Friday, January 02, 2009

Sticks to Start vs. Rutgers


Stanley "Sticks" Robinson will return to the starting lineup tomorrow night against Rutgers, taking Craig Austrie's spot in the starting five.

"We feel with the two big guys starting for them, it gives us a bit of a size advantage," Jim Calhoun said. "But minutes-wise, it's probably not going to mean all that much, I don't think."

It certainly means a lot to Robinson.

"I'm really excited," he said after practice this afternoon. "It's just a good feeling for me, it brings me back to last year, how I used to start. It's just a great feeling stepping back on the court for my first time this year."

Robinson, of course, sat out the entire first semester for personal reasons. He returned to the practice floor on Dec. 14, and the very next night had seven points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks in 16 minutes against Stony Brook. He hasn't been much of a factor in his four games back, to this point, but believes he's rounding back into form.

"I'm getting closer," he said. "At the same time, I've just got to keep working hard at it and I'll feel like I did last year. It's been a good 2 ½ weeks, but I've got to keep working."

"He's coming along very well," A.J. Price reported. "He looks in great shape, running the floor well, being very active for us. The only thing is, I'd like to see him be more aggressive on the offensive end and look for his shot a little more. But he's brought a lot to our team since he's come back."

Before his return to play, Robinson said he was in "marathon shape, not sprint shape," after running the 3 ½-mile Husky Run course three times a week over the prior few months. He says he's in sprint shape now.

"My wind's OK," Robinson said. "But my sinuses have been stuffed up for, like, six years. I'm serious, I've got to get it checked out."

Umm … yeah.

Calhoun noted that Robinson's return to the starting lineup shouldn't be construed as any disappointment in how Austrie (9.3 ppg) has played.

"It really isn't anything Craig's doing or not doing, it's more a case of trying to get a different look, see if we can get a little bigger. We're still only plus-four, five rebounding-wise, so if he's more excited, he's got the potential to be another rebounder for us."

Elsewhere …

***Calhoun noted that Rutgers struggled against Pittsburgh's zone on Wednesday in the Panthers' narrow, 78-72 win at the RAC. With that in mind, the Huskies could throw a little more zone than usual out on the Gampel Pavilion floor tomorrow night.

"We did play zone against La Salle for a whole half," noted. "We play it three or four times a week against each other, because we're going to face zones. We tweaked it today, knowing we're going on the road (for West Virginia and Cincinnati), and for the Rutgers game."

Why would the Scarlet Knights be particularly susceptible to the zone? Well, they only shoot 30.2 percent from 3-point range, and only hoist up about 17 treys per game.

***Rutgers is in the midst of what is thought to be an historic trio of games – after tomorrow night, it will have played the nation's No. 1 (North Carolina), No. 3 (Pittsburgh) and No. 2 (UConn) teams consecutively, believed to be a first in Division 1 men's hoops. (Of course, the Huskies will certainly drop down a few pegs in next week's poll).

The Scarlet Knights lost to UNC, 97-75, and gave Pitt all they could handle in the 78-72 loss.

"Are they prepared to play against good teams?" Calhoun asked, rhetorically. "Yes, that's what you have to think."

***Certainly, Rutgers freshman Mike Rosario is prepared. The first-ever McDonald's All-America in program history, he has been very impressive thus far. Rosario went for 26 points against the Tar Heels and 22 vs. Pitt. He's also the reigning Big East Rookie of the Week, and he leads the Scarlet Knights in scoring at 17.8 ppg. In fact, he's attempted nearly twice as many shots (194) as the next Rutgers player (Corey Chandler, 115).

Rosario's not perfect, however. He's turned the ball over 34 times against 20 assists this season. In fact, the whole Rutgers team struggles with ball control: the Scarlet Knights have 159 assists this season, and 215 turnovers!

***No one was more upset about Hasheem Thabeet's disappointing (four points, seven rebounds) Big East opener against Georgetown than Thabeet himself.

"He was the first guy to say he had a bad game, he was sorry he let us down," Calhoun said. "That's very typical of him."

Thabeet may have some extra incentive to bounce back tomorrow against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights' starting center, 6-11 junior Hamady Ndiaye, is second in the nation and third nationally in blocked shots. More to the point, he's a fellow African native.

"I know how (Thabeet) feels about Ndiaye," said Price, "so I'm sure he'll be going hard. I don't think he likes other Africans."

For what it's worth, Ndiaye is from Senegal, Thabeet from Tanzania.

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