Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Way of the Buffalo

The University of Buffalo's Alumni Arena looks like a glorified high school gym -- one that seats 6,100 when the stands are pulled out. Just about all of them will be filled tomorrow night when the No. 2-ranked Huskies come to town, and it should be a fun college basketball atmosphere.

"It means a lot for the basketball community in western New York to see a team ranked that high," 11th-year Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of the Huskies (7-0). "There's a lot of spirit and enthusiasm that's going through the whole campus right now, especially the athletic department."

It doesn't hurt, either, that the Buffalo football team will be playing No. 12 Ball State for the MAC championship the following night at Ford Field in Detroit. Exciting times for the Buffalo athletic program.

***Alumni Arena hasn't been very friendly to Big East teams recently. This is the fourth straight year a Big East squad has played here; Rutgers (2005) and South Florida (last year) both lost, while Pittsburgh, which, like UConn now, was the No. 2-ranked team in the nation at the time, barely escaped with a 70-67 win two years ago.

Buffalo is also fresh off an 83-73 win over Temple.

***Scared yet, UConn fans? Don't be. The Bulls get little production from their front line and don't have a true point guard. Greg Gamble, who averages 14 ppg, handles that role, but it's not his forte.

Buffalo's leading scorer is junior guard Rodney Pierce (17.0), and they've got a nice shooter off the bench in senior Andy Robinson. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he's the guy who got busted offering money to anyone who'd write a 3-4 page paper for him last April. Here's the exact post:

"I am paying anybody who have read the book "there are no children here' by Alex Kotlowitz $30-40 which in some classes you have to read at UB (even more money if you have to read the book a little more!!) to write a 3-4 page paper, on a couple questions which was assigned.'

Robinson, who was the Bulls' top scorer last year, was suspended for the team's first three games this season.

***The Bulls practiced a lot of backdoor cuts in practice today and looked pretty good doing it. They also shot the ball pretty well, at least for the 45 minutes or so we saw of them.

***As mentioned in my prior post, Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie won't be getting to Buffalo until a few hours before tomorrow's 7 p.m. tip-off. Jim Calhoun's bigger concern right now centers on another guard: A.J. Price. The senior All-America has yet to really get things going to this point, averaging just 8.5 points per game and playing rather tentatively.

"I don't think he's playing with the same kind of confidence, no matter what he says," said the coach. "He's bailing out, hoping to hit the 3-pointer, instead of driving right by people ... I've told people, he's not going to be his best until February," Calhoun said. "He started out fine (in practice), but he's hit a little bit of a wall. The only way I can be with this is to keep being supportive of him ... For us to be real good, we need A.J. to make some plays for us. Last year, clearly he was the MVP of the UConn basketball team. He's not that right now. I'm worried about him continuing to improve and getting his confidence back."

***How did this, the Huskies' first and only true non-conference road game this season, come about? You can thank Holy Cross.

Last year, Calhoun begged out of a first-round 2K Sports College Hoops Classic bout with the Crusaders. Not wanting his team to play the slow-it-down Crusaders in an early game, Calhoun petitioned for another opponent. Buffalo was contracted to go out to Oklahoma to play in one of the tournament's games, but UConn convinced the Bulls to come to Storrs instead. In exchange, the Huskies agreed to play a return game in Buffalo.

***Quote of the day: "You see them on TV and they look about 3-5 inches tall, according to how large your screen is. Then you see them in person and you see they're really big, they move really fast." (Witherspoon on the Huskies)

***Calhoun was asked in a teleconference call today whether he thinks North Carolina (or anybody, for that matter) can go unbeaten in this day and age.

"I think it'll be very difficult," he said. "Right now, everybody's saying they're the team to beat. Let's see. I love them, they have all the components. But you've got to play some tough road games, go to some tough places, then you'll find out."

Asked about a potential matchup with the Tar Heels way down the road, Calhoun added: "We'll be bigger (than we are now). They won't have any more quickness at point guard than we do. They won't be as good defensively at center as we will, but we won't be as good offensively at center as they are. It could be very interesting."

Gotta admire that he at least answered the question. Can you imagine Bill Belichick answering a question in October on how the Patriots might fare in the Super Bowl against the Giants, Cowboys, etc.?

***We're told the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is much, much nicer than the American side. I was the only one of the four writers here to bring my passport, but I don't have a car, so it looks like I'll be slumming it on the American side a little later.

***The Courant's Mike Anthony is no Magellan behind the wheel. His tales of getting lost en route to games are legendary. But Mike got us from the hotel to the campus quite easily this afternoon -- even if it was a very simple, 5-minute drive.

Then, after stopping in the gift shop for a minute, I head to my room and pass Mike going the other way.

"Yup, locked myself out of my room," he uttered.


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