Sunday, December 31, 2006

UConn-West Virginia notes

Here are some notes from yesterday's game that made the Register's print edition but did not appear online.

Wiggins a bright spot
Freshman adds outside support for UConn in loss

By Brett Orzechowski
Register Staff

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – On a day when little went according to plan, Doug Wiggins continued to make gradual improvements Saturday during a season that started less than auspiciously for the freshman guard.

The East Hartford product finished with a season-high 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the floor, including four 3-pointers. Wiggins remained one of the only active guards on defense and played with poise, a concern for the University of Connecticut coaching staff heading into the school’s first road game at an otherwise raucous West Virginia Coliseum.

In the loss to West Virginia, the Mountaineers’ 1-3-1 zone left some gaps open on the wing and Wiggins took advantage of the opportunities. Collectively, the Huskies shot 6-for-19 from beyond the arc with A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson each adding one. Wiggins, though, was able to convert in key situations when UConn remained in the game.

“When the holes are there, and we knew they would be there, you don’t have much time to think,” Wiggins said. “We knew that the zone was going to be a problem, but really it was for a few minutes. There are days when all those shots aren’t going to fall. It was one of those for all of us.”

Wiggins continues to bring up the Hispanic College Fund Classic weekend, when he played minimal time with minimal confidence. For the first time in November, Wiggins was able to play in his backyard, the Hartford Civic Center, in front of friends and family. He said he was disappointed in himself. His usual affable demeanor was reduced to re-evaluation.

He credits UConn head coach Jim Calhoun with the change. The confidence booster against Sacred Heart, when Wiggins was 5-for-10 from the floor and finished with 12 points, started a string of seven games when the freshman became a quality contributor off the bench in the backcourt. In that span, he has averaged 12.7 points, picking up the scoring productivity that Dyson carried for most of the first five games.

In that same time, Wiggins has shot 13-for-27 from 3-point range, now the highest percentage (41 percent) on a team in need of more consistent outside shooting.

SELFLESS

He has played the last two games without the protective sleeve on his right elbow, but Dyson continues to play selflessly for UConn.

Dyson left the game with about four minutes remaining in the first half to tend to a cut on his left hand. The guard chased down a loose ball and sliced his palm on one of the lower bleachers at the Coliseum. He returned for the second half with his hand taped up but only shot 2-for-9 in the last 20 minutes. Dyson said it did not affect his shot, but it just added to the list of self-inflicted scrapes earned since the season began.

Also, a stray elbow caught Dyson across the left temple, opening up another cut.

“I’m fine. When you have a little bit of momentum and you have to leave, it’s not easy coming back,” Dyson said. “Like with most of what happened today, it just wasn’t good.”

TRYING NOT TO LOOK

The polls have a cyclical way of filtering out teams and welcoming in others around this time of year.

After the unranked Mountaineers improved to 11-1 overall with the victory over UConn, West Virginia will likely receive a number of nods from voters who have shared the same opinion of the Huskies because of their non-conference schedule.

Much like UConn, though, the Mountaineers’ schedule was designed with a purpose. Now, with its first Big East win, a very young West Virginia will have the opportunity to break some ground in the top 25.

“We knew it would take some time. We really don’t look at polls. If it were up to me, I would just get rid of those things. Nothing good comes out of them,” West Virginia guard Darris Nichols said. “But it’s nice to get recognized for what we’ve done this season. We still have a long way to go.”

Brett Orzechowski may be reached at borzechowski@nhregister.com

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