Monday, December 15, 2008

Sticks and Stony Brook

Sticks and stones may break their bones, but names will never hurt the UConn men's basketball team. At least you'd better hope they don't, with Jim Calhoun as their coach.

Calhoun was in rare form tonight after being thoroughly unimpressed with his team's 91-57 win over Stony Brook. Other than Jerome Dyson and Stanley "Sticks" Robinson, no one truly escaped Calhoun's wrath.

It started early. As he took the podium to address the media, Calhoun said: "Before we start, I want a shoe check. Please throw them at my team, not at me."

(An obvious reference to the shoe attack on President Bush in Iraq yesterday, for those who only watch ESPN and not CNN).

Here's what Calhoun had to say about some individual players:

On Hasheem Thabeet, who finished with 18 ponts and nine rebounds: "I thought Hasheem was fair, at best. He was the biggest guy on the court. I thought he should have gotten 30 and blocked every shot in the building, but that's just me."

On Jeff Adrien, who racked up another double-double with 18 points (8-for-8 shooting) and 10 boards: "Jeff, I thought, rebounded better, but didn't play much defense."

On A.J. Price, who didn't start the second half but quickly came in after Kemba Walker threw away a pass and wound up knocking down a pair of second-half 3-pointers to finish with 13 points: "He should let the offense take care of itself and get into the game. In the second half, he came off screens naked and got free, that's what he's got to do. It was good for him, yes, but I wasn't very pleased with him in the first half. But then, Kemba didn't want to start, so the first two minutes of the second half he made sure A.J. got right back on the court. They had a deal or something, I wasn't involved in it."

Ah yes, Kemba Walker, the freshman who's been largely immune to criticism thus far but was unimpressive on Monday with four points, five assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes: "Kemba just wasn't very good tonight, so I have no discussion about it."

Calhoun was effusive in his praise for Dyson and Robinson, but even in doing so was able to take shots at the rest of his players.

On Dyson: "Jerome played just an absolute terrific game. He was tough. A coach's voice doesn't actually make him melt, which is nice and pleasant for our team to see."

Robinson, of course, was making his return to the floor after sitting out the entire first semester. He had just one practice under his belt but finished with seven points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks in 16 minutes.

Said Calhoun: "He does contest jump shots, which is something we haven't seen all year. We actually have a guy that goes out and makes those 3-pointers a little more difficult. I thought he was spectacular. I don't know how you do what he did. Basically not touching organized basketball since May, he practiced one day ... We looked bigger with him out there. When he was out there, we had a better defensive feel."

In truth, the Huskies didn't look that bad tonight. It's hard to get a feel against a vastly overmatched team like Stony Brook, but UConn did shoot 63 percent from the floor, 62 percent on 3-pointers (8-for-13), had 26 assists on their 32 field goals and held Stony Brook to 32 percent shooting.

Even Calhoun, deep down, couldn't have thought his team played that poorly, could he? Maybe. But more likely, he had his eye on Saturday, when the Huskies travel to Seattle to face No. 8 Gonzaga.

"I've got a feeling the kids from Gonzaga may hit those shots," Calhoun said. "It's just an outside feeling (I have) on that situation. I have a feeling that when Hash gets in there, it won't be a 5-11 kid stripping him, it'll be a 6-11 kid blocking shots right back in his face."

Oh yes, then there was this little chestnut: "Over the past 4-5 years, this is the worst defensive team we've had. I don't care what the stats say."

So, there you have it. Imagine if the Huskies had only won by 24, rather than 34.

***Back to Stanley. Robinson checked into the game during a timeout 2:10 into the game. His first basket was classic Stanley, sneaking in from the baseline and catching an alley-oop pass from Donnell Beverly for a two-handed slam.

"That was awesome," Robinson said. "That brought me back to last year."

Soon afterwards, Robinson got a reality check, getting knocked to the ground on a hard screen from 300-pound Stony Brook forward Desmond Adedeji.

"That's a big guy," Robinson said. "My guys have got to call out the screens, man. That guy's like 325. The only thing I saw was the floor."

Robinson didn't do a whole lot after that. He blocked a Dallis Johner shot midway through the second half and scored UConn's final five points, on three foul shots and a jumper from the top of the key.

"I felt comfortable out there," Robinson said. "The crowd welcomed me with a great welcome. I felt good about everything."

His coach? Not so much.

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