Saturday, November 25, 2006

UConn notes

Here are some notes that made it to the print edition of the Register but not the Web.

UCONN'S ROBINSON LOOKS FOR FIT
CALHOUN SEARCHES FOR ROLE FOR FRESHMAN

By Brett Orzechowski
Register Staff

STORRS – The problem is not Stanley Robinson’s right knee, which he hyperextended three weeks ago in practice. The current dilemma is where to play the 6-foot-9 freshman forward, perhaps the University of Connecticut’s most versatile player.

After four games, Robinson’s role has diminished then improved. Minutes decreased as quickly as they were gained. It’s not so much performance, Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said Friday. Between Robinson’s shooting ability and athleticism, there are few spots or lineups that cater solely to the forward’s attributes.

This, Calhoun said, will change.

When UConn (4-0) welcomes the University at Albany (2-1) to Gampel Pavilion on Sunday at 5 p.m., Robinson will once again start the game as a reserve and substitute in for Jeff Adrien in the post, Marcus Johnson on the wing, or either guard position. Having Robinson is both a luxury and a bane, Calhoun said, but his role cannot be overlooked.

“We need to get Stanley somewhere on the floor where we can utilize him best,” Calhoun said. “He fits into a number of things we’re doing, but the situations have been difficult to use him correctly. We want to change that.”

Robinson has shown signs of productivity with 13 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes against Central Arkansas. Then he showed a lapse against Fairfield with just two points in 10 minutes. Still, he is averaging 6.5 points and five rebounds heading into the weekend. The problem: he only averages 15 minutes.

The spurts of court time do not bother Robinson. He said he has accepted Calhoun’s free substitution method in the early season, but anticipates that to change. Robinson also knows that he has received the go-ahead from the coaching staff to shoot at will. Something, he said, that only bolsters his confidence.

“I have to be comfortable no matter what because I don’t know where my minutes are going to be,” Robinson said. “Shoot. Rebound. Pass. Attack. It’s at the point in the season now where I have to do all those things and do them well, something I can do.”

ALMOST A MAJOR?

With the recent success of mid-major programs in the preseason NIT, Calhoun said fans and players alike cannot help but notice the popular trend of smaller schools defeating programs from traditional power conferences in November.

One that has caught his attention, much like the rest of the country over the past decade or so, has been Gonzaga.

Mark Few and the Bulldogs are again forcing people to take notice of the West Coast Conference school. Before it arrived at Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga cracked the Top 25 at No. 23 and then held off North Carolina on Wednesday to advance to the final, where it lost Friday night to Butler.

Calhoun said that even before a preseason NIT game was played, he could not even imagine a final match-up between Gonzaga and Butler. The program from the Pacific Northwest has evolved into a March staple and is usually good for a win or two in the NCAA Tournament.

Still, Calhoun said they remain a mid-major, a fact that is sometimes lost even with its past success.

“I don’t consider them a major program yet until they reach a Final Four or win a national championship,” Calhoun said. “Then they will reach that point.”

UConn welcomes in two WCC teams, St. Mary’s and Pepperdine, in December.

THE GAMPEL DIFFERENCE

When asked if playing non-conference games at Gampel against smaller programs carries a distinct advantage, Calhoun said it still holds some clout, but not as much as it used to.

With Albany making its first appearance in Storrs and the facility on Sunday, Great Danes guard Jamar Wilson said the crowd will only energize him, not play mind games. Calhoun agreed and said that is now the perception of most visiting teams.

A certain mystique still exists when you enter the building, Calhoun added, but no longer does it carry an intimidation factor. He points to a game 16 years ago, when UConn jumped out to a 32-0 lead over New Hampshire on Dec. 12, 1990.

“That team was flat out intimidated,” Calhoun said of the 1990-91 New Hampshire team. “But I think that era has gone by.”

Brett Orzechowski may be reached at borzechowski@nhregister.com

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