Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kevin Ollie: 'That's the Team I Want to Coach, RIght There'

Kevin Ollie walked up to the podium in the press room of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, looked out at the assembled media and just shook his head.


“Guys, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Coach Blaney’s been with me a long time, and I don’t think he’s ever gonna see a stat sheet like this. But I really love the fact that we have more points than Providence.”

That about sums it up.

PC outrebounded UConn 55-24. That matches the largest margin ever in a Big East game. No fewer than 28 of the Friars’ boards came on the offensive end.

And yet the Huskies emerged with the 82-79 overtime win.

How, exactly? With one of the few body parts that wasn’t hurting Ryan Boatright when it was all said and done.

“Heart,” Boatright said. “Heart, man. Figured out a way to win, man. We stuck together when the intensity picked up.”

Some more notes and quotes on the game:

On Omar Calhoun’s clutch corner 3-pointer that snapped a 76-76 tie with 41 seconds left in OT.

Boatright: “He makes that shot all the time. It was great that he made it under pressure. But it was just a regular corner 3. I knew once I went baseline, they figured me or Shabazz was going to take that last shot, so when I went up I knew they were going to crash. I kicked it out and he knocked it down.”

Will that help boosts Calhoun’s confidence?

“He’s got enough confidence,” Boatright said with a laugh. “We tell him he’s got the ability to make that shot all the time, so I’m just glad he had the confidence to take it.”

As if to prove that point, Calhoun said: “It felt good. I knew I was going to knock that down. It was too big of a shot to miss … That’s something I know I can do. I’ve just got to keep taking steps forward from here … I just know I’ve got to be ready. That’s what I put my work in for. The extra shots in the gym is something I can do to be confident and be able to knock that shot down.”

Boatright on the final play of regulation, an off-balance shot of his that was blocked by Kris Dunn:

“It was designed for me to get open and be ‘iso.’ I should have made a better move. When I drove middle, Enosch went to set a screen for Shabazz at the same time. Everything collapsed, and I couldn’t get a shot off.”

*** Boatright battled most of the game with a bum right ankle after turning it early on. He said he’s also been battling left knee tendonitis pretty much all season.

*** Olie always seems to add an inspirational quote after a UConn win.

“That’s the team I came down to Providence with,” he said, specifically referring to the team’s second-half effort. “That’s the team I want to coach right there.”

*** Providence began the game with starters Vincent Council and LaDontae Henton on the bench (“coach’s decision,” according Friar head man Ed Cooley). UConn took advantage and jumped out to a 25-10 lead as the Friars missed their first nine shots. But once Council checked in with 10:47 left in the opening half, the game change. PC immediately went on an 8-0 run, had pulled to within one by halftime and took its first lead of the game in the early seconds of the latter half.

Council finished with 15 points and 10 assists before fouling out early in overtime.

*** Three of UConn’s big men (Tyler Olander, Enosch Wolf and DeAndre Daniels) all also fouled out in OT. Olander was battling flu-like symptoms and was a game-time decision but wound up starting. He finished with just two points and no rebounds before fouling out.

*** Dunn didn’t have a great homecoming, going 1-for-7 form the floor for seven points, one assists and two turnovers before fouling out. He did grab eight rebounds and had the big block of Boatright at the end of regulation.

*** PC’s plus-31 rebound margin matches the one St. John’s managed over Seton Hall (64-33) on Jan. 26, 1997. The Red Storm won that game, 66-62.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kevin Ollie Respects Providence, Not Crazy About The Dunk; Omar Calhoun Compliments Jordan Fuchs

UConn has its annual grudge match with Providence on Thursday at 7 p.m. at The Dunk, where strange things (marital aids, players' angry brothers) tend to happen. The teams will meet again in their respective Big East regular season finales on March 9 in Storrs.

No matter how bad the Friars are -- and they've been mostly bad in recent years, going 12-42 in Big East play the last three seasons -- they always seem to give UConn a battle. PC has won five of the last seven meetings and eight of the last 12, including a 72-70 win at the Dunk last February.

The Friars are stumbling through another season at 10-10 overall and 2-6 in the Big East, losers of three of their last four games. But you know they'll give UConn all they've got on Thursday -- they always do.

Here’s some of what Kevin Ollie had to say today:

On PC:

“They’re always tough in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center – I think it’s the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. They’ve got guards, (Vincent) Council’s coming back from his injury feeling more confident, (Kris) Dunn is coming back from his injury feeling more confident, Bryce Cotton averages 22 points a game. It’s a tough matchup. (LaDontae) Henton is also back down low, and Sidiki Johnson is getting minutes.”

"Coach Cooley’s gonna get that thing turned around. They’re playing hard, effective basketball. They’re passing the basketball, making the shots. And Cotton’s a tremendous scorer. We’re going to have to have an emphasis on stopping him.”

On how Dunn has helped Friars since he started playing on Dec. 18:

“His speed, how he attacks the basket, getting out in the passing lane. When they press, he puts tremendous ball pressure on opponents. He adds an extra dimension to them. (Josh) Fortune is real good, too.”

On whether he enjoyed playing at Providence back in the day:

“Not necessarily. They’ll say anything, that crowd. There were always competitive games – they had some great teams when I was playing – Michael Phelps, all the bigs they had, Michael Smith.”

(Ollie can be excused for his Jim Calhoun-like, name-mangling moment. Michael Phelps didn’t play hoops for the Friars before his Gold medal-winning swimming career. It was Robert Phelps Ollie was talking about).

Ollie recalled his game-winning shot against the Friars in 1994. It was a layup at the buzzer and his only basket of the game. It also got Donny Marshall off the hook after he had gotten a technical foul for "sarcastically clapping" at a referee after a call.

“I think it was (Jim) Burr,” Ollie recalled. “That’s the wrong person to clap to. He teched us up. I think that was my only field goal of the game. Good memories. I just remember saving Donny’s life on that one.”

Ollie on playing zone defense:

“I’m a man-to-man guy. I’m a Coach Calhoun disciple. I don’t really like playing zone, but to throw a team off, and with our guys who can get out and scramble a lot, it’s been effective – at times – for us.”

*** Omar Calhoun played high school basketball with Jordan Fuchs, the 6-foot-6 tight end who committed to UConn on Monday. Fuchs has hinted he might like to play hoops at UConn someday, as well, though that seems to be a long-shot, at best.

Anyway, Calhoun said he’s “good friends with him … a lot of people from New York like coming here because they know I’m having a good time here,” and added that Fuchs has some game on the hardwood.

“He’s pretty good … he’s like a wide-body kind of guy, runs the floor, he’s good.”

Calhoun said he hasn’t spoken to Fuchs since he committed, however, and has no idea if he intends on playing basketball.

*** UConn players gathered in a huddle after practice and seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves quite a bit.

Said Calhoun: “Just having some fun, joking around. We have some good chemistry on this team. Everyone gets along. It’s a group of guys that like joking, but when we’re on the court, we get it done.”

*** Shabazz Napier said New England bragging rights are at stake tomorrow and recalled last year’s loss at The Dunk.

“Last year, we were winning the whole game and we just kind of gave them the game at the end. My freshman year, I think we played MarShon Brooks really well. I think that was when he was coming off his 55-point game. We’ve just got to play UConn basketball.”

*** Ryan Boatright sat out about the final 15 minutes or so of practice and had an ice pack wrapped around his left knee. However, Ollie said it was just a bout of tendonitis, which Boatright’s been battling all season, that flared up a little bit. Not big deal, it appears.

*** John Saunders will handle the play-by-play on espn2 and be joined by Tim Welsh as analyst. Welsh, of course, was PC's head coach for 10 seasons before being fired in 2008. This will be just the second time Welsh has done a TV game inside The Dunk since his firing. The first came last week against Pitt.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

UConn Fans Can Vote Right for Ryan Boatright

Remember Ryan Boatright's awe-inspiring alley-oop dunk from Shabazz Napier back on Jan. 12 at Notre Dame? The one that allowed UConn to "shut (the Notre Dame fans) up" immediately after Jack Cooley's putback slam?



Well, it's been nominated for the GEICO Play of the Year, according to Intersport. Each week for eight weeks, four college hoops plays will be nominated for the GEICO Play of the Year. Each week's winner will be determined by fan voting through the official Facebook page (facebook.com/BestofCollegeBasketball).

The eight finalists will compete in a week-long competition to determine the GEICO Play of the Year. The winner will be announced during the GEICO Best of College Basketball special that airs April 6 on CBS.

*** Elsewhere: It appears UConn may have picked up a future 6-foot-7 banger in the form of its latest football recruit. Jordan Fuchs of Christ the King High (Omar Calhoun's alma mater) has signed on to play tight end for the Husky football program, but apparently is hoping to play hoops in a couple of years, as well, according to Zach Braziller of the New York Post.


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Monday, January 28, 2013

It's Official (Really): No UConn in This Year's Big East Tournament


Mike Aresco had some good news and some bad news for the hometown crowd gathered at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on Monday morning.

The Big East commissioner told the several hundred local businessmen and women gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell that UConn is “very committed” to the Big East, and promised that the conference will “continue on and be a greater conference than it was.”




But he told a small group of reporters afterwards that the UConn men’s basketball team’s flickering hopes to be included in this year’s Big East tournament have been extinguished.

“That’s over for this year. They won’t be in this year’s tournament,” Aresco said. “But we’ll welcome them back the following year, and we’ll be delighted to have them back.”

UConn is barred from any postseason tournament this season due to recent low Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. However, school officials have reportedly been lobbying the league’s presidents to at least allow the team to play in the annual conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. The school feels, among other things, that the APR system punishes current players for past players’ academic shortcomings.

“Susan (Herbst, UConn’s president), wasn’t there when all this happened,” he said. “They’ve corrected everything. They’ve got a terrific APR now, they’re doing much better. This is just one of those things. It happened, and it’s something they’re going to have to get through.”

It was a homecoming of sorts for Aresco, the Middletown native and Xavier High graduate. Larry McHugh, the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce president and chairman of UConn’s board of trustees, was Aresco’s football coach at Xavier. In fact, this year’s Xavier football team was honored at the breakfast for winning its third straight Class LL state title.

No doubt, it was good to be among friends and familiar faces for Aresco, who has been besieged by conference realignment and high-profile defections from the Big East ever since he took over as commissioner in August.

“It’s been a lot more interesting than I thought it would be, a lot more challenges, a lot more things to navigate, so it’s been a little more difficult,” Aresco noted. “You basically take it a day a time, with every challenge that will come.”

Aresco told the audience that, while UConn is “very committed” to the Big East, he can’t predict what the school will ultimately do when it comes to realignment.

“You never know what’s going to happen, none of us can predict,” he said. “That’s one thing I won’t do. But as conferences consolidate, get bigger, I think they re-think what they’re doing. I think there will be a period of calm. That doesn’t mean it’s over. UConn has been very committed to this model. It’s a good model.”

Aresco said that the Big East will eventually add a 12th football-playing member (it will have 10 next year and 11 when Navy joins in 2015). The conference is “getting closer” to a TV deal that could involve multiple network, though he didn’t know when that deal would be finalized.

He noted that there is no animosity towards the so-called “Catholic 7” for breaking away from the conference and looking out for themselves. Nor is there animosity towards Louisville or other schools for departing for other conferences.

“Conference realignment is a fact of life,” Aresco said, “but you have to play the cards you’re dealt.”
Aresco did point out, however, that the conference would be looking to keep the Big East name.

“There’s brand equity in that,” he noted.

He also said that the Big East-SEC Invitational basketball tournament will no longer be continued.

Elsewhere:  I caught up with former UConn star Jim Abromaitis at the breakfast. He said his son Tim, the former Notre Dame standout, is playing professionally for a team called Asvel in Lyon, France, and doing very well. 

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

My AP Top 25 Ballot This Week

Another crazy week in college hoops. Another tough Top 25 poll. Fun, though. Always like to switch things up (if warranted), and invite some new teams in.

This week, I've booted five teams (Minnesota, VCU, Cincinnati, Wyoming and UCLA) and invited five new ones (Missouri, Georgetown, Arizona State, San Diego State and Louisiana Tech). Yes, Louisiana Tech. Men's basketball, not women's. The Bulldogs are 18-3 overall, 9-0 in the WAC and have won 10 straight. They are one of only two teams in the country with 10 wins away from home (8-3 in true road games, 2-0 on neutral sites). The latter stat means a lot to me. The mark of a good team is one that wins on the road.

Plus, with so much parity this season, it's time to start ditching the idea of power conferences getting preferential treatment and get more mid-majors into the equation. Villanova, for example, beat Louisville and Syracuse this week, both at home. Great week for the Wildcats, and I'm sure they'll garner some votes. Not from me. For one, they're only 13-7. But also, they beat two Top 10 teams this week because they got the chance to do so. Schools from mid-major conferences don't get these opportunities. Who's to say if Colorado State or UNLV hosted Syracuse and Louisville this past week, they wouldn't have won both games. Maybe they wouldn't have, but unlike Villanova, they didn't get the chance.

I hope that makes some sense. Anyway, here's my ballot (I'm gonna go ahead and assume Creighton holds on to its 18-point halftime lead over Southern Illinois).

1. Michigan
2. Kansas
3. Indiana
4. Duke
5. Florida
6. Gonzaga
7. Arizona
8. Syracuse
9. Miami
10. Oregon
11. Wichita State
12. Ohio State
13. New Mexico
14. Mississippi
15. Michigan State
16. Louisville
17. Butler
18. NC State
19. Creighton
20. Missouri
21. Arizona State
22. San Diego State
23. Georgetown
24. Kansas State
25. Louisiana Tech


Shabazz Napier Fosters UConn's 'Us Versus Them' Attitude

Shabazz Napier was sporting a baseball cap that read “Us Versus Them” after Sunday’s rather unattractive win over Rutgers. No, he's not a Pink Floyd fan (and yes, I know it's "Us And Them").

“My girlfriend got me this,” Napier said. “It’s a good hat. Coach (Kevin) Ollie mentioned it before the game. It got the team excited.”

Indeed, it's sort of the attitude UConn's had all season and must continue to maintain for the next two months. While they've had to deal with knowing they’re not going to any postseason tournaments for nearly a year now, the reality of the situation is in danger of creeping in over the next couple of months. Soon, bracketologists will be as prevalent on TV as weathermen, March Madness will again be an everyday part of the sports vernacular and the Huskies – despite a 13-5 overall record and 3-3 Big East mark after Sunday’s win – will be on the outside looking in.

Napier knows the team must guard against the disappointment of being left out and rise above it.

“It probably hasn’t hit a lot of guys that we’re almost done,” the junior point guard said. “I think the guys understand that we’re doing this for something bigger. We’re doing this to get ready for next year. It’s tough not getting in this year, but this year is going to help us be stronger next year. To understand that, if we can fight through the things we’re fighting through now, next year’s going to be so much easier, because we’re going to have a lot of guys still here.”

Does that mean Napier plans on coming back next year? No. But it certainly sounds like a good sign for Husky fans.

Here’s some more of what Napier (and Ollie) had to say after the victory. We’ll have some video up a little later, as well.

(Napier, on his left shoulder)

“We just played good defense today, so that made me forget about my shoulder. I was happy about that.”

Ollie noted that Napier is displaying much better leadership this season. Napier essentially agreed.

“I feel like I know what play to call, I know when to shoot, things like that,” he said. “It just comes from experience. I’m a junior now, I realize what college basketball is, to a (degree).”

Niels Giffey did a little of everything – seven points, three boards, career-high four steals – and Napier appreciated it.

“Giff’s always that guy that’s gonna give us the spark no matter what. He comes off the bench and he’s ready to play. Giff can be starting, but he understands that he needs to be a guy that’s coming off the bench, and he enjoys that role. We need a few more guys like that who don’t care about minutes and playing a lot, scoring. He’s an all-out effort guy, and we need those people.”

Added Ollie: “When I look up ‘versatility’ in the dictionary, I see Niels Giffey’s picture by it. I call on him to play the 3, the 4, 2, 1. He just steps up and does it. I love him to death.”

(Ollie on DeAndre Daniel’s steal and dunk off UConn’s pressure that highlighted a 10-0, game-clinching run)

“I actually didn’t see DeAndre’s steal. I was back there talking to my coaches. I turned around, and they’re going, ‘Look, look, look.’ It was just our ball pressure.”

Ollie said he wrote down a couple of goals on the board prior to the game, and UConn accomplished them. What were they? Rebounding and defensive intensity?

“You got it. That’s it. It was defense and rebounding. You pretty much know what the rebounding was (37-33 advantage). I want us to hit, and we did that tonight. I’m proud of the guys.”

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shabazz Napier, UConn Hope to Rebound vs. Rutgers -- Literally

A little under the weather, couldn't make it to today's UConn practice. Confident I'll rally and make it tomorrow's 2 p.m. game against Rutgers at the XL Center, however.

Anyway, here's my advance for Sunday's game

And here's the gameday capsule:

MEN'S BASKETBALL GAMEDAY
RUTGERS at UCONN
When: Today, 2 p.m.
Where: XL Center, Hartford
Records: Rutgers 12-6 (3-4 Big East), UConn 12-5 (2-3 Big East)
TV: SNY
Radio: WTIC 1080
Keep an eye on
‰Under-rated?!?! There are plenty of good guard tandem’s in the Big East, but perhaps the most underrated belongs to Rutgers, in the form of Eli Carter and Myles Mack. The duo combines to average 28.8 of the Scarlet Knights’ 69.4 points per game, though Carter is coming off a dreadful, 1-for-14 effort against St. John’s on Wednesday.
‰Heads-up on the match-up. Rutgers will throw a bunch of defensive looks at opponents, including a 2-3, matchup zone. UConn has struggled against the matchup zone looks of Louisville and Pittsburgh recently, and Kevin Ollie knows his team has to have better ball movement when facing it.
‰Sneaker weekend. UConn’s coaching staff will be sporting sneakers on Sunday as part of the annual Suits and Sneakers Weekend to draw attention to the Coaches vs. Cancer program. Fans can help the fight against cancer by donating $5 by texting the word “Coach” to 20222 until April 9.
Probable starters
Rutgers
Name;Ht.;Yr.;Pos.;PPG
Jerome Seagears;6-1;So.;G;4.5
Myles Mack;5-9;So.;G;13.2
Eli Carter;6-2;So.;G;15.6
Dane Miller;6-6;Sr.;G/F;8.0
Wally Judge;6-8;Jr.;F;7.9
UConn
Name;Ht.;Yr.;Pos.;PPG
DeAndre Daniels;6-8;So.;F;10.5
Tyler Olander;6-9;Jr.;F;5.1
Ryan Boatright;6-0;So.;G;16.0
Shabazz Napier;6-1;Jr.;G;16.6
Omar Calhoun;6-5;Fr.;G;10.9
Off the bench
Rutgers: Mike Poole, 6-5 Jr. G, 4.9; Austin Johnson, 6-8 Sr. F/C, 5.8; Kadeem Jack, 6-9 So. F, 5.3.
UConn: Enosch Wolf, 7-1 Jr. C, 3.6; Niels Giffey, 6-7 Jr. G/F, 3.8; R.J. Evans, 6-3 Gr. G, 3.7

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Kevin Ollie: Shabazz Should Be 'Full-Blast' on Sunday for UConn

Kevin Ollie was on the Big East coaches conference call this morning, and here's some of what he had to say about Shabazz Napier and the Huskies' game vs. Rutgers on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Hartford:

"(Shabazz) definitely needed a coule of days. He wasn't going out and playing the type of basketball we needed him to play. He told me he could go (against Pittsburgh), and that was it. I didn't want to hear about his shoulder, I just wanted him to perform."

"He hasn't been able to do full-contact (drills) yet. When we come back (to practice on Friday), I think he'll be full-blast, the Shabazz of old -- getting to the rim, making 3-point shots, being more aggressive and attacking on offense."

(on Rutgers)

"They're a tough team. They have some outstanding guards, a three-guard lineup, kind of like how we start. And they've got some good bigs down there. We're going to have our work cut out for us, like in every Big East matchup. Hopefully, our team comes out on top and gets back to its winning ways."

The Scarlet Knights, who ended a 10-game losing streak against UConn with a 67-60 win last January that led to a rather grumpy Jim Calhoun at practice the following morning, are 12-6 overall and 3-4 in the Big East. They are led by the guard tandem of Eli Carter and Myles Mack, who combine to average 28.8 of the team's 69.4 points per game (though Carter is coming off an ugly, 1-for-14 night on Wednesday in a loss to St. John's).

"They're playing exceptionally hard," said Ollie. "Carter is shooting from anywhere, Mack is right there with him. They're shooting three steps from halfcourt, just letting it go ... they're guard-heavy, but they also have some explosive players down low. And they always have a complicated, match-up zone. We're going to have to figure it out ... gonna have to move the basketball a little better than what we've been doing."

Rutgers coach Mike Rice noted his team missed 17 layups and 12 free throws against St. John's. He said he wasn't dismayed by Carter's shot selection, however -- though didn't seem to rule out possibly bringing him in off the bench in the future.

As for UConn: "Big challenge ahead, containing and defending their guards. I love what Coach Ollie's doing with his schemes, his X's and O's. They've got great ball movement, their spacing the floor is excellent. I look for a big challenge at UConn on Sunday."

Rice also had this to say when asked how tough it must be to coach a team (like UConn) that has no postseason to look forward to.

“I think it would be difficult, especially with everything that Coach Calhoun built, what their standards are. To be honest with you, you don’t see it on film. Coach Ollie’s done a tremendous job, how hard they’re playing. They've got a little depleted roster in terms of numbers, etc. But you can’t tell by watching them on film. They’re playing really hard, with passion. I imagine it’s difficult, I’ve never had to do something like that. I give them all the credit in the world, because they’re playing real, real hard.”



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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Family Bonds are Strong for UConn's Omar Calhoun

Did a little feature on Omar Calhoun during this rare, eight-day wait between games. His parents sacrificed a lot so that he and his sister, highly-touted Class of 2014 wing Sierra Calhoun, could follow their own dreams in basketball.

Meanwhile, here's a longer, more in-depth look at Calhoun and his family from New York magazine back in January, 2012.

Elsewhere: Shabazz Napier had limited participation in Wednesday's practice, as trainer James Doran held him out of contact. The team is off on Thursday, and Doran expects Napier to be a full go for practices on Friday and Saturday, then the Huskies' 2 p.m. game against Rutgers on Sunday at the XL Center.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Napier Sits Out Sunday Practice, Should Be Good For Wednesday Practice, Sunday Game

From UConn: Shabazz Napier sat out of practice on Sunday to rest his bruised shoulder. The Huskies had Monday and Tuesday off from practice, and Napier continues to get treatment from trainer James Doran. He is improving daily and there is nothing structurally wrong, according to Doran, just a bruise that needs time to heal.

Doran expects Napier to practice on Wednesday and, barring any unforeseen changes, doesn't anticipate a problem with him playing against Rutgers on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the XL Center.




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Sunday, January 20, 2013

My AP Top 25 Ballot This Week

This was easily the most difficult Top 25 ballot of the season so far, as far as I’m concerned. No less than 14 teams that I ranked last week lost at least once, two of them twice (including UConn, which falls off the charts).

In all, I knocked six teams (Notre Dame, Missouri, UNLV, Marquette, UConn and San Diego State) off my ballot this week and, obviously, added six (Michigan State, Mississippi, Miami, Wichita State, Wyoming and Cincinnati).

I’m pretty comfortable with Michigan being No. 1. I’ve thought the Wolverines were the best team in the country for a while now, and their impressive win at Minnesota this past week did nothing to change my mind.

After that, though, No.’s 2-6 (or even 2-8) are virtually interchangeable.

Anyway, here’s my ballot:

1. Michigan
2. Duke
3. Kansas
4. Syracuse
5. Louisville
6. Indiana
7. Arizona
8. Florida
9. New Mexico
10. Kansas State
11. Butler
12. Gonzaga
13. Oregon
14. Michigan State
15. Wichita State
16. Ohio State
17. Creighton
18. NC State
19. Mississippi
20. Minnesota
21. VCU
22. Cincinnati
23. Wyoming
24. Miami
25. UCLA

And here's the AP poll:


†•1. Duke (39) ‡•16-1••1,578•••3
†•2. Michigan (11) ‡•17-1••1,539•••5
†•3. Kansas (7) ‡•16-1••1,486•••4
†•3. Syracuse (8) ‡•17-1••1,486•••6
†•5. Louisville ‡•16-2••1,348•••1
†•6. Arizona ‡•16-1••1,270•••7
†•7. Indiana ‡•16-2••1,211•••2
†•8. Florida ‡•14-2••1,181••10
†•9. Butler ‡•16-2••1,146••13
†10. Gonzaga ‡•17-2•••|994•••8
†11. Kansas St. ‡•15-2•••|927••16
†12. Minnesota ‡•15-3•••|905•••9
†13. Michigan St. ‡•16-3•••|831••18
†14. Ohio St. ‡•13-4•••|701••11
†15. New Mexico ‡•16-2•••|659••19
†16. Oregon ‡•16-2•••|624••21
†17. Creighton ‡•17-2•••|611••12
†18. NC State ‡•15-3•••|587••14
†19. VCU ‡•16-3•••|433••22
†20. Wichita St. ‡•17-2•••|363••|_
†21. Cincinnati ‡•16-3•••|322••|_
†22. Missouri ‡•13-4•••|234••17
†23. Mississippi ‡•15-2•••|172••|_
†24. Notre Dame ‡•15-3•••|123••20
†25. Miami ‡•13-3•••|•93••|_
¶ Others receiving votes: Marquette 92, Wisconsin 55, UCLA 41, UNLV 32, Wyoming 28, San Diego St. 26, Colorado St. 7, Memphis 6, Georgetown 4, Iowa St. 3, North Carolina 3, Louisiana Tech 2, Bucknell 1, Pittsburgh 1.


UConn Preparing for Potential Life Without Boat and Bazz Next Season

Yes, it's a bit early -- but not too early to start thinking about the NBA draft and whether or not Shabazz Napier and/or Ryan Boatright intend on entering. Players will tell you it's the furthest thing from their minds right now, but it's only common sense (and human nature) for kids with the potential to earn millions to have at least an eye on the future.

“I never think about it,” Napier insisted to me after Saturday's game. “That’s one thing, I stay humble, I don’t think about what’s in the future, I just think about what’s now.”

Interestingly, in regard to players thinking about their NBA future, he added: “We had that problem last year, and we don’t need it this year.”

Here's my story on Boat and Bazz's future. If both stay in Storrs next season, as the consensus seems to believe they should, the Huskies could be pretty special, and they could boost their stock. If they decide to leave, UConn could have some problems -- even with Terrence Samuel, whom Glen Miller likens to Pitt's James Robinson, in the fold, and with one point guard from Kentucky (via Canada) practically begging to be a Husky.

I asked an Eastern Conference scout recently about Boatright, and he said the kid's not ready for the NBA yet, but he loves his speed and thinks he could be a lottery pick someday if he sticks around Storrs.

For today's story, I talked to a Western Conference scout about both players, and here's fully what he had to say:

(on Napier)
“He’s got a little toughness about him, decent point guard skills. He likes to shoot, but that's not so bad anymore, because they play zones in the league now, they want their point guards to score a little bit. He's the kinda guy I wouldn’t count him out, but don’t think anybody’s gonna go crazy over him.”

"He's probably anywhere from mid-second round to not drafted. People are always looking for point guards. The odds are teams will wait to see if he slides through the draft. At that point, it's better for the players. A number of teams will want to bring him into summer leagues, so he's in a little more control of trhe process."

(on Boatright)

"For me, personally, he’s tough to like. He’s got the lethal traits of being (not smart with the ball) and selfish. When I first saw him I got excited, because he's got big-time quicknees. Maybe he’s reformed himself. A couple of times (he had a guy open and) he had to see the guy, but he's one of those moody little point guards who decide who they're going to pass to. I just hate that. You remember that as a player. You should make that play because it's the right play."

(on Boatright's small size)

"There are some small guys, and he does have big-time quickness. He’s not my cup of tea, but there may be somebody who thinks he’s got X-factor quickness ... and could be that catalyst type of guy. It's an 82-game schedule, things are going to happen to you, one way or another."

"I think it’s a mistake for both of them (to declare). The kid from Villanova (Maalik Wayns) lucked out. He probably thought he was gonna be drafted, he didn’t get drafted at all, and he's on end of bench with Philly (actually, Wayns' 10-day contract with the 76ers just expired, and he wasn't re-signed). I just don’t think you leave school, even for the second round. But I know the pressure these kids are under. They’re AAU guys, whoever they’re hanging around with, go home to, it’s like a red badge of courage that you’re going to be in the draft."

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kevin Ollie: 'We Played for 20 Minutes. You Can't Do That in the Big East'

Does UConn deserve credit for coming back from a 14-point second-half deficit in its eventual 69-61 loss at Pitt today, or do the Huskies deserve demerits for "sleepwalking" through the first half, as Shabazz Napier noted?

Probably a little of both.

Anyway, here's what the key characters had to say about the game. We'll have some video up later.

KEVIN OLLIE:

An interesting statement by Ollie, when asked if he was disappointed this will be the final time UConn plays Pitt for a while -- at least in Big East competition:



(on the game itself)

“We can’t spot them 13 points like we did in the first half. They came out aggressive. We didn’t rebound like I expect our team to rebound.”

“You’ve got to play for 40 minutes, I thought we played for 20. You can’t do that in the Big East.”

“They’re going to hit you, hold you, go over your back, rebound, play aggressive. We weren’t able to withstand that and hit first, in the first half. Our coaching staff challenged them, and they responded, but you can’t give a great team like Pittsburgh 13 points – especially on their home court.”

“We’re not a talented group where we can go individually and try to win. We’ve got to do it as a collective group, play hard, do all the small things, sacrifice your body. We didn’t do that in the first half, and it was an embarrassment. In the second half, we came out and played.”

(on how limited Shabazz Napier was)

“He was out on the court. He was 100 percent.”

(on what UConn did better vs. Pitt’s zone in second half)

“We move the basketball and played tough. It doesn’t come down to X’s and O’s, I didn’t draw up anything different. Our coaching staff didn’t come up with any magical formula. It was just being tough.”

“In the second half, we responded like champions. That’s how I want them to play.”

RYAN BOATRIGHT
“We came out so flat. There was no intensity on the whole squad. We dug ourselves too deep of a grave to climb out of. We did a good job trying to get out, but we died trying to come out of it.”

(on Shabazz)

“His shoulder’s messed up. As anybody could tell, he wasn’t himself. We need him to be healthy, as fast as possible.”

NAPIER:



He added that he felt like he couldn’t really dribble left-handed.

“I felt like I couldn’t really penetrate as much. I felt like if I did, I was going to turn the ball over.”

(on UConn’s bad first half)

“It was a noon start. A lot of guys are still sleepwalking. We just came out with a better effort. We understood we were down 13 points and we had to get the lead back.”

OMAR CALHOUN, on where he is at this point of his freshman season:
“I think I’m doing so-so, up and down. I feel like I’m getting better. I’ve had a decent last two games, I’ve just got to keep progressing and getting better. I can do a lot on the court, but right now, I’m trying to feel my way out, because I’ve got two guards that slash and attack the rim. I’ve got to space out for them. I don’t nearly drive as much because they drive. I space the floor out for them. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team win.”

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Shabazz Napier is Expected to Play Today for UConn

Shabazz Napier is expected to play today. He practiced last night, warmed up this morning and appears good to go.



*** UConn’s assistant coaches are expected to attend the Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield, Mass. both tonight and Sunday. The tournament, which features many of the top prep programs in the nation, runs through Monday at Blake Arena at Springfield College.


Here’s the schedule for Sunday and Monday:

Sunday:

10 AM Vermont Academy, VT vs. Tilton School, NH

Noon South Kent School, CT vs.  Brewster Academy, NH

2 PM ESPNU St. Benedict's Prep, NJ vs. Montrose Christian School, MD

5 PM ESPN1 New Hampton School, NH vs. Huntington Prep, WV

7 PM Wilbraham and Monson, MA vs. Worcester Academy, MA

8:30 PM SKILLS CHALLENGE SKILLS CHALLENGE

Monday:
10 AM St. Anthony High School, NJ vs. Tift County High School, GA

Noon ESPNU Lone Peak High School, UT vs. Archbishop Mitty High School, CA

2 PM ESPNU Oak Hill Academy, VA vs. Simeon High School, IL

4 PM ESPNU Montverde Academy, FL vs. Findlay College Prep, NV

6 PM ESPNU Hudson Catholic High School, NJ vs. DeMatha Catholic High School, MD

*** Always great to see former Pirate shortstop Dick Groat, who’s the radio color commentator for Pitt.

*** Pitt and Villanova were tied at 43 on Wednesday in Philly. Pitt scored the final 15 points of the game to notch the 58-43 victory. Wow.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Shabazz Napier a Game Time Decision on Saturday

Shabazz Napier experienced some discomfort during practice on Friday evening, and it will be a game time decision on whether he plays tomorrow against Pittsburgh.

Napier, UConn’s top scorer at 17.1 points per game, injured his left shoulder after being fouled within the early minutes of the Huskies’ 73-58 loss to Louisville Monday night in Hartford. He sat out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday, getting treatment from trainer James Doran, and said Thursday afternoon that he was feeling better and had good range of motion, but was still experiencing pain.

UConn was originally slated to practice in Storrs on Friday morning and fly to Pittsburgh. But in a move to get Napier a little more rest, coach Kevin Ollie moved practice to Friday evening at the Petersen Events Center, where the Huskies (12-4, 2-2 Big East) face Pitt (14-4, 2-3) on Saturday at noon.

Napier went through all of Friday’s practice, which didn’t include much contact, according to UConn spokesman Phil Chardis. He did feel some discomfort in his left shoulder and was somewhat limited. Napier was due to receive more treatment from Doran tonight and Saturday morning to see how his shoulder responded.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shabazz Napier Sidelined by Shoulder Injury, Hopes to Play Saturday vs. Pitt

Shabazz Napier sat out the last two practices (Wednesday and Thursday) after hurting his left shoulder early in Monday night’s Louisville game. He’s considered day-to-day with a shoulder contusion, and while there seems to be some good hope that he'll be able to play Saturday at Pittsburgh, nothing is certain at this point.

“Hopefully, he’ll practice (Friday) and have a good game on Saturday, but we wanted him to rest it, just in case,” Kevin Ollie explained. “He took a hard fall. We wanted to make sure everything structurally was fine.”

The injury came a little less than four minutes into the game, when Napier was fouled by Peyton Siva, crashed to the floor and had Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear land on his shoulder.

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



And here’s some more of what Napier said, including a high degree of self-criticism from the Louisville game:

“It’s a struggle for me to move it to the side. It just hurts. I landed in an awkward position. (Blackshear) just landed right on my shoulder … it kind of pinched my rotator cuff. Whenever I rotate it, it hurts a lot. After the game it was hurting a lot, but now it’s cooled down. I’ve been moving it much better than I did after the game.”

UConn was originally slated to practice Friday morning at Gampel. Instead, the Huskies will go at 5 p.m. in Pittsburgh, to give Napier more rest and see if he’s able to get up some shots.

“Hopefully, I’m able to wake up with no pain and try to shoot, because I haven’t touched a ball in about three days. That’s kinda tough.”

“I’m kinda upset that I hurt myself during the Louisville game, because watching the tape, I felt like I didn’t give much. I looked slow and sluggish out there … I’m just trying to work harder now, look at myself in the mirror much closer now, because that was an awful performance by myself. No leadership, seemed like I didn’t keep my composure. Everything that I didn’t want to happen, happened. I just want to work harder for my teammates and the fan base, because they expected more and they should have gotten more, not only from myself but from the team.”

If Napier can’t play or is limited, UConn is confident others will step up and fill in for the team’s leading scorer.

“We have a motto around here: Next man up,” said Ollie. “If he’s not feeling well, not able to play to the level that we think he needs to play at, then R.J.’s got to play a bigger role, Brendan’s got to be ready to come off (the bench). We’ll find a way, like we’ve been doing the whole season.”

Said Tyler Olander: “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on the guards. Maybe we’re going to have to slow it down a little bit, just to give them a break. They can’t really be running up and down the whole time. We’re really going to have to execute in the halfcourt, slow them in transition, make them work on offense, definitely rebound. Just try to give Boat as much of a break as possible when he needs it.”

And Omar Calhoun: “We’ll see if he’s playing or not. We feel like as a group, we all stay together. Next man up, that’s what Coach Ollie always says.”

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Jim Calhoun to be Feted at Dick Vitale Gala in May

Jim Calhoun will be honored at this year's 8th annual Dick Vitale Gala on Friday, May 17 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla.

Others honored at the event will include Bill Self and Bobby Bowden. Should be a nice birthday gift for Calhoun, who'll turn 71 a week earlier.

Net proceeds from the event will be awarded to pediatric cancer research and related programs through The V Foundation. Last year, the Gala raised a record $2.1 million, bringing the total of funds raised to $8.6 million since the event's inception in 2006. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are now available. A raffle drawing for a Mars Red Mercedes E350A convertible will also occur during the Gala. Tickets for the raffle are $100 and winners do not need to be in attendance for the drawing.

More information about The V Foundation and the Eighth Annual Dick Vitale Gala is provided in the attached press release. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or visit www.jimmyv.org/vitale.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kevin Ollie Taking Part in Infiniti Coaches' Challenge

Kevin Ollie is participating in the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge this year (as Jim Calhoun did last year) in an effort to raise money for The Tolland Fund.

If you want to help, click on this link and put a check next to Ollie's name. Fans can vote (for free) and the winning coach gets money for his charity.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Rick Pitino: "I'll Be Long Dead, But Kevin Ollie's Going To Be an Unbelievable Coach"

They're No. 1. No question about it.

Louisville's got choking fullcourt pressure, an active matchup zone, lots of answers offensively, two great guards and a dominating big man. It all proved too much for UConn, particularly in the second half, Monday night in a 73-58 Cardinal win at a nearly sold-out (14,287) XL Center.

Most of the relevant quotes and stats are here in the Register's game story. Otherwise, we'll leave the stage to a bespectacled Rick Pitino, who had some nice things to say about UConn, along with this cryptic quote:

"I think they have one of the premier backcourts in the country. I've said this many times, I think Kevin Ollie -- I'll be long dead -- but he's going to be an unbelievable coach."

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A Little More on Amida Brimah, UConn's New Commit

A little more on Amida Brimah, who is sitting behind UConn's bench tonight, along with his legal guardian, Nana Baafi, and Fairfield Prep 7-footer Paschal Chukwu:

According to Juan Hernandez, Brimah's high school coach at Archbishop Coleman Carroll in Miami, Brimah is a good student who scored about an 18 on his ACT. That score is good enough to qualify him for virtually any school, so he doesn't have to take the SAT, according to Hernandez.

“He’s just a great kid, an extremely hard worker," Hernandez said. "He’s very, very dedicated, he’s focused. I’m not surprised at all about the success he’s had … or is going to have in the future.”

Brimah's frontrunners were UConn, South Carolina, La Salle (the three schools he visited officially) and Florida International. Lately, Villanova and St. Louis had been calling frequently. Hernandez said he heard NC State was going to call, too, but never did.

So why did Brimah commit on Sunday night, so early in his official visit?

“He said he was very comfortable when he got there. He always got along very well with the coaches. They’ve got a good history with the big guys. His biggest thing is having the opportunity to play in the NBA at some point. One of the criteria was getting him prepared for that, from a playing standpoint and an exposure standpoint.”

“Two main things: having the opportunity to play right away – obviously nobody can guarantee playing time, but knowing there’s at least an opportunity. He didn’t want to be red-shirted, nor did his guardian. And, to be somewhere that prepares him to play in the NBA, hopefully. We all think he can get there.”


Glen Miller and Kevin Ollie had each been to see Brimah play once, but Karl Hobbs had been to numerous games and practices.

Brimah played AAU ball for Each 1 Teach 1, Amar'e Stoudamire's outfit.

*** It's silly to make too big a deal out of the fact that Louisville's scheduled flight to Hartford was cancelled Sunday night and the Cards didn't arrive in town until around 2 p.m. on Monday -- about seven hours before tip-off.

But it's not a stretch to say this could hurt Louisville. Teams get used to routines, and for college basketball teams, that routine includes getting into town the night before, having dinner, breaking down some film, then having a shootaround the next day.

Louisville wasn't able to do any of those things. Will it all have an affect on a bunch of elite, 19, 20-, 21-year-old athletes? Maybe not. But definitely maybe.

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Amida Brimah Commits to UConn

Amida Brimah, a 6-foot-11 shot-blocker out of Miami's Archbishop Coleman Carroll High, has committed to UConn.

"I will be playing college basketball at (the) University of Connecticut," Brimah tweeted early this morning.

He is the first player to commit since Kevin Ollie took over as head coach. Here's some video of Brimah in action.

Brimah arrived in Connecticut late Saturday night and is currently on an official visit. He'll take in tonight's UConn-Louisville game at the XL Center.

Here's what we had to say about Brimah recently. Offensively, he's a bit of a project (though he's been improving virtually by the day). Defensively, he's ready now.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

My AP Top 25 Ballot, and Some Travel Issues for Louisville

Whenever Louisville arrives in Connecticut on Monday, it should arrive as the No. 1 team in the nation. When it arrives, however, is still a question.

The Cardinals held a practice on Sunday and planned to fly out to Hartford Sunday evening for Monday's "Big Monday" bout with UConn at the XL Center. However, apparently fog issues cancelled Louisville's flight and the team will have to travel on Monday morning -- game day. The Cards have cancelled their slated shootaround and are hoping to arrive by around noon or 1 p.m. (We're sure Rick Pitino is taking this all very calmly).

Anyway, Louisville at least can take solace that it will likely land at Bradley as No. 1. I've got the Cards on the top of my ballot, though I considered bumping up Michigan (which I had No. 2 last week) despite its loss at Ohio State. However, even though I still think the Wolverines are the best team in the country, I rarely move a team up after a loss, so Louisville moves from No. 3 to 1. Duke (which lost at NC State) drops two spots to No. 3. Ryan Kelly's injury was a factor in dropping them two spots, past Michigan.

As for UConn, I couldn't keep it out this week. Not after beating Notre Dame (which I thought could be the second best team in the Big East) on the road. Not with all three losses to Top 25 (most likely) teams. Not when the Huskies are a Junior Cardougan buzzer-beater (and an admitted mistake by the referees) from being 3-0 in the Big East.

Even though I think UConn may be a better team than Marquette, I had to rank the Golden Eagles higher since they beat the Huskies head-to-head (and also beat Georgetown and Pittsburgh, the latter on the road, this week).

Anyway, here's my ballot this week:

1.       Louisville
2.       Michigan
3.       Duke
4.       Indiana
5.       Kansas
6.       Syracuse
7.       Arizona
8.       Creighton
9.       Gonzaga
10.   San Diego State
11.   Florida
12.   NC State
13.   Ohio State
14.   Notre Dame
15.   Missouri
16.   New Mexico
17.   Kansas State
18.   Butler
19.   Minnesota
20.   UNLV
21. Oregon
22.   Marquette
23.   UConn
24.   UCLA
25.   Virginia Commonwealth

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Career Game for Tyler Olander; Boatright's Alley-Oop Dunk Was Set Play; UConn Snaps Another Notre Dame Streak

On the very first sequence of UConnn's eventual 65-58 win over Notre Dame, Jack Cooley had his shot blocked by Tyler Olander.

That pretty much set the stage for a game in which Olander -- to the surprise of just about everyone -- outplayed perhaps the Big East's best all-around big man.

While Cooley finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, both were under his season averages (15.2, 11.2). Olander, meanwhile, put forth a career outing and by far the highlight of what's been, to date, a very disappointing junior season.



Olander scored a career-high 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting. He had a putback dunk in the first half, then proceeded to score 10 of UConn's first 15 points of the latter half. He grabbed seven rebounds and had a couple of huge defensive plays (a block of Jerian Grant's shot and a big rebound) in the final 35 seconds.

"I just wanted Tyler to go to work down there," said Kevin Ollie. "I know what he can do on the offensive end. It was a matchup where he could get deep, low-post position. Once you make a couple of layups, that rim got real big for him. He started making some jumpers -- just doing some things that we know TO can do."

Olander entered the game averaging just 4.6 points a contest. He'd had just one double-figure scoring game -- on Tuesday against DePaul -- but even those 10 points largely came in garbage time.

“It’s really rewarding," the Mansfield native said. "Things weren't really working out for me at the beginning of the season, but I just stuck with it, kept working hard, got in the gym and it feels good to have the hard work finally pay off.”

Added Ryan Boatright:“Tyler works extremely hard all the time, I’m just proud to see it pay off finally. He needed this. He’s got his confidence going now, so hopefully he can keep it going for the next few games.”

Ollie said he's seen a difference in Olander's overall demeanor lately.

“His self-fortitude, his belief that ‘I can get it done.’ Cooley is a big-time matchup, but I thought it was a standstill today. He stepped up, I’m so proud of him. But now, he can’t lay on it. He’s got to keep building on it.”

But, the coach continued: “It’s great to see him smile and have this type of game. I’m happy for him.”

*** One of the biggest -- and certainly the most electrifying -- plays of the game came about midway through the second half, when Shabazz Napier hit Boatright for an alley-oop dunk.

Cooley had just slammed home a putback with 7:59 to play to get the Irish to within two (50-48). Wasting no time, the Huskies killed any momentum Notre Dame could muster from the suddenly jacked-up, sellout crowd when Napier tossed a pass from beyond the 3-point arc and the 6-foot (not even) Boatright flew in for the slam.

It was actually a play UConn had set up during the prior timeout, before Cooley's dunk.

“It’s kind of funny because (Cooley) got the dunk, and we had already set the play up for Boatright to get his own dunk," Napier said. "Boatright said, ‘It’s gonna be open.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna throw it up to you, you’ve gotta catch it.’ (Cooley) got that dunk, he came back down, I said, ‘Man, we’re about to shut them up.’ He came off the pick, I saw him set him set his feet up, I lobbed it up there and he went up there and got it.”

Said Boatright: “My eyes kinda lit up. Once (Cooley) made that tip dunk, I knew I was coming back for a lob. I just wanted to go up there and get it.”

“I’ve been dunking a long time," Boatright added. "It’s just two points. It’s a dunk, and I just got back on defense.”

Well, not really: one of the refs seemed to warn Boatright about excessive celebration after the slam.

*** DeAndre Daniels had no points, no rebounds and a turnover at halftime. Then, he got a ... ahem ... "talking-to" from Ollie at the break.

What did the coach tell Daniels?

“I can’t say what I said," Ollie told the media, with a smile. "I give you all a lot, Coach Blaney gets mad at me. I can’t tell y’all that one, that’s my secret.”

Whatever he said, it worked. Daniels had eight points and a team-high nine rebounds in the latter half. He also made a key play late in the game that essentially sealed the Huskies' win, tipping a rebound out of Cooley's hands and flipping in a layup to give UConn a six-point lead with about 14 seconds left.

*** UConn snapped a 45-game Notre Dame home winning streak in 2009 and a 27-game Irish home win streak last season. Notre Dame had won 12 straiht entering Saturday's game. One more win would have set record during Brey's tenure.

In fact, the Irish have won 46 of their last 48 home games. Their two losses ...?
“When I stepped on the court, I looked up and it said 46-1," said Napier. "I gave myself a little chuckle, because I was thinking to myself, it’s gonna be 46-2.”

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Amida Brimah Will Visit UConn This Weekend

Amida Brimah, the 6-11 shot-blocker from Miami, will make an official visit to UConn this weekend. He'll head up to Storrs on Saturday night and take in Monday's bout with Louisville at the XL Center in Hartford. Brimah, a native of Ghana whose parents still live in that African country, will make the trip with his legal guardian.

Brimah has previously made official visits to South Carolina and La Salle. He has shown great improvement over just the past few months and is drawing a lot of interest from other schools right now.

Here's what Brimah's high school coach, Juan Hernandez, told me about the Class of 2013 big man last week.

Meanwhile, the Huskies face Notre Dame on Saturday at the Joyce Center. It's another chance for UConn to snap an Irish winning streak, and this time Ryan Boatright gets to play along.

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UConn Out to End Another Irish Winning Streak ... and Ryan Boatright Gets to Help Out This Time, Too

In 2009, UConn came to Purcell Pavilion and ended Notre Dame's school-record, 45-game home win streak.

A year ago, sans Ryan Boatright, the Huskies ended the Irish's 29-game home win streak.

Notre Dame is now on a 12-game overall winning streak, which matches its best ever under head coach Mike Brey. Can UConn spoil another Irish streak? Or will Notre Dame top its previous best winning streak under Brey, originally set from Nov. 14, 2006 to Jan. 3, 2007?

*** Last year's 67-53 win at Notre Dame was an emotional one for UConn. The night before, the Huskies learned that Boatright's eligibility was still being looked into by the NCAA and they had to sit him out of the game, even though some 300 friends and family were slated to make the two-hour drive from his hometown of East Aurora, Ill., to South Bend. The group even had special UConn shirts with Boatright's name and No. 11 on the back made for the game (though far fewer than 300 showed up, since they knew he wouldn't be albe to play).

There are no eligibility issues this time for Boatright, however, and he's expecting a healthy turnout tomorrow afternoon.



Boatright is happy with the way he's been playing lately.

“I’m in a rhythm, man," he said. "I’ve got a flow going. Last year, I was holding it out. Now, I’ve been playing all year, I’m comfortable. The team chemistry is great. I’m actually having fun playing ball again. All this that’s gone on, it just adds fuel to the fire. Every time we come up against a Big East team, everybody doubts us. So, we’re looking forward to playing them tomorrow.”

Kevin Ollie likes what he's been seeing from the sophomore guard, as well.

“Today was one of his best practices ever. He looked like he was in a good place. Probably coming close to home, where he can see his family, puts you in that state of mind. Hopefully, he can put on a great show for his fans and family that’s coming down to watch him play.”

*** Remember when Jack Cooley was just known as the guy who looked a lot like former Irish teammate Luke Harangody?

He's come a long way over the past few years. Cooley, a 6-9, 246-pound senior, is aeraing 15.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game to lead the Irish.

“He’s a double-double machine," said Ollie. "He’s just a load down there, and he don’t mind hitting you. It seems like he embraces it. It’s going to be a challenge for our big guys, but our big guys are playing exceptionally well, and I think they’re going to be up to it.”

Enosch Wolf and Tyler Olander will be charged with trying to stop Cooley. The watched some film of him on the flight to South Bend with coach Glen Miller.

“He’s a real physical guy," said Wolf. "We’ve got to hit him first, get him out of his position. He’s not a particularly fast player, but where he stands, you’ve got to hit him first and get him out of his position.”

“He doesn’t jump high, he’s just very strong. I’m probably going to be able to contest his shot and be able to shoot over him.”

*** Shabazz Napier was a little banged up at practice Friday, but it doesn't appear to be a big deal, according to Ollie.

*** A report by Mark Blaudschun at ajerseyguy.com stated that UConn was looking into joining the so-called "Catholic 7" in all sports but football, and that its football team could join the Mountain West Conference.

But a UConn official said that AD Warde Manuel has not had any such conversations and would not even consider separating the school's football program from its other sports.











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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rick Pitino: Kevin Ollie 'About as Perfect a Choice for Head Coach as Any School Could Have'

With a tough game against a very good Notre Dame (maybe the second-best team in the Big East) on the road coming up Saturday, UConn's thoughts are obviously on the Irish.

But with No. 3 Louisville coming to town two days later on Monday for one of the biggest games of the year in Hartford, beat writers have to be looking ahead a little more than coaches do (or at least say they do).

With that in mind, I asked Rick Pitino on today's Big East coaches' conference call about what he thinks of the Huskies thus far and, particularly, the job that Kevin Ollie has done.

Pitino said he hasn't seen much of UConn since watching the Michigan State game on TV and won't start studying them until Saturday night, after the Cardinals' bout with South Florida. But he had this to say:

"I knew this was going to happen with Kevin Ollie. "He tried out with us (presumably with the Celtics in the NBA). Kevin Ollie is about as perfect a choice for head coach as any school could have. He's the perfect match: extremely bright, the players are going to love playing for him, a fierce competitor. It's a tremendous marriage."

Pitino added that UConn appears to be an "outstanding ballclub, great backcourt play," and that playing Monday night in Hartford after Saturday's game at the KFC Yum! Center is no big deal.

"I spent eight years in the pros, playing four games in five nights," he said. "None of this affects me in any way."

UConn, of course, plays at Notre Dame Saturday, hosts Louisville Monday, then travels to Pittsburgh next Saturday in a heck of a gauntlet.

"The schedule-makers didn’t do us any favors," Ollie said. "We don’t look at it as obstacles, we look at it as opportunities, to show America what we’re made of."

He was also asked if his new contract extension is helping on the recruiting trail.

"It’s helping out. It takes a question off the table that a lot of parents, players have – is the coach going to be there? Now, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, I will be here."


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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Career Night for DeAndre Daniels; Bad Hoop by Leon Tolksdorf

Tonight was about UConn avoiding its first 0-2 start in Big East play in 23 years and thumping a DePaul team that was missing two starters due to a violation of team rules.

It was about putting up 99 points (most in a Big East regular season game since a 99-57 win over Seton Hall on Feb. 11, 2006), it was about outrebounding the Demons by a whopping 49-29 (including 30 first-half boards and 19 offensive rebounds for the game).

And it was about Kevin Ollie's first Big East win as head coach.

But mostly, it was about DeAndre Daniels, who finished with a career-high 26 points. The sophomore forward sat out nearly all of the final 17 minutes of UConn’s overtime loss at Marquette a week earlier and finished with just one rebound that night.



Somewhat spurred by that poor effort, Daniels had a strong week of practice – even getting in a minor tussle with close friend Ryan Boatright – and emerged with a career effort on Tuesday. He shot 9-for-12 from the floor, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and helped hold DePaul leading scorer Cleveland Melvin ineffective for most of the night.

“I wasn’t angry, I just came back working even harder, just boxing out and trying to rebound,” Daniels said. “Obviously, if you rebound, you’re going to play a lot of minutes. That’s what I was focusing on, and being aggressive.”

Daniels, a slender 6-foot-8 swingman, often has the tendency to settle for 3-pointers and jumpers. But he was far more assertive taking the ball to the hole against the Blue Demons.

“Sometimes, I tend not to be aggressive and just try to get the ball to Bazz and Ryan,” Daniels said. “But I was pretty aggressive tonight.”

Added Ollie: “He wanted to score. He wasn’t just out there playing, he wanted to score. Hopefully, we can get this over a consistent period of time.”

Ollie insisted that Daniels' essential benching in the second half and OT at Marquette had more to do with what Niels Giffey was doing than what Daniels wasn't doing.

“I just told him – Niels was playing great. It wasn’t anything against DeAndre, it’s just Niels was playing great. He was doing everything I wanted him to do. I couldn’t get DeAndre back in the game. But, it was DeAndre’s turn, next man up, that’s how we’re going to play.”

And Ollie was impressed with how Daniels admitted to the media Monday in practice that the coach was right, and taking responsibility for his own subpar play that night in Milwaukee.

“If you have that attitude and take total responsibility, no matter if it’s your fault or somebody else’s fault, that’s how you become a great player and a great individual," Ollie said. "He took the onus on himself. He didn’t say, ‘Coach Ollie is dogging me,’ he didn’t blame Coach Blaney or anybody. He went out and played today.”

Added Tyler Olander: “DeAndre’s always focused. He’s one of the hardest workers, if not the hardest worker. He’s in the gym all the time. There are going to be games, like against Marquette, when you’re not as productive. But, I think he really turned it around and was really focused. He put up extra shots (in practice), and just had a great game.”

*** Boatright and Daniels, best friends and roommates, can't get out of each other's way lately. Daniels was sporting an ice pack on his shoulder after the game, a result of being kicked by Boatright (mistakenly) while the guard threw down a dunk during Tuesday's shootaround.

“We’ve been running into each other lately," Boatright quipped. "We ran into each other like four times (tonight).”

*** Tuesday night was also about Leon Tolksdorf -- a little. In the final seconds of the blowout, Tolksdorf found himself with the ball, put it through his legs and hit a jumper for his lone two points of the game. It seemed like piling on, and Ollie seemed displeased at first, but apparently forgave him.

“I wanted to stop him but deep in my heart I was like, ‘Go Leon,'" Ollie admitted. "He did a good job – through the legs, pull-up. I was happy to see everybody come in and contribute.”

Still, Tolksdorf got a talking-to from his teammates.

“We just told him, ‘You don’t really need that,'" Olander said. "We understand what he was trying to do, but it’s just not the right time. You’ve got to respect your opponents ... I think he was just trying to make the most of his minutes. You can’t blame him.”

*** Asked if Boatright was ready for the NBA, a pro scout in attendance emphatically said, “No,” but added that if he stays another year and keeps improving, he could be a lottery pick. Scouts love Boatright’s speed – and so does Ollie.

“He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever been around, and I played with Allen Iverson,” the coach said. “Not saying he’s as fast as Allen Iverson, but … he explodes. He's a little guy, with power."

*** The Notre Dame Prep team sat behind UConn's bench for the game, but the Huskies aren't recruiting anyone from that team this year. It was as much a goodwill move as anything.

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