Friday, December 28, 2007

John Riek in the house

John Riek, the 7-footer out of the Winchendon (Mass.) School who is a major UConn recruiting target, was at Friday night's game. Riek was in Orlando for other reasons and, according to a source, was on an unofficial visit to UCF.

However ... let's just say that Riek made his presence known to UConn, as well. (Don't worry, folks, he's not going to UCF).

Thinning of the Horde

Only three Connecticut newspapers down here to cover the UConn-UCF game: the Register, Journal-Inquirer and Courant. Part of the reason is that some of the other papers have their guys at tomorrow's Bowl game.

The UConn team arrived at UCF Arena at about 6:15 p.m. Stanley Robinson was wearing a wool winter hat, the kind with big ear flaps. Odd, considering it's about 80 degrees outside.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Plenty of good seats available

After playing on Friday night, UConn and Central Florida will play again the following day. No, not the basketball teams. Both schools' football squads are playing in Bowl Games -- UConn in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte against Wake Forest, UCF in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis against Mississippi State -- on Saturday afternoon.

With that in mind, don't expect much of a crowd at Friday's UConn-UCF men's basketball game at brand-new, 10,000-seat UCF Arena. With about 10,000 UCF fans having traveled to Memphis for the football game, and with students out on winter break, officials are only expecting a crowd of about 3,000 or so on Friday. The Knights are averaging 4,771 fans in their five games so far at the new, on-campus facility, including a school-record 5,574 on Dec. 8 against Ole Miss.

Incidentally, the UCF campus is interesting. There are apartment-style dorms and retail stores all over the place, and the new basketball arena, baseball field and football field are all within the same radius, giving it an Olympic Village sort of feel. Coming soon will be a new cafeteria right next to the gym.

"Our guys literally eat, sleep, workout and lift within a one-block area," said Knights' coach Kirk Speraw. "Then, they have to walk all off seven, eight minutes to class."

  • UConn's 7-foot backup center Jonathan Mandeldove is still suffering from a sore ligament in his foot and didn't make the trip to Orlando with the team. He's working out with a trainer back in Storrs.
  • Junior guard Craig Austrie, who was hospitalized with pneumonia two weeks ago and has missed the Huskies' last two games, has come along "better than I thought he was going to be," according to UConn coach Jim Calhoun, and should be available to play tonight.
  • It doesn't appear as though many UConn players have made a visit to Disney World, Sea World or any other of Orlando's world-famous attractions. Rather, the Huskies seem more intent on relaxing, maybe taking in a movie or hitting the mall ... and enjoying the gigantic swimming pool ("the biggest pool I've ever seen in my life," according to Stanely Robinson) at their equally gigantic hotel near Disney.

David Borges may be reached at

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Remember the Maine!

Winning consecutive blowouts over Quinnipiac and Maine is impressive -- if you're a hockey team. Men's basketball? Not so much, especially if you're the UConn Huskies, a traditional national power.

And yet, there's something about the way the Huskies went Bobcat and Black Bear hunting last week that has this blogger/writer thinking that maybe -- just maybe -- UConn could be in for a better season than some expected.

Sure, the competition level wasn't high. Sure, it's unbecoming of a program like UConn to take solace in wins over a pair of relative cupcakes. Sure, both teams were coached by former UConn assistants who knew ex-boss Jim Calhoun could use an easy win and essentially laid down for the Huskies (just kidding about this one!!!).

Still, we saw something from UConn over the past week.

It's one thing to out-size and out-athlete an opponent, it's another thing to play well. Really well. And it's still another to play hard. Really hard. UConn played really well and really hard against both Quinnipiac and Maine, which is exactly what Calhoun has been begging his team for over most of the season to this point.

As has been well-documented, Calhoun -- as frustrated as he's been in a while following UConn's lackluster, 69-60 win over Northeastern earlier in the month -- called his team together and made them a deal: I'll back off a bit, if you show me the energy and enthusiasm that great UConn teams of the past were built on.

So far, it's worked. The Huskies have played hard, and Calhoun has been much calmer on the sidelines. The hockey-like substitutions that marked the first seven games of the season (particularly the Northeastern game, when Calhoun pulled player after player for the slightest mistake and, indeed, wound up being ejected from the game for hurling an "F bomb" at his own team) haven't been seen much in the past two games. Against Maine, Calhoun managed to refrain from making a single substitution for the first 6 minutes, 43 seconds of play!

The players have responded. Certain players (A.J. Price, Stanley Robinson, Hasheem Thabeet) have really stepped up. Others (Jeff Adrien, Jerome Dyson, Doug Wiggins) have been up-and-down, but overall have played pretty well. It would be nice for UConn to have some reliable help from their big men off the bench, and maybe Gavin Edwards can provide that. But Jonathan Mandeldove is beset by foot issues and may not even be in Orlando with the team, and Curtis Kelly just can't seem to get in any kind of groove.

I'm really interested to see how the Huskies handle their upcoming road swing through Orlando (Central Florida) to Newark (Seton Hall) and, finally, South Bend (Notre Dame). While none of these teams are powerhouses, all will be tough outs in their home buildings. This group of UConn players has yet to truly prove its mettle on the road. Last year the team won just two of 10 games away from home -- against St. John's and Rutgers. This team has to prove it can walk into the building of another good team and walk out with a win.

Central Florida is better-known for football players like alum Daunte Culpepper and current running back Kevin Smith, who leads the nation in both rushing and scoring as a junior. Basketball? Eh. The Knights are currently 5-5. They have split a pair of games with Nevada, lost to then-ranked Kansas State in overtime and lost by eight points to both Villanova and South Florida of the Big East.

Still, the Knights play in a decent conference (Conference USA). And, it's never easy to beat a team in its own building. Speaking of which: Calhoun has been telling his players and the media that the Huskies are opening up UCF's new, 10,000-seat on-campus arena. That's not true: the arena was officially opened with the Knights' 63-60 win over Nevada back on Nov. 11. Maybe it's the coach's way of providing his team a little extra motivation, a way of further piling on the "us vs. the world" mentality.

Whatever works. Everything's certainly been working well for the Huskies over the past couple of games.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Honor Roll for Robinson

Stanley Robinson has been named to this week's Big East Honor Roll following his 32-point, 11-rebound performance against Maine on Saturday. Pittsburgh's big win over Duke at Madison Square Garden Thursday night earned the Panthers both the Player of the Week (Levance Fields) and Rookie of the Week (DeJuan Blair).

Joining Robinson on the Honor Roll were Providence's Weyinmi Efejuku, Seton Hall's Paul Gause, Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku and West Virginia's Alex Ruoff.

Hope everyone enjoyed their holidays. (And check out a feature on a pair of UConn walk-ons with local ties in Wednesday's New Haven Register)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lord Stanley

A.J. Price played great (again), directing the offense with aplomb. Jeff Adrien rebounded for a terrific second half, Hasheem Thabeet was a dominating, shot-blocking force, and Gavin Edwards played well in garbage time.

But today's game story is really all about Stanley Robinson.;jsessionid=4pR5HnJKzFnGtnGLlmbvhcR1QL31pX28bkvjGnDnMQrpP2FDXRQ2!-271666278?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pg_article&r21.pgpath=%2FNHR%2FSports%2FUConn+Men&r21.content=%2FNHR%2FSports%2FUConn+Men%2FContentTab_Feature_1312613