Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Friar Roast?

By now, any UConn fan worth his salt pretty much knows the numbers: for reasons that defy logic, Providence has beaten the Huskies three straight times (including a sweep last year) and five of their last seven meetings.

Most surprisingly, the Friars have won four straight times on UConn's home floor. That includes a 66-56 win on Jan. 24, 2004 -- the infamous Ryan Gomes/"I (bleeped) up" game -- in Hartford over the eventual national champions, as well as last season's 77-65 win at the XL Center.

Recently spoke with Tim Welsh, who coached PC the prior 10 seasons before being canned last spring, to try to glean any reasons for the Friars' success against UConn.

"We just played well," Welsh shrugged. "I remember vividly, an ESPN sideline reporter asking me the same question in Providence. I think we just played well. Sometimes it just happens. It's not that our guys liked beating them more than other teams. Or that we had a tremendous scheme. On those nights, we happened to play well."

Welsh, who is now doing work for both SNY and ESPN, added: "Naturally, some of it was a respect level for their program."

Ah, respect. The Huskies didn't think PC (which is now coached by reigning national coach of the year Keno Davis) showed a lot of it last Jan. 17, when Dwain Williams and Brian McKenzie hit shots from all over the floor and the Friars emerged with the 12-point win at the XL Center. UConn -- A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien, in particular -- didn't hide their feelings prior to a March 6 rematch in Providence.

We want to blow them out," Price said at the time.

The Friars wound up winning, 85-76. Both Adrien and Price insist they don't harbor any lingering ill will from last season.

"They got it, you know," Adrien said. "They won, they enjoyed it, (but) they didn't do too much after that. It's what you do after that. You beat us and you've got to build from that. I don't think they really did that last year. This year's a different year, whole different team, whole different coaching staff, and both teams are excited to play each other."

Added Price, who needs four points today to reach 1,000 for his career: "I did (have animosity) the second game when we played them at Providence, but they beat us there, too. I can't have any animosity towards them, other than they've beaten us a couple of times and we need to win this game."

So is this a rivalry? Maybe, maybe not.

"I don’t think Connecticut considers Providence their rival," said Welsh, "but I think PC looks at them and says, 'They’ve got something we would like to get … the Final Fours, the national championships, all those games on TV. And it's 1 ½ hours down the road."

But, Price countered: "Actually, it is (a rivalry). It's not talked about much, in that sense. But I think this is one of the better rivalries. They always play us tough."

"Animosity probably has built (up)," admits PC junior guard Brian McKenzie, "especially after we beat them again. But hopefully some respect, too."

There's that 'R' word again.

"I don't know what it is," said McKenzie, "But we've had a lot of fun at the Hartford Civic Center. I'm sure they'll try to fix that this year. All their guys are competitors, and so is Coach Calhoun.

"I know for a fact that they're waiting for us."

"It's going to be a tough game," Price predicted, "but I still think we should win the game if we execute and do the things we know we can do."

There's also the fact that, if UConn wins, it will almost certainly take over the No. 1 spot in the national rankings on Monday for the first time since March 7, 2006.

"I don't want them to be No. 1," admitted PC senior guard Jeff Xavier, "because that would mean a loss for us."

***Jim Calhoun will stick with the same five starters tomorrow (Price, Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson), but said the Huskies will likely go with a three-guard look for much of the game against the smaller Friars. He specifically mentioned that Donnell Beverly could see some rare playing time.

"Sticks (Robinson) is more comfortable at the four against a Geoff McDermott-type," Calhoun explained. "The match-ups seem to be difficult."

***Oh, and how about this chestnut: the last time PC has beaten a team ranked as high as No. 2? Yup, No. 2 UConn -- 69-67 on March 12, 1994 at the Big East tournament that the Friars would eventually win.

***Got a first chance to see Ater Majok actually play today in practice and, yup, the kid has some game. At one point, he took a pass in the right corner, drove baseline, made a nifty spin move at the low-post block and swished a short jumper.

***Kemba Walker (left knee, ankle sprain) was heavily taped up today, but it seems he'll definitely be ready to go tomorrow.

"He loves wearing tape," Calhoun quipped. "I think he's trying to get some sympathy from some co-eds. I think he's going to wear it tomorrow."

***Quiz question, courtesy of the Republican-American's Ed Daigneault: Who are the only five Big East teams who have never in their history been ranked No. 1 in the national Top 25? A couple may surprise you.

***I'm told that on the Chinese calendar, this is the Year of the Ox. -------------------------------->>>


Blogger Shane T. said...

Nova, Louisville,
West Virginia, Marquette, South Florida

6:51 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

Three out of five ain't bad ... you got the two toughest ones, 'Nova and Louisville.

7:29 PM 
Blogger Shane T. said...

Nova, Louisville, Providence, Rutgers, South Florida

8:02 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

Correct ... good work. Hard to believe 'Ville has never been ranked No. 1, isn't it? I mean, two national titles in the '80's ...

8:13 PM 

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