Wednesday, November 29, 2006

UConn-Sacred Heart preview

In case you missed today's print edition of the Register, here's a look at tonight's UConn-Sacred Heart game.

I'll break down some numbers in a few hours from the bowels of Gampel Pavilion.

We're far enough along in the season to look at some statistics objetively.

First, some subjective odds from Vegas.
Sacred Heart will shoot at least 25 3-pointers: 2-1
Justin Timberlake's "Sexyback" will be played at Gampel: 1-1
Jerome Dyson will fall hard to the floor at least once: 1-1
Empty Gampel seats at tip-off: 1-1

See you then.


By Brett Orzechowski
Register Staff

STORRS – The early-season non-conference schedule was designed with a purpose. Jim Calhoun understands this. So do voters in the Associated Press poll. Still, some players on the University of Connecticut roster have slowly grasped the concept as some signs of immaturity exist.

The confidence level that the coaching staff implored the Huskies to reach may have found its apex after a 31-point victory over Albany. Since its opening-night scare against Quinnipiac, UConn has won its last four games convincingly against perceived lesser opponents. With such a young team, Calhoun wanted the non-conference schedule to serve not only as a morale booster but a barometer.

For tests like the Big East schedule and LSU and Indiana later in the year, there is an assessment like Sacred Heart. The collective atmosphere has been more relaxed, but maybe too laid-back heading into a game against a program which picked apart Albany in the same fashion UConn did while also maintaining pace with North Carolina two weeks ago.

“It’s (the schedule) what we wanted,” Calhoun said, “I just want them to handle it better.”

The Huskies welcome Sacred Heart to Gampel Pavilion tonight at 7:30 for the last non-conference game against an in-state school. After Sunday’s win over Albany, Calhoun seemed optimistic that his young but still callow UConn team was finally realizing that they have to piece together a string of competitive efforts in such little time.

But Tuesday, a different tone resonated. The energy and aggressiveness that surfaced in the preseason did not exist in practice. Even with the Huskies (5-0) slipping two places in the poll, primarily based on its strength of schedule or lack thereof, the group of five sophomores and eight freshmen seemed just content with their performance.

Calhoun pays little credence to polls this early in the season, but he wants his team to understand that for every Coppin State and Texas Southern on the Huskies’ schedule, there is a Syracuse and Georgetown.

In other words, UConn has played no one of Big East caliber.

In other words, UConn has accomplished little this season except develop a small identity and earn five victories in the process.

“There is a concern and a reason why we dropped two places in the poll,” Calhoun said. “Even with the level of competition, an immaturity exists with this group and it showed in practice. We had quality work in practice. That has to continue and they don’t understand that yet.”

The immediate concern is Sacred Heart (2-3), which handily defeated Albany by 19 points with the help of 12 3-pointers. Between junior forward Luke Granato, a Northwest Catholic-West Hartford graduate, and freshman Ryan Litke of Windsor off the bench, the Pioneers will be the most consistent perimeter team the Huskies have faced this season, where as Albany’s Jamar Wilson was the top individual perimeter talent.

Granato connected on eight 3-pointers in Sacred Heart’s loss to North Carolina when the Tar Heels’ Tyler Hansbrough had 29 points. Calhoun knows that if Pioneers coach Dave Bike had a significant inside presence, the outcome may have been different. As for Litke, he has started the season shooting 61.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Bike said last week after the Albany win that he has similar motives as UConn when he scheduled the perennial Top 25 team. The longtime Sacred Heart coach wants inexperienced players to develop. Such examples are 7-footer Liam Potter, who will match-up with the Huskies’ Hasheem Thabeet, and point guard Chauncey Hardy, a freshman who played at Xavier-Middletown last season and faced some current Huskies at this summer’s IS8 Tournament.

The motives run deeper. Calhoun knows Sacred Heart prefers to run and after the Huskies held a 21-2 edge on the fast break against Albany, even sophomore forward Jeff Adrien said he liked the direction UConn is heading. He also added that A.J. Price is still developing. If the other guards in the rotation have adapted, Adrien said Price eventually will.

Still, Sacred Heart gives UConn an offensive look it has not yet seen. With so many perimeter threats, the Pioneers hope to stretch the Huskies’ defense. The trend has worked so far this season as a rash of lower-level Division I schools have upended major programs.

Adrien said he and his teammates have taken notice.

“We watch. It’s crazy that there’s been so many,” Adrien said. “I do my own research on these games. I’m sure they’ve been doing research on us.”

He also added that it’s too early for a UConn letdown.

Calhoun knows at least one player understands.

NOTES: Like he has the past few games, freshman guard Jerome Dyson will continue to wear a protective support on his right elbow to protect his bursa sac. Dyson went to the hospital after falling hard against Albany on Sunday, but X-rays on the elbow proved negative. … After his 16-point performance against the Great Danes, freshman forward Gavin Edwards said he does not expect his role to change and the coaching staff has not spoken to him about increased play. Edwards said his role will continue to be based on his day-to-day performance. … Four Sacred Heart players remain from the last time the Pioneers faced UConn. Luke Granato, Jarrid Frye, Joey Henley and Drew Shubik all played in the Huskies’ 73-55 win on Dec. 28, 2004, at the Hartford Civic Center.

Brett Orzechowski may be reached at


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