), he heard me cheering for him and it made all the difference for him. When I’m on the court, I’m going to be the loudest guy out there. Even if I’m on the bench, I’m going to be cheering for my teammates."

Said George Blaney: “Since that (team meeting), he has fully committed to being ‘all-in.’ He’s just been great. I love the way he played the other night with the 14 and 10. When he plays with confidence like that, and with that kind of exuberance and energy level, it’s really good for us.”

"He’s the one veteran we’ve had, he’s been through a lot of wars," Blaney added. "He’s put up some incredible numbers against some really, really good basketball teams over the years. That’s what we need from him. The more he does that, the easier it will be for Andre, Tyler and Roscoe to do things, too. Especially with rebounding, defense and scoring inside.”


*** Everyone is pretty much healthy for UConn. Both Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are good to go, DeAndre Daniels has been battling a bad back but will play tomorrow, and Roscoe Smith (Achilles) also should be able to play. Smith didn't play at all against DePaul on Wednesday. He could have, if needed, but had missed the prior two practices -- and, as it turned out, UConn did just fine without him.

*** NCAA.org has team pages on every team in the country, focusing on their RPI, strength of schedule, etc., throughout the season. It's alphabetical, so scroll down a short ways to find UConn.

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Calhoun Hip to "Linsanity" Three Years Ago

On Dec. 7, 2009 (a day that will live in infamy?), Jeremy Lin dropped 30 points on UConn in Harvard's 79-73 loss at Gampel. Lin did a little of everything -- a resounding jam in traffic late in the game, a massive block of a Jerome Dyson shot, and a 3-pointer and tough, off-balance jumper over the final 1:07 that kept the game close.

Here's my game story from that night. It's interesting to see what Jim Calhoun had to say about Lin at the time, comparing him to "a little more athletic Doron Sheffer."

"What I really like about him," Calhoun continued, "is that he's athletic, more than you think, he controls his temperament to a real nice tempo, and he knows how to play. He's one of the better kids, including Big East guards, who have come in here in quite some time."

Somewhat prescient, I'd say.

Added Dyson: "He's a great player. He made a lot of shots for them and kept them in the game."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jim Who? Blaney's Halftime Rant Fired Up UConn

It was halftime of tonight's eventual 80-54 rout of awful DePaul, and the funniest thing happened: normally mild-mannered George Blaney decided to get all Jim Calhoun on the Huskies.

He had just watched UConn squander a 16-point lead down to 10 as it got sloppy and caught up in DePaul's ugly, frenetic style, and he wasn't happy.

"I really got on them pretty good at halftime," Blaney said. "It was all about just playing harder and harder and harder."

And make no mistake, Blaney's definition of "getting into them pretty good" wasn't too different from Calhoun's, according to all involved.

“He got into it,” Shabazz Napier reported. “You sit back and you’re like, ‘Wow, he’s yelling.’ Because Blaney doesn’t yell. I got guys in the hall and said, ‘Do y’all realize what just happened,’ because Blaney doesn’t usually yell at us, so we’ve got to play hard and give that extra effort. For him to be yelling, that means something must be going wrong. He really chewed us (out).”

Added Jeremy Lamb: "When we see him yell at us, we say we're definitely doing something wrong. So, we definitely tried to pick it up."

They did, outscoring DePaul 19-5 to start the latter half and never looking back. UConn's first 10 baskets of the second half were all either dunks or layups. Andre Drummond had five dunks alone in that span; the Huskies wound up with 10 overall for the game.

They actually had fun tonight, and it showed. When Drummond hit a rare free throw, the Gampel Pavilion crowd let out a mock cheer and Alex Oriakhi couldn’t contain the wide grin spread across his face.

Later, little-used 7-footer Enosch Wolf tipped in a missed shot for his first field goal of the season, again eliciting rowdy cheers from the student section.

Smiles, good times and alley-oops ruled the night.

“This is the way it should be,” Napier said after scoring 14 points and doling out a season-high 11 assists, several of them alley-oop hurls to Drummond. “Basketball is a sport where you can have fun. Win or lose, at the end of the day, you’re supposed to have fun playing it.”

“It was nice,” agreed Lamb. “Now, we’ve just got to focus on keeping it going.”

Lamb finished with a game-high 18 points, Drummond had 15 points and nine boards and Oriakhi notched just his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. (He had 11 double-doubles last season).

Ryan Boatright dished out seven assists (UConn had 23 as a team on 33 baskets), and DeAndre Daniels, who didn’t play at all against Syracuse, knocked down a quick pair of 3-pointers and finished with eight points off the bench.

"I'm very pleased with his effort," Blaney said of Daniels. "He gives you that length, and the ability to rebound and block shots around the basket. He deserves more time based on his play today."

Blaney was effusive in his praise for Drummond, who was "the runner/jumper we all think he is ... and check this out: he guarded (Cleveland) Melvin the whole game and did a great job. That's a 6-11 guy playing a three-man who happens to play the four position."

"He's like Gronkowski," Blaney added, "he catches everything."

As for Napier: "I'm liking the way he's handling things on the floor. He's talking to peopl, keeping people in the game. More imprtant, he's pushing the ball at people. If he and Ryan can push the ball so much at people, that puts them back on their heels."

Said Napier: “I’m not here to pad my stats, I’m not here to claim my frame. I’m here to be a role player, to help the team win. When we win, we all look good … You can be the 12th man, the assistant coach, the trainer, the weight-lifting trainer. At the end of the day, everybody looks good because UConn looks good.”

UConn outrebounded DePaul 50-27, outscored it 44-26 in the paint and shot 63-percent (19-for-30) in the second half.

Oh, and it's worth saying again: DePaul really is awful. Some thought they'd be better this season. Not really.

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Separated at Birth ...

Smiley from 'Do the Right Thing' and DePaul's Krys Faber. Admit it, they look alike ... no?


Calhoun Out At Least Next Three Games

Here's the statement released by UConn, with Jim Calhoun quotes:

The medical leave of absence of University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun will be extended to include at least the next three UConn games as he receives treatment for spinal stenosis.
Calhoun, who has missed games against Seton Hall (Feb. 4), Louisville (Feb. 6) and Syracuse (Feb. 11) while battling the painful lower back condition, will not be on the Huskies’ bench for Wednesday’s game against DePaul, and will miss Saturday’s game against Marquette and Monday’s game at Villanova as well.
Calhoun has been through a number of evaluations as doctors attempt to diagnose the specific cause of discomfort in order to determine the best course of treatment.
“I am happy that we seem to have located the problem and I am currently moving forward with treatment,” Calhoun said. “We have to give that treatment time to see whether or not it is effective.
“I’m hoping by the middle of next week, we will have a much clearer picture of where we are and when I can look forward to getting back to doing what I do.”
Associate head coach George Blaney will continue to be in charge of the team in Calhoun’s absence, with Kevin Ollie, Glen Miller, and Karl Hobbs serving as assistant coaches.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

UConn Players Inspired by Ray Allen's Talk

A day after the Celtics' 95-91 win over Chicago at the TD BankNorth Garden, Ray Allen found time in his schedule to drive down to Gampel Pavilion to sit through UConn's practice on Monday, then deliver a 20-25 minute speech to the team afterwards in the locker room.

“It was vintage Ray Allen, it was a classic talk," reported associate head coach George Blaney. "That’s what Jim (Calhoun) has built here: the family atmosphere of great, great players that have done tremendous things for the state of Connecticut and have gone on to even do greater things in the NBA, and still have that feeling of closeness to the team."

Allen touched on numerous topics: getting through tough times, how to communicate with teammates, his relationship with current Celtics players and with UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie, his former UConn teammate.

He also instilled in the team the belief that this season is far from over.

“He said you’ve got to bring it every day," said Ryan Boatright. "Just because we’re down right now doesn’t mean we can’t turn it around. He gave us two examples: the team last year with Kemba, and the New York Giants. They lost four straight in the regular season, now they’re the Super Bowl champs. He told us to keep fighting and we can turn this whole thing around if we come together as a team.”

Tyler Olander said the biggest thing he took from it was "trusting each other, keep playing basketball. He reminded us that in the game of basketball, mistakes happen. Even at his level in the NBA, people shoot air balls, people dribble off their foot, but you’ve got to keep playing through that. We’ve let mistakes get to us and bring us down, so that was good to get our minds on that.”

Blaney pointed out Allen's high praise for Ollie.

"He really went on a lot of different areas: the players on the Celtics team, a lot about Kevin (Ollie), what Kevin meant to him as a player – how Kevin drove him to be better than he was, that Kevin’s work ethic and his ability to make me work harder was something that is still ingrained in me today. To me, that was a great tribute to Kevin.”

And the fact that Allen decided to make the trip to Storrs at all was "a tribute to Jim (Calhoun) and how he’s built this program, and the kind of players that he’s had in this program that still want to give back.”

Added Boatright: “That was good, just to know that the guys that went through here still pay attention to us. For him to take time out of his busy schedule to come talk to us, to try to help us get back on track, we really appreciated it.”

Blaney noted that Allen said when the Celtics played Memphis recently, he and Rudy Gay were talking at midcourt about the UConn game they had watched the night before.

"The college players all watch the NBA," Blaney said, "and the NBA guys all watch college games."

Andre Drummond sat out of Monday's practice with his sore right ankle, but it gave him the chance to talk to Allen throughout practice.

"We were just running through a bunch of topics," Drummond noted. "After practice, he was talking to the guys, saying we’ve got to pick each other up, we can’t talk down to each other. You’ve got to know who to talk to in what ways, and that things will click for us after we start trusting each other more.”

Added Olander: “That was a real good experience, just to have him come, with all his knowledge and experience and all the things he’s accomplished, just to get our minds right again, tell us forget about things that have happened and to move on as a team. It was special to have him there to get us re-focused on what we have to do to get through the rest of the season.”

*** As for UConn's walking wounded, Jeremy Lamb's sprained right toe has improved, according to trainer James Doran, and he was expected to give it a go at practice today. Same with Drummond, though the team is being more cautious with him.

"It tweaks sometimes when I make the wrong step," Drummond said, adding that he'll likely "go in spurts" today in practice.

Drummond said on Sunday, the day after he turned his ankle up in Syracuse, his ankle really hurt and he could barely get out of bed.

“I told James, you might wanna come get me, because I can’t walk," Drummond said with a smile. "I’m struggling to get out of my bed. He loosened it up for me. He’s a great trainer, because if I was on my own, I’d still be stuck in my room to this day.”

Also, Roscoe Smith was pulled out of practice with a sore left Achilles tendon on Monday, and it wasn't known whether he'd practice today.

***UPDATE*** Lamb and Drummond both got through practice on Tuesday, though it was a struggle for both (particularly Lamb). Smith did not practice and appears questionable for Wednesday's bout with DePaul.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Calhoun 'Really Happy' About Choice of Warde Manuel

Got a hold of Jim Calhoun this afternoon, shortly before he was due to head out for another doctor's appointment for his back. Calhoun hasn't had a chance to meet new UConn athletic director Warde Manuel, but he likes the hire.

"I’ve heard great things about him," Calhoun said. "If Susan Herbst has chosen him, along with the trustees, he’s got all of the qualifications going forward. I’m really happy about the choice, given the fact that he’s a former student-athlete, he’s been involved in a number of things. I’ve talked to (Buffalo men's basketball coach) Reggie Witherspoon about him, and he loved him."

Calhoun said the most impressive thing about Manuel's resume is that he was a former player who has also had great success as an athletics administrator.

"If you’re good enough and tough enough to be recruited by Bo Schembechler, you’re probably some kind of guy that understands college athletics, not only from a philosophical standpoint but from an athletic standpoint," Calhoun said.

Asked about how he's doing physically, Calhoun said: “My status is the same. They haven’t given me a lot of pain-killers, they don’t want to disguise with a temporary fix something they know is there with MRI’s and CAT scans … It’s frustrating, obviously, but the bottom line is, we’re going to take care of it.”

It appears highly unlikely Calhoun will coach Wednesday's game against DePaul. And for what it's worth, George Blaney is slated to handle the Big East coaches' teleconference call on Thursday.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Top 25 This Week

Here's how I ranked 'em this week. Had to rank Michigan State over Ohio State and Duke over North Carolina. Moved red-hot Louisville way up from No. 23 to 14. Are they that good? Cards have only beat one ranked team this year, and that 30-point loss at Providence still sticks out, but they have won six straight, including last Monday's whitewash of UConn. We'll learn more about the 'Ville Monday night vs. Syracuse.

Booted out free-falling Creighton, Harvard (lost to Princeton) and Virginia. Welcomed in Wichita State, Michigan (some would say belatedly) and St. Louis. Yeah, I want to give the A-10 some love. Vastly improved, underrated conference.

1.       Kentucky
2.       Syracuse
3.       Missouri
4.       Michigan State
5.       Ohio State
6.       Kansas
7.       Duke
8.       North Carolina
9.       UNLV
10.   Baylor
11.   Marquette
12.   Georgetown
13.   Florida
14.   Louisville
15.   Gonzaga
16.   St. Mary’s
17.   Murray State
18.   Florida State
19.   San Diego State
20.   Wisconsin
21.   Temple
22.   Wichita State
23.   Michigan
24.   Mississippi State
25.   St. Louis

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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