Friday, January 09, 2009

Of iPods, UConn and Youkilis

Greetings from Cincinnati, home of Pete Rose, Kevin Youkilis (who hates me), an awful, felonious NFL team, Urban Meyer (a UC grad) and the 1979 Who concert tragedy. Oh, and plenty of good things, too.

Arrived here this morning from Columbus, about two hours up I-71, where I had spent the prior two days crashing at my brother's house. Had driven from Morgantown to Columbus Wednesday morning when I realized I was missing a very key ingredient to this trip: the adapter that allows me to play my iPod over the car radio. Without it, I was forced to go great stretches through West Virginy and Ohio listening to stations that played two types of music: country and western. Awful.

Then I solved it by simply listening to the iPod through earphones while driving. iPods rule. Just ask Stanley Robinson, who was rockin' some Young Jeezy this evening just before we interviewed him. Young Jeezy, apparently, is a rapper from Atlanta.

***So here we are in the Queen City, where UConn faces the Bearcats tomorrow (4:30 p.m.) in a Big East battle. Cincinnati is struggling right now, with losses in its first two Big East games. The Bearcats allowed 84 an 87 points to Marquette and (3-0!) Providence, respectively, so defense is an issue. Marquette and PC combined for 27 3-pointers in those two games. Marquette shot 15-for-25 (60 percent), while the Friars were 12-for-24. Wow.

In fact, the Bearcats have lost three in a row – they fell to Memphis on Dec. 29. Still, expect this one to be competitive.

"They lost to some very good teams," Jim Calhoun pointed out. "To be perfectly honest, if you switched schedules (with us), it would be very interesting to see what the results would be."

UConn is a perfect 4-0 all-time against Cincy and swept a pair of games last year. One was a 96-51 whitewash in both teams' regular-season finale on March 9 at Gampel that included a 30-0 run at one point by UConn. But we'll throw that one out the window. Due to blizzard-like conditions, the Bearcats were snowbound and the game was pushed back twice, from Saturday at 4 p.m. to Saturday at 8 p.m. and, finally, Sunday at 6 p.m. Cincy played like an exhausted team.

Their prior matchup, however, was far more competitive. On Jan. 23 at Fifth Third Arena, UConn fought back from a 12-point deficit with less than six minutes to play and won an 84-83 classic. At the time, it was the Huskies' biggest, gutsiest win in "quite some time," Calhoun said afterwards.

Jerome Dyson had a big night in that one, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the latter half, including a couple of huge 3-pointers. Of course, the next night in Storrs, he and Doug Wiggins were caught by campus police with alcohol in their car, Dyson eventually failed his second drug test and was suspended for nine games, yadda, yadda, yadda … and the Huskies pulled off several more gutsy wins (eight in a row, at one point) without him.

"It really was a springboard game for us," Calhoun said of the one-point win. "It kind of put us in a much better stratosphere."

***Dyson has struggled in Big East play so far, shooting just 25 percent (7-for-25) from the floor and averaging 9.6 points in three games. He's contributing in other ways, though, as he seems to be emerging as the lockdown defender the Huskies haven't had in a while. Dyson helped hold the top scorers on both Rutgers and West Virginia – Mike Rosario and Alex Ruoff – to a combined 6-for-29 shooting over the past two games. That'll work.

"I think I can be (a lockdown defender)," Dyson said. "I think I'm quick enough to guard anybody. I can guard point guards, shooting guards, three's most of the time, so I feel like I can shut somebody down if I need to."

He'll have his hands full again tomorrow night in the form of Deonta Vaughn, the Cincy guard who torched the Huskies for 34 points in last January's game. Vaughn is averaging a team-high 14.5 ppg this season. He was actually held scoreless in 37 minutes (0-for-10 shooting) against Marquette but bounced back for 20 in the loss to PC.

Anyway, should be a good one tomorrow night. In the Big East, it almost always is.

***A.J. Price will look to bounce back from his self-described worst game he's played in college against WVU (0-for-9, 1 point). "And I wouldn't disagree," Calhoun noted. "You can make a running case for that."

As poorly as he played, however, Price impressed Calhoun with the way he shouted encouragement from the bench, particularly to freshman Kemba Walker, who took over at the point.

"There's a lot to be said for that," Calhoun said. "For us to be successful, especially on the road, you're going to have to do that."

Added Price: "That's the epitome of a team, not just myself but all the guys on the bench were pretty vocal and into the game. That says a lot about this team. Any given night it's going to be someone else's turn, and it was Kemba's go that night."

***Neither Scottie Haralson nor Charles Okwandu are accompanying the Huskies on this trip. The two are taking an intersession class that meets five days a week, and with two snow days over the past week, they have a make-up class tomorrow they simply can't miss. The class runs until 12:30 p.m., so there's no realistic way they'd be able to get here for the 4:30 p.m. tip-off.

Turns out, the two arrived late to the West Virginia game, as well, after taking the class earlier in the day. Both arrived at WVU Coliseum about 10 minutes into the game. It says something about the lack of playing time each has had that no one really noticed.

***Oh, and if you're wondering why Kevin Youkilis hates me, here's why. The day this story ran it became a hot topic on Boston sports talk radio. Youkilis never confronted me about it the rest of the season, but the following year when I went up to ask him a question about something else, he responded: "I can't answer, because you'll just twist it around again and write more lies …" or something like that.

He seemed to think that I took his comments out of context and told me that I "tried to get (him) booed" by Fenway's fans. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's too bad, because I've known Youkilis since he first was called up to Pawtucket in 2003, have written some good things about him and always had a good rapport with him. In fact, I think he should have been the 2008 AL MVP, not Dustin Pedroia. When you consider the different positions he was asked to play, the numerous different slots in the lineup he was plugged into, and combine that with his truly impressive numbers, I would have voted for Youkilis.

A former UC star, Youkilis was at the UConn-Cincy football game out here this past fall. Maybe he'll be at tonight's game. I'm sure he'll be glad to see me.

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