Friday, December 05, 2008

Game story, notebook

Here's the game story from last night's narrow win over a game Buffalo squad.

And here's the notebook.

Now, it's time to get some sleep after a 6 a.m. flight out of Buffalo.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Buffalo Stance

In Hasheem Thabeet's prior two games, all 10 of his field goals came on dunks. Tonight, Thabeet showed much more versatility on the offensive end.

He had his dunks – two, to be exact – but added a host of nice low-post spin moves that resulted in baskets and 3-point plays, as well as a nifty left-handed hook shot. Thabeet finished with a team-high 21 points to go with a career-high 18 rebounds and four very loud blocked shots.

"I'm getting better every day," he said. "Today, every time I got the ball I got double-teamed, and I was able to score through that. It's a team thing. They were able to recognize where I was, they gave me the ball at the right time and I was able to contribute."

Added Jim Calhoun: "They had no answer for Hasheem and won't, at least until he graduates or leaves. That's the difference in the game."

About the only thing Thabeet did wrong was a little unnecessary posing after being fouled somewhat hard while dunking one home with 4:49 to play, Thabeet got a rather simple warning from the referees.

Said Thabeet: "They told me not to do that."

***Calhoun wasn't terribly pleased with his team's effort tonight.

"Quite frankly, they probably outplayed us," he said. "Or outworked us, at least ... It's one of those few games where I go home happy that we're 8-0, but really feeling bad for the Buffalo kids because they played well enough to do something special. I can't say they deserved to win, because they didn't score as many points as we did."

***Buffalo did grab as many rebounds (37) as UConn did, however. That led to an interesting comment from Calhoun afterwards.

"We will be a different team next time you see us come to your local theater. We'll have a 6-9 and 6-10 guy, and I don't expect that we'll have many even games on the backboard."

He was referring, of course, to Stanley Robinson and Ater Majok. When asked if that meant that Majok had definitely been cleared by the NCAA to join the team, Calhoun backtracked.

"(He's) as close as possible, but we still need that certification."

***A.J. Price, whom Calhoun has criticized lately for not playing with enough confidence, barely played over the final 11 ½ minutes. He was taken out with 11 minutes, 31 seconds left and didn't return until the 1:13 mark – and then only for one second of play.

He did return once more, but only played six seconds and finished the game on the bench. Price wound up with six points on 2-for-8 shooting.

Didn't get a chance to ask Calhoun about Price afterwards. In fact, we only got two questions in during the 7 1/2-minute postgame presser.

***With Price on the bench, little-used sophomore Donnell Beverly got into the game -- for exactly one sequence. Calhoun put Beverly in with 5:57 left to give Dyson a blow. Beverly promptly allowed Buffalo's Rodney Pierce to nail a 3-pointer and was pulled after a 25-second stint during a timeout while getting an earful from Calhoun.

"That was a hell of a move," Calhoun said of sending Beverly into the game. "I really won the Coach of the Year for that one. I love Donnell Beverly, but please … he fell down."

***For what it's worth, the reason Dyson and Austrie weren't able to leave campus until around noon on Thursday was because they were taking separate classes that only met once a week. According to Dyson, since this is the week before finals, both had to stay back for review while the rest of the team flew out Wednesday evening.

***UConn finishes classes today and has reading days over the weekend. They'll practice Saturday and Sunday but won't be back in action until Dec. 15, when it hosts Stony Brook at the XL Center.

***Can anyone tell us who sang the song "Buffalo Stance"? (Bonus points if you can name the singer's well-known sibling, as well)

Rodney Earns Respect

Rodney Pierce and Hasheem Thabeet were the stars of the show as UConn finds itself in a 32-32 tie at halftime with upstart Buffalo.

Pierce has been amazing. He hit his first seven shots (six jumpers, one of them a 3-pointer), and banked in a runner with 4.5 seconds left to tie the score before the break. He's 8-for-10 from the floor with 17 points, and if the Huskies don't start guarding him better, he'll become just the latest opponent to post a career-high effort against UConn (his current career-best is 26).

Jerome Dyson started off guarding Pierce, to little effect -- Pierce scored the Bulls' irst eight points to start the game with an 8-2 run. Dyson passed the baton to Craig Austrie, who was better (even blocking a shot for Pierce's first miss of the night), but not quite good enough.

On the other side, Thabeet is a man among boys, and UConn is doing a better job of getting him the rock. He's 5-for-7 from the floor for 12 points, has racked up 11 boards and a pair of monster blocked shots. After dunking home his first bucket, Thabeet proved he can do more than just dunk, hitting a nice, left-handed hook shot. It was Thabeet's first non-dunk field goal in two-plus games.

Thabeet has scored a bunch of different ways, including a nice rebound putback and a terrific low-post sping move for a conventional 3-point play. His 17-footer in the first minute of play was a bit ill-advised, however.

Otherwise: Dyson seems to be feeling the effects of his two-hour flight to Buffalo this afternoon, shooting just 1-for-7. A.J. Price has just three points, though he had a nice sequence midway through the half, hitting a 3-pointer, then firing a nifty pass to Jeff Adrien for a dunk -- only to be pulled from the game shortly thereafter.

The Huskies had five turnovers in the game's first eight minutes, but only one since then. Kemba Walker has been a non-entity (no shots, one assist). Gavin Edwards, suffering from the flu, is giving it that old college try (four points). Austrie, who joined Dyson on today's flight on a prop plane out of Windham Airport, also has four points. Adrien has seven and five boards.

The game is not quite a sellout, with a smattering of empty seats in the upper regions of the 6,100-seat Alumni Arena.

Edwards is Sick

Gavin Edwards didn't participate much in the pregame shootaround, instead sitting on the bench, not looking too well. The junior forward is sick with the flu, but said he's going to try to give it a go tonight.

Dyson, Austrie Are Here

Just ran into Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie in the hotel lobby before heading over to Alumni Arena.

Apparently, they flew to Buffalo in a charter -- but not your standard charter. Dyson, Austrie and academic coordinator Ted Tagin hopped on a little prop plane out of Windham Airport to make what ended up being about a two-hour flight. Normally, it only takes about an hour on a regular jet.

They got to Buffalo at about 4 p.m., as expected.

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.

Dyson, Austrie Will Arrive Late

UConn will hold a practice this afternoon then leave for Buffalo around 6:45 p.m. Two starters won't be on the flight.

Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie are working on a class project together won't leave for Buffalo until tomorrow afternoon. They aren't expected to arrive until about 4 p.m.

"It's not what we want," said coach Jim Calhoun, "but it's exactly what's required."

(For what it's worth, Dyson and Austrie are working on a joint project that involves public negotiations.)

Both players arrived after the team for the trip to the Virgin Islands as well, though they arrived the night before the Huskies' first game. Calhoun felt their late arrival hurt the team a bit in its opener against La Salle, because the team wasn't making the same rotations that it had been doing in practice.

We'll see how much of an effect arriving a few hours before gametime will have on Dyson and Austrie.

Monday, December 01, 2008

GE Brings Good Things to Storrs

With Stanley Robinson and -- more to the point -- possibly Ater Majok on the horizon, Gavin Edwards "has a chance to have a fight on his hands" for playing time, according to Jim Calhoun. "And the better the fight is, the better it is for UConn basketball. The deeper we can go, the more we can press and run."

Edwards knows he could face some competition from minutes, particularly from the 6-10 Majok who, like Edwards, is a natural power forward.

"From what I hear, Ater's a pretty good player," Edwards said. "It's always a fight in practice for as many minutes as you can get. It's definitely going to be a very competitive situation."

Edwards certainly made a case for himself tonight with a career high 17 points in UConn's 79-49 drubbing of a horrible Delaware State team. Nine of Edwards' points came over the final 5:49, kicked off nicely by catching a long pass from Kemba Walker on the run and breezing in for a layup.

"The run and catch was a magnificent athletic play," Calhoun pointed out.

Added Jerome Dyson: "(Edwards) runs the floor so well, he gets easy buckets just off that. We're going to find him all the time because he always seems to beat the other team up the court."

***As he's been doing all season, Robinson took in the game. Robinson will join the team on Dec. 14 after sitting out the first semester to handle some personal issues. He'll be back for UConn's next home game on Dec. 15 against Stony Brook and hopes to get right back into game action.

"Whatever Coach wants me to do, I'm going to do it," Robinson said.

Robinson said he's been working out at East Hartford High with longtime coach Anthony Menard three days a week. He's been lifting weights and shooting jumpers at Gampel, as well, and running 3.5 miles every day on campus. All this while working 8 ½ hours a day as a sheet metal worker in Willimantic. Robinson said he had gotten up to 225 pounds but is now at 211, about six pounds heavier than his playing weight last season.

***Hasheem Thabeet had 10 points and a career high-matching 17 boards. Over the past two games, all 10 of Thabeet's field goals have come on dunks.

**With Gonzaga now ranked No. 5 in the nation, UConn's Dec. 20 "Battle in Seattle" with the Zags has the potential to be the first time two top-five teams face each other in a non-conference game since No. 2 Tennessee beat No. 1 Memphis on Feb. 23, 2008.

**Freshman Scottie Haralson hit a pair of 3-pointers over the final 1:30 and, although one of them was banked, has now made three straight after missing the first nine treys of his career.

***A.J. Price struggled, shooting 1-for-8 from the floor for just three points. He did dole out five assists, but Calhoun said he's a bit concerned about the way both Price and Walker (nine points) have played the last couple of games.

"Hard work pays off. I guess a little luck was on my side," Haralson said. "I told them I called glass, too."

***DSU's Donald Johnson scored 16 of his team's 18 first-half points and finished with a game-high 25. He hit 6 of 11 3-pointers, but at least UConn didn't have yet another player notch a career-best performance on it. Johnson's 25 points were one shy of his career-high.

**The win was the 781st of Calhoun's career, moving him past Lute Olson for sole possession of eighth place on the all-time list.