Thursday, November 08, 2007

UConn 69, Morgan State 65

Here's last night's game story, which only appeared in the Register's print editions today:

By David Borges
Register staff
STORRS --- If anything has been proven in the infancy of the 2007-08 college basketball season it's that the discrepancy between the top-tier teams and the rest of the pack – even between Division I and Division II programs – has dwindled considerably.

Both Michigan State and Ohio State have lost exhibition games to Division II – yes, Division II – teams. Heck, Holy Cross – the team University of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun didn't want to face in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic – lost last week to a Division III team, Rhode Island College.

In their season-opener on Wednesday night, Calhoun's Huskies were further proof of the greater parity that currently exists in college basketball.

UConn managed to eke out a 69-65 win over Morgan State in the second game of a 2K Sports College Hoops Classic doubleheader before a crowd of 9,711 at Gampel Pavilion. But the Huskies let a 16-point second-half lead dwindle down to nothing, hit just 3 of 15 3-pointers and allowed 20 offensive rebounds to a team that fielded just one starter over 6-foot-5.

"That's where we are in college basketball right now," Calhoun reasoned. "I don't know if there's a special team out there. Maybe UNC is, maybe UCLA is. But our 2004 team with Emeka (Okafor), six pros – that was a special team that could do a lot of different things."

This is not your 2004 Huskies. For much of the game, this wasn't even your 2006-07 Huskies, a team that could at least defend as well as anyone around. On Wednesday, when the Bears weren't hitting 11 of 22 3-pointers, they were driving the lane for running jumpers with little fear of their shots being blocked.

Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-foot-3 center, was a hardly a presence on either end of the floor (three points, two blocked shots), while 6-9 forward Stanley Robinson was even more invisible. Robinson went scoreless with five turnovers in 13 minutes of play.

"Whatever minutes he got were probably three more than he deserved," said Calhoun.
Of course, it wasn't all bad for UConn. At least the Huskies won: Kentucky, playing at home, lost its first-round game to Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night.

Jerome Dyson scored a game-high 20 points, Jeff Adrien had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), and Curtis Kelly came up big with 13 points (one below the sophomore's career-high) and nine boards and hit 7-of-7 free throws for UConn.

"He was good and bad," Calhoun said of Kelly. "He was getting lit up on defense, but in turn he got us some good things on offense."

Still, no one did as many good things as Morgan State's Reggie Holmes, who popped off the bench to hit 6 of 9 3-pointers and finish with 18 points. Holmes hit back-to-back treys, the latter a spot-up with 6:50 to play, to complete the Bears' 24-8 run and tie the game at 52-52.

Kelly responded with five consecutive points, including a conventional 3-point play, and back-to-back treys by Dyson and Doug Wiggins put UConn up, 64-57, with 3:41 left.

But Morgan State kept coming, and with 39 seconds left, Marquise Kately drove in for a layup that would have brought the Bears to within two.

However, the ball rolled in and out of the cylinder, Kelly corralled the rebound and UConn hit three of four foul shots the rest of the way to seal the win.

"I felt like we were in control of the game the whole game, but it was a little bit too close for comfort," insisted guard Craig Austrie (eight points). "No one was satisfied with this win. We have (tonight) to come out and prove to ourselves that we're a much better team than what we showed."

Of course, it also didn't hurt that UConn shot 33 free throws to Morgan State's 9, even though the Huskies played man-to-man and the Bears a zone defense the whole night.

Now, UConn faces Buffalo, another D-I team that was nearly knocked off by a D-II team in Wednesday night's opener. The Bulls escaped with an 89-82 win over Ohio Valley.
Such is the current state of college basketball.

"There's not that drastic difference among teams," Calhoun said. "The three-point shot is a great equalizer. (Holmes) comes off the bench and just lights it up. That's what happens, that's why you've got to be prepared every single night."

RIM RATTLINGS: The Big East Conference announced on Wednesday that all 16 of its schools will be invited to the league's men's and women's basketball championship tournaments starting next year. Currently, the top 12 teams in the regular season advance. Said Calhoun in a statement: "Since the league expanded to 16 teams, I have felt that the 12-team format for the tournament ostracized the programs, coaches and especially the players of the teams that were excluded in New York … I congratulate the league presidents and athletic directors for this move."
* Kemba Walker, a 2008 UConn commit, will be at tonight's game while on an official visit to the school.

David Borges may be reached at dborges@nhregister.com

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