Thursday, November 30, 2006

Observations from UConn-Sacred Heart

First, Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike was right.

The same Pioneers team that kept pace with North Carolina on Nov. 14 was not the same team that showed up at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night. Against Albany, Sacred Heart looked confident, and more importantly, played confident.

Bike opts to play with a small lineup that broke down Albany not only with its perimeter performance but with its ability to penetrate. Neither one of those aspects showed up against the University of Connecticut.

The Pioneers are a much better team than what they showed to a region on television and in Gampel. They just ran into a UConn team that played on a different level. There is talent on the Sacred Heart roster and some of it is still young. The Pioneers will play a factor in the Northeast Conference this year. A strong non-conference schedule, at times, stronger than the Huskies’ docket, will only improve Bike’s team.

Bike, a North Haven resident, is one of the pure gentlemen of Northeast basketball on any level. He also is a pretty good coach.

Bike owns one less national championship than Jim Calhoun. It may have been won on the Division II level, but not too many coaches can claim they won a national title (1986) anywhere.

Moving on to UConn.

Calhoun wants his guards to play at a certain level this season, and for one night, all four components played as one. There is nothing to counter a complete and well-refined fast break. The Huskies started playing well in the backcourt against Albany, outscoring the Great Danes 21-2 on the break. Against Sacred Heart, it was much of the same.

First, let’s look at the final statistics for all four guards against the Pioneers.

All four guards finished with double figures. All four led UConn in scoring.

They ran the break well, made good decisions, and looked comfortable. All four said running the break is what they’re tailored to do.

Now, they have been given a chance to do so.

Calhoun said it was tough to dissect any one player’s game because it was the team effort he has been longing for since the season began. But now that we have time and space, let’s look at each player’s game.

JEROME DYSON
3-12 FG, 0-4 3-PTS, 5-5 FT, 4 REBS, 4 ASSTS, 2 TOs, 4 STEALS, 11 POINTS

He said in his post-game comments that no one has to be the star of the team every night. He realizes UConn is that deep and that capable. With a protective sleeve on his right arm to shield an inflamed bursa sac, his 3-point shooting has not been as accurate as, say, the first few games. Dyson did not connect from the perimeter, but he did so much more. All four of his steals led to fast-break opportunities (24-15 UConn) and all four were a result of his stifling defensive style. He made good choices on the break, but his most important stat of the night came from the line, a place where he has struggled. Dyson finished 5-for-5 from the stripe.

A.J. PRICE
4-7 FG, 1-4 3-PTS, 2-2 FT, 5 REBS, 3 ASSTS, 2 TO, 2 STEALS, 11 POINTS

He played 24 minutes, a shade under his average, but it was unnecessary to have him play late in the game. Since Price is capable of playing either guard spot, he has toyed with certain aspects of both positions in the early season. Sometimes his jumper falls, other times, it looks heavy. The rust, he and Calhoun both assured the state media, is coming off. Price’s mid-range jumper, though, is very refined. The shot is what made him a complete player in high school. Against Fairfield and Mississippi, it was tough to stop. His two turnovers against Sacred Heart weren’t bad decisions, and either were his three assists. For now, at this point in the season, it is Price’s customary effort.

DOUG WIGGINS
6-10 FG, 0-3 3-PTS, 0-1 FT, 2 REBS, 5 ASSTS, 1 TO, 1 STEAL, 12 POINTS

By far the East Hartford product's most complete effort. In his post-game remarks Calhoun relayed the story of how Wiggins needed a motivational talk after playing just six minutes against Mississippi. It was one of those needed discussions with an athlete who has played almost every minute of every game he has played in his entire life. Wiggins wanted to know how he could change. Calhoun told him what he tells every player: show me. Yes, he led UConn is scoring with Austrie, but it's how he scored. He pulled up on the break. He attacked the rim and threw in a tear drop. What the UConn coaching staff should be happier with were his decisions. Wiggins plays out of control at times, much to Calhoun’s ire. Last night, he finished with five assists (penetrate and kick to the wing or penetrate and find the block). Better news. He had just one turnover.

CRAIG AUSTRIE
4-6 FG, 4-6 3-PTS, 0-0 FT, 1 REBS, 1 ASST, O TO, 2 STEALS, 12 POINTS

It appears that conservative isn’t a bad thing at this point in the year. Calhoun said he needs stability on the floor. The only one he can turn to right now is Austrie. The sophomore said after the game that he never had five turnovers in one game in his life until Sunday against Albany. It was not one of his better showings. Against Sacred Heart, Austrie ran the break and did what he does best – he evaluated the floor before making any choices. He is a different type of guard than the other three and prefers safe to sorry. In turn, his play keeps younger guards from making careless mistakes. He only had one assist but no turnovers in just 16 minutes. He also knocked down four 3-pointers. His feet were set. He didn’t fade. He didn’t really have a hand in his face on any of the four, but sometimes you need to make the uncontested shots. When the defense becomes tougher, Austrie will need to make the adjustment.

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