Saturday, December 08, 2007

Orange crushed

Rhode Island just beat Syracuse 91-89 at the Carrier Dome. URI is now 3-0 vs. the Big East this season, beating South Florida, Providence and now the Orange. Syracuse has given up a total of 198 points in a pair of home losses to Atlantic-10 teams this season (107 in a recent loss to UMass).

Rhody's win may have vaulted the A-10 over the Big East in overall conference RPI, as well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Appreciating Jim Calhoun

It’s been close to two months since First Night and, with that, two months since I “officially” started on the UConn men’s basketball beat. It’s been a learning experience so far, but the main thing I’ve garnered to this point has been an appreciation of coach Jim Calhoun. Let me explain.

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Calhoun’s coaching abilities from afar. To take a school out in the sticks of Storrs, Conn. and turn it into one of the elite basketball programs in the country is as good a coaching job as anyone in the sport (Bob Knight, Coach K, Jim Boeheim, etc.) has done.

I remember when I went out to introduce myself to Calhoun at a golf tournament at Norwich C.C. back in August. I told him I was from Rhode Island, we talked a little about Providence College basketball, and I mentioned to him how tough a job coach Tim Welsh has at Providence: small school with limited practice and weight-room facilities and no on-campus arena, not near a significant African-American population, trying to compete in the best conference in America. As I was saying this, I realized: with the exception of the small school part, this is precisely what Calhoun encountered when he arrived at UConn 22 years ago.

But having witnessed Calhoun up close, I’ve developed an appreciation for the man’s no-nonsense approach. He tells it like it is, or at least how he sees it. O.K., sometimes he gets his facts a little wrong – check that, he almost always gets his facts a little wrong (when he says someone’s right hamstring is sore, you can bet it’s his left; when he says someone is ranked 96th in the country in blocked shots, it’s actually 26th).

But the coach doesn’t mince words. He’s not afraid to publicly castigate anyone – his players, the officials, sometimes even opposing coaches. Thursday night was a classic example.

First, Calhoun tore into his own team. He criticized one unnamed player (it was obviously Stanley Robinson) for killing the team defensively by not working to get through screens. He criticized his entire team, giving them an ‘F’ for their offensive play, and gave his players a backhanded “diss” when he said of Northeastern’s Matt Janning, “It’s nice to see a guy who really knows how to play.”

Then it was on to the officials, specifically Wally Rutecki, who ejected Calhoun from the game after assessing him his second technical foul.

“He’s not very good,” the coach said of Rutecki. “The other two guys actually weren’t bad, but that official was a bad official … He’s not advancing to the NCAA Tournament (as a ref). If he’s practicing to do that, he’s wasting his time right now.”


Now, I’m not exactly sure if it’s the best thing to be criticizing amateur athletes. Sure, these kids are high-profile, and they’re getting free rides to college. But so are members of the UConn field hockey and gymnastics teams. These are still kids, after all.

Nor is it a good idea to be publicly ridiculing referees. Calhoun found that out on Friday when the Big East publicly reprimanded him for his comments. The next time Calhoun castigates officials, the Register has learned, he'll be hit with a one-game suspension.

I’m also not sold on the idea of yanking a player from the floor after he makes one mistake. Seems it would be tough to play with one eye constantly looking over your shoulder, knowing that one bad pass, one missed rebound and you’re back on the bench.

But then, who am I to criticize the coaching techniques of Jim Calhoun? The man has won two national championships largely employing the same style. Obviously, it works.

I will say this: after covering the Boston Red Sox from 2004-06, it’s refreshing to hear Calhoun’s blunt honesty when discussing his players, the refs, etc. Compared to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Calhoun is a godsend.

Francona never criticized his players publicly. No matter how egregious an error or mishap a Sox player may have committed, Francona would always come to his defense. Always.

It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t the multi-millionaire players be able to handle a little public criticism from their manager when it’s deserved? And shouldn’t the amateur college athletes perhaps get a little slack?

Either way, I’d take Calhoun over Francona any day of the week. Francona also had a nasty habit of being extremely condescending towards the media. Any question, no matter how innocuous, could be twisted and turned by Francona and thrown back into the reporter’s face as an obvious attempt to rattle the cage.

Worse, Francona doesn’t treat media members equally. If he sees you on TV or hears you on the radio, he’ll give you a respectful answer to a question. That same question is often treated with derision if asked by someone from a smaller media outlet.

Jim Calhoun treats everyone essentially the same. He’ll answer virtually any question. He tells it like he sees it, and you’ve got to appreciate that. I certainly do.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Austrie to start

It appears that Craig Austrie will start tonight as Jim Calhoun goes to a three-guard lineup against Northeastern.

Calhoun had said yesterday that he was toying with the idea of either going with the smaller lineup, or continuing to start 6-9 forward Stanley Robinson. The thought was that, if UConn did go with the three guards, Doug Wiggins would get the start. But apparently, Calhoun prefers Wiggins adding an infusion of energy off the bench. And, apparently, he feels Robinson can supply the same energy.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lineup change?

UConn may unveil a slightly different starting lineup tomorrow night when it hosts pesky Northeastern University at Gampel Pavilion.

Coach Jim Calhoun is toying with the idea of going with a three-guard lineup -- meaning Doug Wiggins, most likely, would get the start in place of Stanley Robinson. Calhoun admitted at practice today, however, that he still wasn't sure what he was going to do.

Also, Hasheem Thabeet has had soreness in his left hamstring and hasn't practiced that last two days, but he was expected to practice today, and Calhoun believes he should have no problem playing tomorrow night.

Backup center Jonathan Mandeldove has also been bothered by a groin pull.

UConn has had a couple of double-session practices since its disappointing loss on Saturday to Gonzaga. Calhoun believes the main cause for his team's relative troubles so far this season has been a lack of focus at different points in each game.

"Unless we maintain our focus in a 40-minute basketball game, and within the 35-second shot clock, whether it’s offense or defense, then we’re going to continue to have results that we don’t want," the coach said.

Read the advance to tomorrow night's battle of Huskies in tomorrow's New Haven Register.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Big East loss in Little Rhody

It's over: URI beats PC, 77-60. URI was (and is) the much better team. Jim Baron is a tremendous coach.

Not terribly good for UConn, as any non-conference loss by a Big East team hurts its fellow league members.

Lamonte Ulmer (Hamden) and Keith Cothran (New Haven), the Microwaves off URI's bench, combined for 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

O.K., promise, no more talk of Rhode Island collegiate basketball for a while now.

Greetings from Rhode Island

As a native Rhode Islander, figured I'd take in the annual Ocean State border war between URI and Providence tonight. Great atmosphere at URI's sold-out Ryan Center, with two rather evenly-matched, NCAA Tournament-caliber teams going at it. The Rams hold a 33-28 lead at halftime.

UConn plays the Friars twice this season. The Huskies have lost three straight home games to PC -- in 2003 (on Senior Day at Gampel), 2004 (the infamous Ryan Gomes game) and last year, when the Friars came back from a double-digit halftime deficit and turned the final 20 minutes into a fast-breaking, slam dunk contest. This year's PC team has plenty of quality guards but no real inside presence -- something the Huskies could exploit.

Incidentally, URI gets a great infusion of energy off the bench from a couple of New Haven-area kids. Hamden's Lamonte Ulmer, a 6-6 sophomore, can jump out of the building -- and nearly did when he slammed home an alley-oop pass from Jimmy Baron, the coach's son, early in this game. And the Rams don't miss a beat when New Haven's Keith Cothran, a 6-4 guard, provides instant offense off the bench.

Also worth noting that UConn transfter Ben Eaves is now at URI. As a transfer, he obviously has to sit out this season.

Calhoun to speak on autism

Jim Calhoun will be the featured speaker this Sunday at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration’s Autism Awareness Day.

Calhoun will arrive for a tour of the Aquarium at 9:30 a.m., and then speak in the Aquarium’s Marine Theater at 10:15 a.m. about his own personal experience with autism and how it has affected his family. Calhoun has two grandchildren who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He can often be seen wearing an Autism Speaks puzzle pin on his coat’s lapel during UConn games to draw attention to the developmental disorder.

A percentage of all profits for Autism Awareness Day at Mystic Aquarium will be donated to Autism Speaks through their New England chapter. In addition, there will be a raffle held for three separate $100 CVS gift cards.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ray Sheds Light on Huskies' 'D'

Here's a copy of the notebook from Saturday's UConn-Gonzaga game, which only made print editions of Sunday's Register:

By David Borges
Register staff
BOSTON — Sometimes, a team needs to hear from another voice to really drive a point home. Following Saturday’s disappointing loss to Gonzaga at TD Banknorth Garden, the Huskies got an earful from one of their great alumni.

Ray Allen, who sat courtside during the game alongside his Boston Celtics teammate Brian Scalabrine, addressed the Huskies in their postgame locker room. Allen’s main point, after watching his former team give up 85 points to a short-handed, leg-weary Gonzaga team: the Huskies need to improve a great deal on the defensive end of the floor.

“He gave us what we needed to hear, really,” UConn junior point guard A.J. Price said. “As a team, we need to come together as a unit. He said the same thing I’m saying right now — it’s our defense. Our defense is what let us down toward the end of the game.”

Added junior forward Jeff Adrien: “He spoke the truth. He saw everything that Coach saw, and some things I saw on the court. We’ve just got to do it as one, basically.”

Calhoun labeled the effort as “maybe one of the worst displays of defense, at times, that I’ve seen us play.” Not that the Huskies are tuning out their coach, but to hear similar criticism from a player like Allen — “who right now is probably on the best team in the NBA,” according to Price — resonates further.

“For him to explain how their team works defensively, and how he sees some of the similarities we have on defense — we could be very good,” Price said. “Once we get those little things corrected, everything will work out in our favor.”

Let’s Get Technical

Calhoun picked up a technical foul less than 2½ minutes into the second half after Stanley Robinson was whistled for his third foul. Calhoun pounded the scorer’s table to draw the ‘T’, and the Zags made four straight free throws to snap a tie at 48.

According to Calhoun, “Once the ‘T’ was assessed, the official said, ‘I hope you say something so I can throw you (out).’ I said, ‘If you keep saying that, I’m going to find you, because it’s very unprofessional.’ From that point, it became even, and officiating had nothing to do with the game.”

Bouldin Emboldened

The Huskies tried hard to recruit Gonzaga sophomore forward Matt Bouldin out of ThunderRidge High in Colorado a few years ago. Instead, he opted for Gonzaga, and UConn wound up with Stanley Robinson.

Bouldin came back to haunt the Huskies, scoring 19 points and getting five rebounds. During one stretch just past the midway point of the second half, Bouldin (a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard) scored nine straight Gonzaga points as the Zags turned a 67-63 deficit into a 72-69 lead.

Odds and Ends

‰Adrien, a Brookline, Mass., native, didn’t get his name announced during pregame introductions. After the P.A. man introduced “No. 5, Hasheem Thabeet” (Thabeet actually wears No. 34), he introduced Gonzaga’s fifth and final starter, but not Adrien, who still ran out on the floor and got high-fives from his teammates. Just before the opening tap, however, Adrien’s name was finally announced.

‰The Huskies are now 2-1 against Gonzaga. All three games have been played on neutral courts. UConn beat the Zags in the championship game of the 2005 Maui Invitational and in the 1999 NCAA West Regional championship game at America West Arena in Phoenix.

David Borges may be reached at

And, because it still seems difficult to find the Register's new website on the Web, here's the link to the game story: