Saturday, January 26, 2008

Haralson excited to become a Husky

Scottie Haralson isn't able to watch today's UConn-Indiana game. His Provine High basketball team is playing a game today at 2:30 p.m. about an hour from his Jackson, Miss. home.

But the 6-foot-4 senior shooting guard, who orally commited to UConn late Friday night, is excited at the prospect of becoming a Husky.

"They need a shooter real bad," Haralson said when reached by phone on Saturday. "They told me I could come in and play right away as a freshman."

Haralson added that he's excited to play for a "Hall of Fame coach" like Jim Calhoun.

Those who have seen Haralson play have compared him to a "poor-man's Rashad Anderson." Haralson remembers Anderson as a player and admired his ability to shoot the 3-pointer.

Haralson plans to make an official visit to UConn when his Provine High season is over.

More on Haralson later ...

Friday, January 25, 2008

No Dice or Dougie: Dyson, Wiggins suspended

The UConn men's hoop team looked a little somber as it entered its team hotel this evening, and there was a good reason: Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins were left back in Storrs, suspended indefinitely by coach Jim Calhoun.

"This particular suspension is mine and no one else's," Calhoun said. "I took the action based upon what I thought were the best interests of our basketball team and our university."

Calhoun wouldn't specify the reason for the suspensions, saying only it had "nothing to do with the university or legalities."

Calhoun said he was informed that Dyson and Wiggins had done something wrong at around noon on Friday, about an hour before the Huskies' practice. The coach decided to allow both players to practice, but upon learning more information after practice, elected to leave Dyson and Wiggins behind as the team prepared for its flight to Indiana.

"We were in shock," said junior guard Craig Austrie, who'll start in place of Dyson. "We didn't think we were going to be undermanned down here, but we are, and we just have to move on."

NeitherAustrie nor junior point guard A.J. Price knew what Dyson and Wiggins had done.

"I know it has to be serious for them to be suspended from a game like this," Price said. "Hopefully, guys just learn from their mistakes and grow up from that."

Dyson is averaging 14.3 ppg this season (second on the team to Jeff Adrien's 14.4) and leads the team in steals. He has averaged 18.2 ppg in UConn's five road games this season and scored 10 points in the final 5:52 of the team's comeback win over Cincinnati on Wednesday night.

Wiggins has been the team's top scorer off the bench at 6.6 ppg. He was suspended from team activities back in October but got back into Calhoun's good graces after about a month.

Dyson and Wiggins may be the team's two best one-on-one defenders, and both were expected to take turns guarding Indiana's fab freshman Eric Gordon this afternoon. Gordon leads the Big 10 and is 12th in the nation in scoring at 22.1 ppg.

Calhoun wasn't sure exactly how the Huskies would deal with defending Gordon, simply saying his team's game plan has changed "about 100 percent." He had 6-9, 234-pound forward Curtis Kelly playing at the 3-spot in practice on Friday, and Stanley Robinson at the 2.

With their two quickest players back in Storrs, and in an effort to keep Price out of foul trouble, the Huskies may throw more zone at the Hoosiers than originally planned.

Calhoun said certain players -- Austrie, Kelly, freshman Donnell Beverly -- must step up. He even mentioned freshman walk-on guard Kyle Bailey by name, and noted that UConn is dressing an extra walk-on player for the game.

"We're a different team," the coach pointed out. "We retain three of our better players, (Robinson) has as much potential as anybody. He's going to have to get more shots, get more things done … Donnell hasn't got his chance yet, that's coming. That's what we face … The guys who have had a chance will (have to) take their game to a tad higher level, they don't have to go crazy. The guys who haven't had a chance are going to have to step in and do some things."

Calhoun wasn't sure if Dyson or Wiggins would be allowed to play on Monday when the Huskies host Louisville at the XL Center.

"It is disappointing that guys would do whatever (they did) to get themselves in this situation," said Price. "But if we sit here and think about those guys back home not being with us, our minds will be not where they're supposed to be. We came here to win this game."

Expect good things from Price and Dice

It's been virtually impossible to predict how any team from the Big East will fare from game to game. UConn is as unpredictable as any, getting romped by Providence at home one night, only to run roughshod over then-No. 13 Marquette three days later.

But if form holds true, there are two players the Huskies should be able to bank on tomorrow when they face No. 7 Indiana at Assembly Hall: A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson. Here's why:

Price has raised his level of play against the best competition this season. Today will be UConn's fifth game against a ranked opponent. In the four prior games (one win, three losses) Price has averaged 19.8 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. He's gone over the 20-point mark in two of the four games.

Meanwhile, Dyson has been far more productive on the road than he's been at home. In UConn's five road games, Dyson is averaging 18.2 points and shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point land. At home, the sophomore guard is averaging 12.4 ppg and shooting just 20 percent from beyond the arc. He has scored over 20 points in three of the five Husky road contests this season.

On the flip side, UConn is 1-4 against Kelvin Sampson-coached teams over the past seven seasons. The Huskies lost to Indiana 77-73 last season, Sampson's first at the Hoosiers' helm. And, from 2002-05, UConn lost to Sampson's Oklahoma Sooners two out of three times.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hyped from the Charity Stripe

Check out tomorrow's New Haven Register for a piece about UConn's vastly improved free throw shooting. Here are some of the more eye-popping numbers regarding the Huskies' efforts from the charity stripe this season:

Over their past two games – a blowout win over then-No. 13 Marquette and a gutsy, comeback win on the road against Cincinnati – the Huskies have attempted a combined 76 foul shots. They’ve hit 65 of them, good for an 85-percent rate.

From the 15-minute, 54-second mark of the second half of the Marquette game to the near-identical point (15:44) of the latter half of the Cincy game – almost exactly 40 minutes of basketball – the Huskies hit an astonishing 49 out of 53 free throws.

UConn is hitting 70 percent of its free throws overall and 76 percent in Big East play (good for third in the conference). That’s a huge improvement over a year ago, when the Huskies shot just 63 percent from the line (61 percent in conference).

There is no better example of UConn’s improvement at the charity stripe than Hasheem Thabeet. Last year, still relatively new to the game, Thabeet hit just 51 percent from the line. Following Wednesday night’s 8-for-9 effort, the 7-foot-3 center is knocking down freebies at a 72-percent rate.

After going 8-for-8 from the line vs. Cincinnati, Craig Austrie has missed just two out of 30 attempts all season and has hit 20 of 21 in conference play, tops in the Big East.

Doug Wiggins (93 percent), Gavin Edwards (83), Jerome Dyson (80) and A.J. Price (72) are all shooting quite well from the line, as well. The only players who struggle are Jeff Adrien (60 percent), Stanley Robinson (55) and Curtis Kelly (54).

On an unrelated note:

Some juvenile prank callers sabotaged the weekly Big East media conference call Thursday morning. Every few calls, someone identifying themselves as a writer for a paper (some real, some fictional) asked coaches questions that would get big laughs in junior high school.

“I wish some people would get some lives,” Jim Calhoun remarked.

Someone identifying himself as "Mark Price from the New Haven Register" tried to get in a question to Calhoun, but fortunately Big East media director John Paquette had started screening the calls and recognized the guy was a phony. Ironically, I was next in line (fortunately, Paquette is familiar with me).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Calhoun explains his technical

An emotional Jim Calhoun conducted a 9-minute postgame press conference tonight, but was only asked one question. He spent the rest of his time complimenting the Cincinnati team, and specifically guard Deonta Vaughn ("hopefully he gets lost going to Storrs. He's that good") and coach Mick Cronin ("the Big East Coach of the Year at this point") and, of course, his own team in its terrific, come-from-behind, 84-83 win.

He never addressed the costly technical foul he was hit with at the 7:01 mark (Vaughn's two freebies gave Cincy an 8-point lead at the time), but I caught up with Calhoun after his presser and asked him about it.

Calhoun said he simply yelled "Get in the game!" at referee Ed Corbett.

"He said, 'I gave it to (Cronin), I've got to give it to you," Calhoun explained. "Then, he came over later and apologized."

Indeed, late the first half, Cronin was hit with a "T" by ref Ed Hightower after arguing a foul. Cronin yelled several expletives at Hightower after the technical, but the ref apparently didn't hear them.

Craig Austrie, who wasn't in the game at the time, popped off the bench and hit both free throws. That's illegal – but only illegal, apparently, if the refs notice.

UConn had a whopping 16 free throw attempts in the first half – hitting 15 of them – while the Bearcats didn't get to the line a single time over the first 20 minutes. The Huskies wound up going 32-for-37 from the stripe for the game; Cincy went 13-for-20.

Good omens for UConn?

The parking garage right next to Fifth Third Arena is called the Calhoun Garage.

The hub for UC athletics, an eight-story building right next to the arena, is called the Richard E. Lindner Center. (UConn has a walk-on named John Lindner).

Possible good omens for the Huskies? We'll see ...

Oh, and Cincinnati's radio guy is named Dan Hoard. The UConn press corps is nicknamed "The Horde." OK, now I'm really stretching it.

Who'll win tonight?

Normally, I'll have a pretty good opinion on who'll win any given athletic encounter. It might not always be the correct opinion (more often than not, it isn't), but it'll be a reasonably informed opinion, anyway.

For instance, I think the Giants might pull off the big upset and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Or at least beat the 12 1/2-point spread.

But I must admit I have virtually no idea who'll win tonight's UConn-Cincinnati game at Fifth Third Arena. After covering the Huskies for the past three months, I still can't say I have my finger on the pulse of this team. Who does? Not even coach Jim Calhoun, who shrugged, "I guess this is what they're going to do to me. Go figure," after UConn romped over 13th-ranked Marquette two days after a disturbing loss at home to Providence.

Cincinnati is equally flabbergasting, though at least there's one strong positive in their favor -- the Bearcats are 3-0 at home in conference play, with wins over two Top 25 teams (Villanova and Pittsburgh) and Syracuse. But the Bearcats have also lost to St. John's (granted, on the road) -- the same St. John's team that the Huskies ran roughshod over a couple of weeks ago.

UConn has played well on the road this year, with wins over Seton Hall and Central Florida and near-wins over No. 7 Georgetown and a good Notre Dame team. Even on neutral courts, the Huskies have given a good battle to No. 1 Memphis and very nearly beat Gonzaga.

I'm not convinced Cincy is as good as its 4-2 Big East record (it's also beaten Louisville on the road). The Bearcats have a terrific player in guard Deonta Vaughn (16.7 ppg) and a bunch of tough, physical, veteran players who can win ugly.

So who'll win tonight? Tough one. Can't even use the Diane Chambers logic ("A Bear could easily beat a Dolphin") because, well, what exactly is a Bearcat, anyway, and how would it fare against a Husky?

I could take the easy way out and say that the team with the initials "UC" will win. Instead, I'll narrow it down: UConn wins tonight. The Huskies maintain their momentum from the marquee Marquette win, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson break out of their respective slumps and, despite a big night from Vaughn, Cincy's frontcourt is neutralized by Hasheem Thabeet.

So there's my opinon. Like I said, it may not always be the correct opinon ...

** Most of the writers out here are staying after tonight's game and either driving or flying to Bloomington, Ind. for Saturday's UConn-Indiana game. You'd think the Huskies would stay out here, too, and they probably would have -- if the game was on Thursday. Or if classes weren't back in session.

But, since classes began on Tuesday, UConn will charter back home following tonight's game so players can take classes on Thursday. Then they'll fly back out to Indiana on Friday.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Knight school?

The country's top-rated Class of 2010 point guard was at Sunday's game on an unofficial visit to the UConn.

Brandon Knight, a 6-foot-3 sophomore out of Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was at the game with the rest of his teammates, sitting behind the UConn bench. Pine Crest is coached by New Haven native Dave Beckerman, who is the founder of the New Haven-based Starter clothing company and a friend of UConn coach Jim Calhoun.

Pine Crest had just participated in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic up the road in Springfield, Mass. Knight scored 26 points and was named game MVP in the team's win over Holyoke, Mass. on Saturday.

Knight, a lifelong Floridian who currently lives in Coral Springs, liked the UConn campus – if not the weather.

"It's a nice place," he said. "I've got to get adjusted to the weather, but I like the facilities and stuff like that."

Knight, who spoke briefly with Calhoun after the game, has received offers from Florida and Louisville, but the sophomore is in no hurry to make a college choice. A 4.0 GPA student, Knight knows his priorities when ultimately choosing a school.

"Probably the academics, most importantly," he said, "and secondly the coach and how he treats his players, and how the players develop over time and how they do after college."

Beckerman played at Hillhouse High, then Southern Connecticut State, and coached at Hamden Hall for 11 years. He moved to Florida to retire a few years ago but couldn't get coaching out of his blood, and is now in his fourth year at the helm at Pine Crest School.

Also with him was Ed Waite, who plays basketball at Pine Crest but is a major football recruit, courted by LSU, South Florida and Miami, among others. He and some other football teammates visited UConn's new football training facility prior to the game.

Miles Culpa

The never-ending, often confusing Nate Miles situation has led to some misinterpretations by the media, including on this blog. Yesterday, I wrote that Miles "has not passed muster with the NCAA clearinghouse." This is, in part, true -- but it doesn't mean that Miles has been wholly rejected by the clearinghouse. In fact, it's an ongoing process.

Essentially, what I should have written was that Miles has yet to pass muster with the NCAA clearinghouse. UConn has, as reported yesterday, sent more information to the body which it hopes will be reviewed no later than Tuesday.

For a variety of reasons, it's still quite a long-shot that Miles joins the team this season (or any season).