Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Quotes, Video from UConn's Win Over USF

Real good job of coaching Wednesday night by Kevin Ollie. His second-half adjustments worked: starting Niels Giffey over Ryan Boatright to begin the latter half, going zone for a long stretch. Seemed to light a spark under Boatright, who had 11 points in an 18-0 Husky run.

Of course, didn't hurt that Shabazz Napier was up to his usual heroics, as well, including an inspirational halftime speech.

Here are some quotes and video from UConn's 61-56 win:


(on Terrence Samuel)

“For him to come in and get three steals in eight minutes and change the whole complexion of the game, I just needed some pace in the game. I thought it was a halfcourt game, and I wanted him to come in and wreak some havoc. That’s what he did.”

(on not starting Boatright in the latter half)

“Just shaking it up. You’ve got to do that as a coach sometimes. Nothing against Ryan, I just wanted to get some defense in there. I wanted to get a bigger lineup in there, so we could switch a lot of their downscreens with Rudd and a couple of other guys that they had.”

“Shabazz just took over the game like an All-American should. He was an All-American tonight. What he’s done in practice before this game tonight was unbelievable. He’s getting us ready, and I think everybody’s falling in line with his leadership.”

“It’s not the end of the world if we lost to USF, but it’s huge.”

(on Niels Giffey, who had 11 points and five boards)

“He’s been my rock the whole season. You know how much I love Niels. He earned every minute. I’ve got to play the guys that are going to be tough, that are going to give me those gritty rebounds. That guy gets dirty every night for me, and I appreciate him for that.”


“I feel like I always show him something in practice. But tonight, I feel I showed him I can play some ‘D,’ play with passion.”

(on Napier's speech)

"He told us we’ve got to play better than that. No matter how many shots you miss, you’ve got to shoot with confidence. He said he loved us and we’re going to make it to the championship. And we all believed him. We came out and got the victory.”

“He always says something a little here and there, but his emotions were into it today.”

“He said we’re going to go to the championship, we’ve just got to play the same way. If you’re missing shots, you’ve got to shoot it with confidence.”

(on his relationship with Napier)

“Me and Bazz, we spend a lot of time together. We come to the gym a lot at night, we go out to eat together. He’s like my mentor, I guess you could say.”

“He said don’t go home this summer, you’ve got to stay and get better. He said I’m a great player, but he said I’d be one of the best point guards to come out here.”

(on not getting a lot of playing time this season)

“I kinda put my head down for a couple of minutes, but I wake up and (realize) it’s not about myself, it’s about the team. I’m just learning. I see what ‘Bazz and Boat are doing out there in certain situations, so that when it’s my time, I know what to do.”


(did the second-half benching light a spark?)

“I don’t know, I just tried to keep my head in the game, not let that get me out of the game. When I did get back in the game, just do what I had to do to help my team win.”

(on the zone)

“We always practice it, just so we can have it in our back pocket. We needed it today. Thank K.O. for always making us do it when we don’t feel like it.”

(on the foul he was called on late in the game that appeared to be an awful call)

“Oh, God. I couldn’t believe he called that. I was, like, four feet away from him. I asked him, ‘What did you see?’ He said, ‘I didn’t see anything, I heard it.’ I said, ‘What did you hear.’ He said, ‘I heard a noise.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you heard the ball.’ I don’t know, it was just a bad call.”


(on what he said in his halftime speech)

“Right now, we’re in a little rough spot. We’re not playing to our capabilities, we’re missing shots. I just told the guys, we can’t allow that to hurt us defensively. We can’t allow that to affect us on the defensive end, where we’re letting guys get by us and letting guys go for shots. At the end of the day, we predicate ourselves on defense, and that helps us get our offense.”

“They understand, I’m just passionate. I just want to drive the guys, keep them getting better. I just wanted to let the guys know, we’ve got to keep it moving forward.”

(on Samuel)

“I see that from Terrence all the time. I tell him all the time how good he is, and if he continues to get better, he’s going to be one of the great point guards in UConn history. But today, he understood we needed a guy that’s going to come in, play defense and get some steals … That’s what he does. He creates a lot of havoc. I was definitely happy that he was excited to get in, no matter what. Even if coach put him in for two minutes. That’s what a lot of guys don’t understand: you might not get a lot of minutes, but if you get those two minutes, or even if it’s just 30 seconds, you’ve got to play like it’s your last 30 seconds.”

“He’s quite like me. He’s quite funny, he doesn’t take a lot of things seriously. As a freshman, I just wanted to enjoy the moment, enjoy what was going on. He’s giving me that option to mentor him. He’s definitely helped me out a lot, because I’m no perfect guy when it comes to that. I needed to work on that, as well. I do mess up. But he understands that I’m just doing it, and I have a lot of passion in it.”

“USF’s a good team, but at the end of the day, we’re capable of playing much better. The biggest thing was, guys were putting their heads down if they missed a shot. I told guys, ‘I don’t care if you miss 20 shots in a row, you’ve got to think the next one’s going in for sure. If you miss 20 shots in a row, you can’t come back on the defensive end and not play defense.’”

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Live Blog for Wednesday's UConn-USF Game

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is Omar Calhoun Poised to Break Out of Season-Long Slump?

Obviously, it's been a rough go for Omar Calhoun this season. Off-season surgery on both hips. An ankle injury and a concussion that's kept him out of three games. Tough shooting for most of the season (33 percent), including just 3-for-18 in his last seven games played, and dwindling minutes.

But perhaps Calhoun is prepped for a breakthrough, perhaps as soon as Wednesday night's battle at South Florida -- one the Huskies know won't necessarily be easy. Shabazz Napier said he like the way Calhoun has played in practice lately, including this morning.

"He looked like the old Omar," Napier said. "Sometimes, it happens in a game where, if he doesn’t get his shots up, it’s kind of tough for him to be strong. I tell him all the time, sometimes you’ve got to learn to search yourself on the defensive end that’s gonna help you on the offensive end. When I was a freshman, I had to do that. That’s the toughest thing I had to learn. Sometimes your offense isn’t going to be there, but your effort has to be there.”

We talked to Calhoun, Napier and coach Kevin Ollie about Calhoun's season-long struggles today. Whether or not he's about to break out of his slump, it seems evident that the sophomore is handling things about as well as can be expected.

He added:

“I feel pretty good, coming back from the concussion. I’ve had some other problems going on – my ankle and everything – but it’s starting to feel better.”

“I have a lot of pride. I’m still the kind of player that I’ve always been. There’s never adversity that I can’t get through. I always stay positive and keep pushing forward.”

Said Ollie: 

“I think he’s holding up great. I speak to Omar a lot. We talk about different things. For me, just watching him, as a coach, and being in his situation before – being hurt and not playing well, not playing at all sometimes – I know it wears on a person mentally. He’s been showing up every day in practice. He hasn’t given me any problems, he shows up in practice, he goes hard, he gives me full effort. I imagine he’s getting through it. But I know it’s tough when he gets to the dorm and he knows he can play better, shoot better, get more minutes. I know there are always outside influences. But, for him to come into practice each and every day and give me what he’s given me, it’s been great.”

And Napier added:

“I’ve talked to him plenty of times. He just wants to continue to get better. He understands this is a little slump that he’s in. All it takes is a few shots to go in for him to get out of it. At practice today, he did play well. It was kind of enlightening to see he’s kind of back to his old self again.”

“It definitely gives a big boost (if Calhoun returns to form), because he doesn’t fall short on confidence. Any shot he takes, he thinks he’s going to make. Any shot he has, he’s gonna shoot. We need that from a lot of guys. A lot of guys don’t understand that a lot of teams are going to be pinpointing on DeAndre, Boatright and myself, so we need other guys to make shots.”

(what's Calhoun been doing well in practice lately?)

“Shooting. I’m not so worried about his body language. Guys aren’t upset because they’re not playing. He’s more upset about himself that he’s not proving to himself he’s as good as he wants to be. He puts in the work. Sometimes, guys body language is all over the place. But it has nothing to do with coach not giving him minutes. It has nothing to do with anything but himself.”

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UConn Practice Facility Site Not Shut Down

Here's UConn's press release regarding the "stop work" order on one specific area of the construction of the new basketball facility:

UConn learned over the weekend from its general contractor, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, that a representative of the Department of Labor had visited the site and issued stop-work orders relating to two companies that were subcontract to perform specific, limited work there.

The orders to “stop work” pertain specifically to those subcontractors – Intex of Glastonbury and the subcontractor it brought in, J&V Construction – and not to Daniel O’Connell’s Sons or any other subcontractors.

Those entities had been brought in by another subcontractor to help it catch up on work involving taping the edges of sheet rock together.

Neither UConn nor its general contractor were aware of the violations alleged by the Department of Labor, nor would we condone any such work practices.

The two “stop work” orders pertain to those two entities, and all others on site are continuing to work. The job site is not shut down, and the removal of those two entities is not expected to affect the schedule or budget.

Monday, February 24, 2014

'Requiem for the Big East' to Air on ESPN on Selection Sunday

ESPN's "30 for 30" series will continue with "Requiem for the Big East," premiering on Sunday, March 16 at 9 p.m. (right after Bracketology) on ESPN. Although the following press release doesn't mention it, Jim Calhoun is featured in the film, and UConn (obviously) is prominently mentioned. I'm told about three minutes of Calhoun interviews and five minutes on UConn, which is probably longer than it sounds:

ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series will continue with “Requiem For The Big East,” premiering Sunday, March 16, at 9 p.m. ET after Bracketology on ESPN. The film, directed by Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ezra Edelman, explores the meteoric ascension of the Big East Conference, and how in less than a decade under the innovative leadership of founder and Commissioner Dave Gavitt, it became the most successful college basketball sports league in America.
The film is told primarily through the lens of famed Big East coaches such as Jim Boeheim, Lou Carnesecca, Rick Pitino and John Thompson, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, and some of its most iconic players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Ed Pinckney. It chronicles the rivalries and successes that led many of them to become household names.
The Big East was a groundbreaking athletic and business creation that encapsulated the era and region in which it was born – from the toughness of the players and coaches hailing from some of the Northeast’s most storied cities, to the executives and Wall Street brokers who thrived because of it. Launched in 1979—the same year that ESPN was born—the Big East used the burgeoning cable TV network and the media as a whole to help spread its gospel to fans and future players across the nation. But “Requiem For The Big East” is also a tale of change as the super conference eventually found itself in a new era fighting for survival.
“From its creation, the Big East had a dramatic impact on the college basketball landscape,” said John Dahl, Executive Producer, ESPN Films. “’Requiem For The Big East’ explores what made it so extraordinary and how the hurdles to keep it thriving became more and more challenging to overcome.”
“Having grown up on the East Coast, I’ve spent most of my life as a dedicated fan of the Big East and I, like so many others, was saddened by its split last year,” said director Ezra Edelman. “In setting out to make a film about the league, I hoped to not simply tell a story about the rise of a great basketball conference but also understand and ultimately convey the causes of its fall. “
Following the premiere of “Requiem For The Big East” on ESPN, ESPNU will air “Big East Extras,” a special featuring bonus material such as extended highlights and interviews from the film.
*Advance film screener available upon request*
30 for 30-related updates are available at Fans can join the conversation with hashtag #BigEast.
About ESPN Films
Created in March 2008, ESPN Films produces high-quality films showcasing some of the most compelling stories in sports.  In October 2009, ESPN Films launched the Peabody Award-winning, Producer’s Guild Award-winning and Emmy-nominated 30 for 30 film series. Inspired by ESPN’s 30th Anniversary, the films that made up the series were a thoughtful and innovative reflection on the past three decades told through the lens of diverse and interesting sports fans and social commentators.  The strong reaction from both critics and fans led to the launch of 30 for 30 Volume II, which is currently underway.  Additional projects from ESPN Films include the critically acclaimed Nine for IX series, SEC Storied and the webby award winning 30 for 30 Shorts.

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This Week's AP Top 25

The top 25 teams in The Associated Press' college basketball poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Feb. 23, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote and last week's ranking:

                         Record   Pts Prv
1. Florida (47)          25-2  1,606   2
2. Wichita St. (14)      29-0  1,549   3
3. Arizona (4)           25-2  1,494   4
4. Syracuse              25-2  1,410   1
5. Kansas                21-6  1,310   8
6. Duke                  22-6  1,286   5
7. Louisville            23-4  1,152  11
8. Villanova             24-3  1,113   9
9. Creighton             23-4  1,103  11
10. Saint Louis           25-2  1,047  10
11. Cincinnati            24-4    921   7
12. Virginia              23-5    909  14
13. San Diego St.         23-3    886   6
14. Wisconsin             22-5    818  16
15. Iowa St.              21-5    709  17
16. Michigan              19-7    653  20
17. Kentucky              21-6    629  18
18. Michigan St.          22-6    552  13
19. North Carolina        20-7    440   _
20. Iowa                  19-7    418  15
21. Memphis               21-6    288  22
22. Ohio St.              22-6    253  24
23. SMU                   22-6    155   _
24. Texas                 20-7    129  19
25. New Mexico            21-5    113   _
Others receiving votes: UConn 81, UCLA 41, Oklahoma 35, Stephen F. Austin 11, UMass 9, Gonzaga 2, Green Bay 2, NC Central 1

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Florida is My No. 1; UConn Clings on at No. 23

SMU has now defeated UConn twice this season, in Dallas and in Storrs. The Mustangs didn't really have a marquee road win until Sunday's 64-55 defeat of the Huskies. Whether it's Larry Brown or Nic Moore or the 'Stangs' suffocating defense, it appears SMU is simply a bad match-up for the Huskies. And it's a match-up that could happen again in a few weeks at the AAC tournament. In fact, Sunday's loss makes it increasingly likely that UConn will play in the 4-5 game in Memphis, either against SMU or the hometown team.

So SMU re-enters my AP Top 25 this week, obviously ahead of UConn. Gotta rank a team ahead of an opponent its beaten twice, right? Well ... not exactly. For instance, I've got Memphis at No. 22 and UConn clinging on at No. 23 this week. Why? Because I had the Tigers at No. 22 last week and they won twice, so I can't really justify dropping them down (even if their wins were unimpressive efforts over Rutgers and Temple, in OT). I have a thing about not dropping a team after two wins (see Syracuse, last week).

As for Syracuse, I drop them all the way down to No. 6. I mean, Boston College? At home? Sorry. And since I had Florida and Wichita State at No.'s 2 and 3 last week, they both move up a spot. I just think Florida's the better team than the Shockers, though if the Gators had been popped by Auburn or Ole Miss this past week, I would have had Wichita State at No. 1 with absolutely no regrets.

1.       Florida                                                 
2.       Wichita State                                    
3.       Arizona                                                
4.       Louisville                                             
5.       Kansas                                                 
6.       Syracuse                                             
7.       San Diego State                                               
8.       Cincinnati                                           
9.       Saint Louis                                          
10.   Duke                                                    
11.   Villanova                                             
12.   Virginia                                                
13.   Creighton                                           
14.   Kentucky                                            
15.   Iowa State                                         
16.   Wisconsin
17.   Iowa                                     
18.   North Carolina                                                  
19.   Michigan                                             
20.   Michigan State
21.   SMU     
22.   Memphis
23.   UConn
24.   Texas
25. New Mexico    

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Video and Quotes off UConn's Loss to SMU

Some video and quotes off UConn's 64-55 loss to SMU on Sunday:


“I thought both teams defended like crazy. We made some shots in the second half. We didn’t want them to get out in transition. We wanted Connecticut to have to score against us in the halfcourt. The first half was kind of ugly, both teams had 11 turnovers. But we did a much better job of taking care of the ball in the second half. Our shot selection was much better. And, for the most part, I thought we rebounded better.”

“I keep reading where we haven’t beaten a quality team on the road. Not many teams beat a quality team on the road. Figure that one out.”

“We needed to get over the hump, because I think a lot of our kids maybe kind of needed that. Down the stretch, we missed a whole bunch of free throws. We did that the other night against Temple, missed seven in a row in the last two minutes. It’s just a learning process for us. But we beat a great team. So much tradition here, great crowd. We had to play our best by far on the defensive end to do this, and I think we did.”

(on why he doesn't like coaching against Kevin Ollie, whom he coached with the 76ers for two seasons)

“I marveled at the job he did last year. I don’t think he got any credit for what he did last year. They can’t go anywhere, he takes over for … shoot, I walked on his street (Jim Calhoun Way) … and he kept that group together, playing at a high level.”

“He’s here for the right reasons. A lot of guys that are coaching now aren’t here for the right reasons.”

(on seeing Rip Hamilton before the game)

“I’ve been calling people about signing him, because he’s never been out of shape a day in his life. He’s one of the guys I love, because all of coach Calhoun’s guys are so competitive. Except Emeka (Okafor). Emeka’s just a talent and the greatest guy, fun to be around, but he’s not one of those guys that grew up wanting to play every second of every game. I love being around him, but Rip wants to be great. He’s such a fierce competitor. I can’t believe he’s not playing for somebody. I’m getting on the phone as soon as I leave here.”


“Tough game by us. Coach Brown had those guys ready to play.”

“We outrebounded them, but you can’t shoot 29 percent. I look at my starters, man, a lot of missed shots.”

“You’ve just got to play more solid, on the offensive and defensive end. You’ve got to be a tougher minded team, and we weren’t that today. Larry Brown and SMU have a good group of guys over there. They play hard, and they play together.”

“They’re tough defensively, but you’ve got to move the basketball. We made them even tougher by staying on the first side. But they are tough defensively. They’re long, they’re aggressive. Nic Moore is a tough, heady point guard. They’ve got the bigs back there, and they go 9, 10 deep. And everybody that comes off is long and athletic. They play hard and they know his system. And they trust each other.”

*** Is SMU simply a tough match-up for UConn, for whatever reason?

Ryan Boatright: “Nah, it’s not a tough match-up. We just missed a lot of shots. We make half of those shots that we put up, it’s a whole other game … We make two, three more shots, it’s a whole other game.”

Niels Giffey: “I wouldn’t say that. They are well-coached, they’ve got an NBA coach. It’s a tough question. I don’t think they’re a particularly bad match-up for us, I just think that it kind of shows our weaknesses in this game and the game down there was just a totally different game. We had a bad attitude down there, didn’t approach the game the right way. But I think today, everybody was in the right mindset. We just weren’t able to move the ball and attack the paint the way we wanted.”

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Richard Hamilton: Duke Players Can't Even Look Me in the Face

Khalid El-Amin and the 1999 UConn national championship team each were inducted into the Huskies of Honor at halftime Sunday. Richard Hamilton, who hasn't come back to UConn a whole lot over the last 15 years, was in the house, along with the other four starters on the title team (El-Amin, Kevin Freeman, Jake Voskuhl and Ricky Moore) as well as Souleymane Wane, Beau Archibald, coaches Karl Hobbs, Tom Moore and, of course, Jim Calhoun.

Here's what Hamilton had to say:

 “The biggest thing I remember from that game is coach’s attitude at the beginning of the game. Usually, he was always on pins and needles. That was the first game he came in and told us, just relax and play. I think that really, really was the big thing for us, beacuse we really believed we could win the game. We thought we were the best team in the country. We thought Duke was getting all the praise, but we didn’t mind that. It was something exciting for us. I think when Khalid had the ball, running, and they were playing that ‘One Shining Moment’ song, and he was running with the ball, with his hands up, I think that’s the memory that sticks in my head.”

(on seeing Duke players over the years)

“They can’t even look me in my face. That’s how I like it ... to beat them – especially now, playing in the NBA and they've got so many great players in the NBA – you played against them and competed. I’m always hard on them, like, ‘Hey, you never beat (us), regardless of all the praise y’all got, whether you got the Wooden Award or not. We got the ring at the end.'”

“We were undefeated until the game that I sat out. I got hurt, Jake got hurt, and it was good that we actually lost that game, because it kind of gave us motivation to come out and play even harder. We came out and lost on Senior Night – I think it was Miami, here in Gampel. Coach came in and said, ‘Don’t think you’re as good as you are.’ We really had to go out and finish the work and we did.”

(on possibly still hooking up with an NBA team)

“I just want to go to the right team. I want to be on a team that has an opportunity to win. I don’t just want to be out there, going through the motions or anyting like that. I want to be in a situation where I can get an opportunity to get another ring. That’s how you build your legacy.”

(on Calhoun and SMU's Larry Brown both in Gampel on Sunday)

“Isn’t that crazy? You’ve got my two favorite coaches of all time in the same building. Both guys that I got an opportunity to win a championship with. That’s crazy. It’s one of those magic moments, something that couldn’t be planned or anything like that. It’s exciting for me.”

(on why he decided to return to UConn after '98 season)

“You know what it was? I put all my eggs in coach’s basket. I had one foot on the university campus and one foot out the door, and I put all my trust into coach Calhoun. Everything he told me in his office … after that 3-4 hour conversation that day, came true. When you’re 20 years old, sometimes you think people are just talking to be talking. But everything he told me came true.”

(on this year's UConn team)

“I think that KO’s done an excellent job. It’s hard to follow coach Calhoun. That’s huge pressure. But I thought that he came in and really put his spin on things. The guys respond to him very well. You can look at his record for the last two years. One thing I can look at with UConn, we always have great guard play. The guards have been doing great, doing a tremendous job of leading the team.”

Jim Calhoun:

“Of all the things I've done in my coaching career, I’ll never forget walking into this building in 1999 – the trip over, I still describe as probably the most remarkable trip, I have no idea how many people were on 84, they stopped cars, they were on buildings. Coming up here on 195 was absolutely incredible. But still, walking into this building, after the disappointment of nine years before, and this time having the hardware in my hands, is still the highest moment of my coaching career.”

“I always thought we were better when we had to dig our way back. But I always thought we had more experience, we were tougher. (Duke) could’ve been, if they had stayed together one more year – or if they hadn’t met us – been one of the greatest teams ever.”

“If you ever look back at the teams we played, the teams we beat – pretty special. Without injuries, you could make a case for 36-0. Is it the greatest team? I don’t know. But it was the best ‘team’, in the sense that they all worked with each other. Both point guards could pass, shoot, well, not Khalid, but defend. We had great answers, with Edmund, Souley, Albert Mouring. That was just a terrific basketball team.”

“When we lost to Carolina in Carolina, they went to the Final Four, we didn’t, they stayed together and it was just one of those kind of things. We had, without knowing, our eyes on the prize in ’98 to get to ’99."

“The first one is special. It was special for UConn. I don’t know if, like anything else in life, you can’t duplicate that first time. So, that makes it special. Is it better? No. I love watching Kemba making four foul shots to win, getting 31 last night to beat the Grizzlies. Watching any kind of those great things, that’s all great stuff, too. But, you can’t duplicate walking up here and bringing back that trophy. That’s not gonna be replicated in my lifetime or anybody else’s lifetime.”

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Shabazz Napier: 'It Was the Worst Decision I've Ever Made'

Shabazz Napier made a lot of good decisions in Thursday night's 68-55 win over Temple, doling out seven assists (five in the first half, on a host of beautiful no-looks and alley-oops). He also hauled in 12 rebounds, hit all 11 free throws and finished with 17 points for his fifth double-double of the season and seventh of his career.

But Napier made one very bad decision before the game.

“ I did something so stupid – I bought chicken wings from 7-11 and I ate it," he reported. "I just threw up after the game. It was the worst decision I ever made. My stomach and my chest were burning. I was so winded. A lot of my shots were short, so I can tell that was one of the reasons why I was missing.”

Napier shot a mere 3-for-11 from the floor. He vowed never to get food from 7-11 again. That's probably a good decision.

And here's how NBA scouts size up Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels.

*** Meanwhile, Boatright toughed it out with 14 points, despite getting kneed in the back of his knee once and getting yet another shot to the ... umm ... man region in the second half.

“I almost feinted," he said. "It’s like the sixth time this year, it’s crazy.”

*** Kevin Ollie on the Huskies' win:

UConn held Temple high-scorers Dalton Pepper and Quenton DeCosey to a combined 9-for-33 shooting.

“To hold those two guys down like we did, especially in a building where they feel comfortable," Ollie said. "I see the XL Center, they haven’t played there before. But this is their home gym. To be out on the shooters and to run them off the 3-point line and make life difficult for them, it was a good job.”

“I thought Amida (Brimah) did a great job giving us the inside presence, giving us a balance. Hopefully, SMU is thinking about that, also, going into our next game.”

(on returning to Philly, where he played for parts of six seasons with the Sixers)

“It’s great. I have great respect for Fran (Dunphy), he’s a great coach. This city has done a lot for me, Larry Brown has done a lot for me, the Sixers’ organization has done a lot for me. I always want to give back. When I can come back and talk to some of my old friends, be around them, it’s just a great atmosphere. I love this city. They always cheered me on – the guy that didn’t get a lot of minutes, but when I got in there, I always got a good ovation and I appreciate that.”

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UConn-Temple Live Blog

Do check out our live blog of Thursday's UConn-Temple game:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

UConn Eyes Owls; NBA Scouts Eye Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels

UConn takes on Temple Thursday night at 9 (ugh!) in Philly. While the Owls are an undermanned team who are 2-10 in the AAC and lost to the Huskies by 24 points in Hartford a month ago, there's reason for UConn not to take them lightly. Temple, after all, is fresh off a stunning home win on Sunday over SMU, knocking the Mustangs out of the AP Top 25 a week after they were ranked for the first time in nearly 30 years.

If UConn gets by Temple and is then able to exact revenge on SMU on Sunday in Storrs, it will overtake SMU for third place in the AAC standings. It behooves the Huskies to finish third in the league to avoid the 4-5 game in the conference tourney and ensure they face one of the bottom five teams in their opener. (UConn could be tied with Memphis for third by the end of Sunday, but would own that tie-breaker by virtue of beating the Tigers twice this season).

*** Meanwhile, it's never too early to take a look at the NBA draft prospects of Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright. I talked to a couple of NBA scouts this week about the three players, and the consensus among them (and the NBA mock draft sites, for what they're worth) is that Napier will likely be a second-round pick who could sneak into the late first round. As for Daniels and Boatright, the scouts feel both should return to UConn for their respective senior seasons next year, where they can ostensibly raise their draft stock without playing in the shadow of Shabazz.

Not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but always interesting to hear from the guys whose jobs depend on evaluating college talent.

Here's some of what the scouts had to say:

Western Conference scout:

(can Napier be a first-round pick?)

“I’d be a little surprised, but not shocked. He’s gonna have to do it the hard way, probably as a second round pick. He's a bit of anomaly. Everybody recognizes his toughness, his ability to make shots. But guys going with all the analytic stuff, I don’t know how they're gonna grade him. I suspect the computer, with his verticals and all that (garbage), won't grade him too high. He's more of a shot-maker than a point guard. I think if he snuck into the late first, it would be great for him,. You could make a case he deserves that if there's a lack of quality point guards, which I think there is."

"A guy was asking me about him the other night on the road, saying he couldn't figure him out. I said, 'I know what you mean,' but there's something you've got to put on paper for mental toughness, the ability to take as many key shots. Not just the buzzer-beaters. He has a knack, when a team's on the ropes a little bit, whether they're up by three or down by three and things are going haywire, he makes that big shots.

(on Boatright, who this scout really didn't like at all a year ago when I talked to him)

"(He's improved) a little bit. I think he’s really trying. I give him credit with all the things he’s been dealing with. I'm sure he thought he was gonna be their main guy. But I just don't see how his game translates. He's not a point guard, he's not dynamic enough. When I first saw him, he had unbelievable quickness, but he's an OK shooter. He doesn't make shots the way Napier does. He'd almost have to be a (Nate) Robinson kid, an unbelievable catalyst. People put up with all (Robinson's) madness because he can help you win some games."

(on Daniels)

"He's very, very thin. There's nothing wrong with that, not everybody has to be LeBron James. But it doesn't look like an NBA body. It's not even wiry-strong. He's just weak. He's got to get stronger. I think his weakness prevents him from doing what he's needed to do. Michael Jordan was only 196 pounds, you don't have to be bulky, but at least you have to be wiry-strong."

Very, very thin. Nothing wrong with, not everobyd has to be Lebron James, but it doesn’t look like an NBS body. It’s not even wiry strong, he’s just weak. He’s gotta get stronger. Think weankness prevents him from doing what needed to do. Jordan 196 pounds, don’t have bo be bulky, but at least have to be wiry-storng.

Eastern Conference scout:

(on Napier)

"I think he's a first-round pick. First of all, he's got the ball on a string. He's got great ball control, a great understanding of the game, tremendous confidence. He's a knockdown shooter from the perimeter with a big heart, a big-game player. He understands who to deliver the ball to. When you're playing with a $15 million player, that player gets the ball first. I think he gets it. He also does what's necessary to make his team win.

(on Daniels)

"I think he should stay in school and get tougher. He's very talented, he's had some great moments, but he needs to get tougher. Have a big year next year for Connecticut and show some consistency.

(on Boatright)

"He's a talented little guy, aggressive. He should stay. He's capable of having a great year next years, be one of the dominant players in that league. He would eliminate any questions.

"He's gonna have t play point guard and give the ball up, understand and cooperate, not go so much on his own. In college, he can get away with it because he's better than a lot of players. But at the next level, it's different ... It's a man's league."

(this scout also mentioned Amida Brimah)

"I think he has a great future. He reminds me of the kid who played at Louisville (Gorgui Deng) last year. He's got mobility, great length. He's a future prospect. He's got to learn how to play, the whole thing. But he's a nice piece right now."

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Monday, February 17, 2014

This Week's AP Top 25

The top 25 teams in The Associated Press' college basketball poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Feb. 16, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote and last week's ranking:<
                         Record   Pts Prv
1. Syracuse (64)         25-0  1,624   1
2. Florida (1)           23-2  1,543   3
3. Wichita St.           27-0  1,489   4
4. Arizona               23-2  1,427   2
5. Duke                  20-5  1,296   8
6. San Diego St.         22-2  1,232   5
7. Cincinnati            23-3  1,157  10
8. Kansas                19-6  1,129   7
9. Villanova             22-3  1,020   6
10. Saint Louis           23-2  1,019  12
11. Creighton             21-4    991  18
11. Louisville            21-4    991  13
13. Michigan St.          21-5    788   9
14. Virginia              21-5    752  17
15. Iowa                  19-6    721  16
16. Wisconsin             21-5    609  21
17. Iowa St.              19-5    597  11
18. Kentucky              19-6    579  14
19. Texas                 20-5    577  19
20. Michigan              18-7    421  15
21. UConn                 20-5    382  24
22. Memphis               19-6    204  20
23. UCLA                  20-5    168   _
24. Ohio St.              20-6    133  22
25. Gonzaga               23-4    112   _
Others receiving votes: North Carolina 54, Arizona St. 45, Pittsburgh 21, SMU 21, Stephen F. Austin 8, Oklahoma 7, New Mexico 3, VCU 2, Green Bay 1, Kansas St. 1, Louisiana Tech 1.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who's No. 1 -- Syracuse or Florida?

So Syracuse barely gets by Pittsburgh and NC State (at home!), by a total of three points combined and more than a little bit of luck.

Florida, meanwhile, wins pretty convincingly at both Tennessee and Kentucky. I had Syracuse and Florida 1-2 last week, but do I flip them after their respective performances over the past week?

I strongly considered it, but ultimately, stuck with my fairly strict guidelines that I don't drop a team for winning, no matter how unimpressive those wins may be. I kept Syracuse No. 1, Florida No. 2 -- though right now, I'd have to say the Gators are the better team. Make sense? Probably not.

That said, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Florida is at No. 1 on my ballot a week from tonight. The Orange play at Duke on Saturday, and it would seem their tenuous hold on a perfect season would be seriously threatened there. If not there, then most likely the following week at Virginia. I just don't see any way this Syracuse squad remains unbeaten by the time the ACC tournament begins.

Speaking of unbeatens, Wichita State remains so (27-0), and I have zero problem moving the Shockers up from No. 5 to No. 3. Would they be unbeaten playing in a stronger conference? Almost certainly not. But would Arizona, San Diego State, Cincinnati, even Louisville or Kansas be unbeaten in the Missouri Valley Conference? Maybe, but I'd hardly be shocked if any of those teams found a loss or two along the way. Staying undefeated and winning conference road games with a target on your back is a tough thing to do, and the Shockers need to be rewarded for it.

Elsewhere, I tried to find a way to rank Creighton ahead of Villanova, whom the Blue Jays have now clobbered twice this season. But I had the Wildcats No. 6 last week and the Jays No. 19, and I just couldn't justify moving the two that far in either direction, despite Sunday night's results in Omaha.

As for UConn, it moves up two spots to No. 19 after home wins over USF and Memphis. I'm not penalizing the Tigers for losing in overtime in Hartford, either, keeping them at No. 22. But SMU, whom I had No. 20 last week, gets booted out after an inexcusable loss at Temple on Sunday. If nothing else, that loss may serve to ensure the Huskies don't take the Owls lightly on Thursday in their 9 p.m. matchup in Philly.

1.       Syracuse                                             
2.       Florida                                                 
3.       Wichita State                                    
4.       Arizona                                                
5.       San Diego State                                               
6.       Cincinnati                                           
7.       Louisville                                             
8.       Kansas                                                 
9.       Saint Louis                                          
10.   Duke    
11.   Villanova                                             
12.   Iowa                                                     
13.   Texas                                                   
14.   Virginia                                                
15.   Creighton                                           
16.   Michigan State                                 
17.   Kentucky                                            
18.   Iowa State                                         
19.   UConn                                                 
20.   Wisconsin                                           
21.   Michigan                                             
22.   Memphis                                            
23.   Gonzaga                                             
24.   UCLA                                                   
25. Arizona State                         

Saturday, February 15, 2014

UConn-Memphis: We Could Get Used to This

Great game. Looks like these two teams could form a nice rivalry for years to come, though as Memphis Josh Pastner noted: “We need to get a win to make it a little more of a rivalry. They’re 2-0 against us. But it’s a high-level basketball game, two high-level teams. I think it’ll be fun for the future to keep having high-level games like this.”

No doubt, we could get used to this. As for UConn's 86-81 overtime win on Saturday, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were clutch and terrific. But the Huskies likely don't win without Phil Nolan.

Here are some postgame quotes:


(on the fact that Memphis was whistled for 23 fouls to UConn's 12, and UConn shot 36 free throws to the Tigers' nine)

(on the AAC)

“The league is really good. I said it from the beginning that we should have six teams in. Obviously now, there’s no question we should have five in. You look at our top five, I think our five is the best of any out there in the country. I really believe that. But our league from top to bottom is very good. Rutgers, Houston, South Florida, Central Florida, Temple – they’re very good teams. They’re better than their records. This is a great league. Obviously, Mr. Aresco does an unbelievable job and Paul Brazeau, so we’re very grateful and fortunate to be in the league and for the exposure we get with the TV package. That’s been terrific for the program.”


(on stepping up and hitting a big 3-pointer in OT, despite recent shooting slump)

(on becoming 48th player in UConn history to score 1,000 career points)

“Just an honor, man. Coach Cal and KO gave me the opportunity to come in here and play for this great university. Every time I put that jersey on, I just try to give it my all every time. It’s a blessing to be able to score 1,000 points at this wonderful university.”


(on the scrum on the floor at the end of regulation in which things got chippy, no fouls were called and Memphis lost possession on a shot-clock violation)

(David) Pellom was on the floor, I felt like he was kicking. Myself, I wouldn’t want one of my teammates getting kicked, on accident or on purpose. I was doing my best to get him up, and he kind of got a hand in. Their teammates came in … it was really nothing big, but they kind of made it big. I wasn’t too worried about it. I wasn’t going to throw any (punches) at anybody. I was just trying to get him off my big man so he wouldn’t get hurt.”

“It was definitely good that we got in a little scrum. Coach got a minute to draw up a good play. The refs had to figure out what the time was, and coach took a little time out and figured out what we were going to do.”

(on his missed 3-pointer that went in and out at the end of regulation)

“I thought it was going in. I thought I came off the pick, Phil (Nolan) set a second one. I got an open space, it just was one of those shots that’s called toilet flush. It didn’t go in, it just clogged up and came back out. It happens.”

(Napier wasn't injured when he sat out for a long span late in the first half. He did, however, grab at his back at one point early in the latter half)

“I shot the ball and I kind of got a stinger in my back. I came down awkward. But it went away.”

(on future rivalry with Memphis)

“Definitely. Memphis is definitely a great talent. They have been since the (John) Calipari days. They’ve got a great program, a great group of players that are going to go there. And Connecticut is one of the top-five programs in the country. It’s going to be a tough rivalry for years to come.”

“I think Cincinnati’s a rivalry, they’ve been there in the Big East, it always comes down to the crunch. Memphis is a godo team. It’s a new league, of course there’s (few) rivalries. But this league has a lot of new rivalries that are gonna happen. Just like the ACC – Syracuse is at the top of the chain right now, somebody has to be a rivalry with them. We’re getting to know each other, and hopefully we’ll find some rivalries.”

(on his relationship with Boatright)

“When we first got here, it was tough. We weren’t working hand-in-hand. But as last season went on, this season went on, we became much closer. The chemistry got much better. Nothing’s perfect, we continue to work on it. We have a brotherhood here. We believe we’re brothers. We don’t have the same blood, but we’re close enough.”

(on Phil Nolan's big offensive rebound to set up his game-tying 3-point play)

“Phillip definitely came in and took care of his minutes. He definitely played Shaq the best (he could), and was getting me open on a lot of picks. He’s definitely one of our best pick-and-roll defenders. He high-hedges really well, and he likes to talk all the time. Today, he definitely did a good job. We continue to need that from him, no matter if he’s not there offensively. When we gave him the ball, he did his best, and he had a couple of layups that he got fouled on and just continued to work.”


(on Boatright)

"He might not be shooting well, but I can never question his heart and his effort and his enthusiasm to win ... We’re not going to agree on everything, him and Bazz – we go at it sometimes. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a team. But at the end of the day, you want to win as brothers. Ryan has one of the biggest hearts I've ever been around."

He added that UConn cancelled practice the other day due to the snowstorm, but every player came to Gampel to get up shots.

(on the scrum, and Nolan's big offensive rebound)

“I don’t even know what scramble you’re talking about. I liked the offensive rebound. Shabazz shot a shot, Phil went to go get the basketball. We got outrebounded, but that was the biggest rebound of all."

(on Napier's shot at end of regulation)

“Phil set a great screen for Bazz to get open. The ball went in and out. That’s all Phil, getting him open. Shabazz will be the first one to say that. It’s not all about Shabazz, it’s not all about Ryan. It’s a team effort. Whoever played in the game came in and did their part.”

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Mike Aresco Addresses Some Concerns About American Athletic Conference

Mike Aresco addressed the media an hour before tip-off today. Here's some of what the AAC commish had to say:

“The conference is doing well, obviously having five teams in the Top 25. It’s not something that necessarily surprised us. We knew we had good teams. We thought Temple might be in a transition year, they’ve gone to six straight tournaments. But SMU picked up the slack and ended up being ahead of schedule. It’s been a good year, and obviously that’s on the heels of the Fiesta Bowl and UCF, and what the football teams have done in our conference.”

(on how important SMU’s success has been)

“It’s huge. You can’t overstate it. We need that additional team, and a team that’s going to have that kind of focus. Larry Brown is Larry Brown, you’ve got a Hall of Fame coach. (Rick) Pitino’s leaving the conference, obviously, a Hall of Fame coach. In addition, he’s got some great recruits coming in … we know he’s got great people coming in. That’s going to be enormous. There’s a special thing going on down there. They’ve been selling out. They’ve got Moody Coliseum renovated. I’m going down March 5 – I had been down there before they opened it – it’s a beautiful place. People have really embraced the team in Dallas, and I think it’s going to continue.”

“Next year, you’re still going to have Temple, UConn of course, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Tulsa, with its basketball tradition and Danny Manning, coming into the conference. Our lower-tier teams have not had a lot of success this year, but they’ll get better, quickly. Their recruiting will be improved, because of the conference they’re in. Donnie Jones at UCF told me his recruiting has been way better than it’s been, because of the conference he’s in. We’re really optimistic about basketball.”

(on whether AAC could offer student-athlete stipends if power-5 do so)

“Yes, indeed. This is permissive legislation … Although we don’t have the resources they have, we don’t have the TV deal money they have – we have exposure just as good as any of them – (and) they can do certain things, but it’s permissive, meaning we can do it, too. As a conference, we’ve already committed to provide a full cost of attendance stipend, if that’s passed. It’s unclear yet what that’s going to be – whether it’s going to be based on federal guidelines, whether it’s cost of attendance for each individual school, and that can include incidentals, laundry, travel and other kinds of things that kids have not necessarily had covered by their full scholarships. But whether it’s a fixed amount, we’ve committed as a conference that we’re going to do it. And we’re probably going to do other things that they plan to do (paying for families to come to certain events, etc.) … we have every intention of being a conference just like those other five, which we’ve always been as a BCS conference.”

(would the league let some schools do things that others can’t?)

“We’ll let the individual schools make those decisions … for instance, there are some programs in certain conferences that are really good in one sport, and they would want to compete for national titles where maybe they can’t do it elsewhere. Would that particular school be allowed to reinforce that particular sport? We’re going to have Title IX issues, we want to ensure that if there’s a stipend, it would include our women’s sports. There’s a lot unclear we need to settle. Right now, I think the concept of autonomy in terms of financial issues with those conferences, I wouldn’t say it’s settled, but it’s moving in that direction. I think if there’s no real opposition among the NCAA, the real issue is how it’s going to be defined.”

“The one thing we do know, our group of five conferences – we want to be viewed like those other five – we as an individual conference, we’re establishing that we’ll be able to do what the other five are going to do, if we want to. How we vote and how we determine that, we don’t know yet.”

(on Cincinnati AD Mike Bohn’s assertion that his chiefgoal was to get Cincy out of AAC and into a power-5 league)

Aresco added: 

“Right now, realignment seems to have settled down. We’re very proud of the conference we have, it’s a strong conference. We want people to support our conference. Cincinnati will support our conference. I think you’ll see a lot of supportive comments coming out of Cincinnati about our conference.”

Elswhere, Omar Calhoun was putting up some pregame shots:

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