Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The 800 Club

Jim Calhoun's 800th career win, via a 93-82 barnburner over Marquette, was an emotional one – though nary a tear could be found in the eternally tough head coach's eye afterwards.

"My wife was crying when I talked to her on the phone," Calhoun said in his postgame press conference. "She gave me a Lexus for Christmas and I gave here a yellow rose for Valentine's Day. That isn't really much of a deal. But she said she'll have a little cake when I get home tonight. She's been the best friend I've had through this whole journey."

It's been a remarkable journey, no doubt, full of great peaks and a few valleys. One of those valleys came this week, following his outburst at a freelance writer following Saturday's game and some ensuing criticism from Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell.

He jokingly opened his postgame presser: "If you have anything else you want to ask me that's not related to our basketball team, I'd be more than happy to not answer you outside."

In fact, when he was done, Calhoun was asked by an out-of-town reporter about the situation with Gov. Rell.

"I talked to the Governor this morning, and we had a really nice conversation," Calhoun noted.

***Calhoun joins Bob Knight (902), Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876), Jim Phelan (830), Mike Krzyzewski (825) and Eddie Sutton (804) in the 800 Club.

"My dad always used to tell me, when I wasn't hanging around maybe the best kids in Dorchester and South Boston and some other places, that you're always going to be judged by the company you keep," Calhoun said. "I looked at the list, and I'm really happy to be in that company."

Associate head coach George Blaney told his team the historical nature of tonight's win.

"He told us that we were a part of history, and that Coach Calhoun couldn't get this win without us," said freshman Kemba Walker (nine points). "It's a good feeling knowing that I'm a part of history, and this team is part of history."

Added A.J. Price: "When it's all said and done, (Blaney) said Coach Calhoun would be one of the top five coaches of all-time. When you think about it, that really means something. I couldn't be more proud for him."

***Ah, A.J. Price. What a game. His 36 points were the most by a UConn player since Ben Gordon netted 37 against Nevada on Nov. 19, 2003. It also firmly etched his name next to some of the top players in UConn history, according to Calhoun.

"I look what A.J. did, I think of Ben, I think of Ray (Allen), I think of Richard (Hamilton), and some of the great players we've had," Calhoun said.

Said Price: "Just to hear him mention my name in the same sentence as those guys is special. On the other hand, I can't really enjoy it too much right now. If I want to be mentioned with guys like Rip and things like that, I've got to take this team somewhere special, and that's to the Final Four."

Price canned a career-best eight 3-pointers, none bigger than a dagger with 1:14 left to give the Huskies an 89-81 lead.

""I was pretty winded, but they didn’t do a great job of playing the ball screen all game. I actually felt disrespected – they continued to go under time and time again, even after I got off to a good start. At first, I was going to try to take (Jerel) McNeal one-on-one," Price described, "but I said to myself I can probably get myself a good shot because they haven't been playing the ball screen. I called the ball screen, once again they went under and left me wide-open."

***About 4 ½ minutes into the second half, Price made an ankle-breaking head fake on McNeal. McNeal bit and fell to the ground, Price stepped back, knocked down a jumper, then seemed to say something to McNeal – causing the UConn bench to erupt in laughter.

Asked about the sequence afterwards, Price insisted he didn't say anything to McNeal, but just "gave him a look."

***Price was hardly the only contributor in a game of great runs and terrific individual performances. Stanley Robinson had far and away his best game of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

"Coach Calhoun told me that nobody could stop me from driving, which is true, so I just kept driving," said Sticks.

"He didn't just get to the rim," said Calhoun, "he got above the rim."

Hasheem Thabeet added 14 points, 15 boards and five blocks, and freshman Scottie Haralson – in a rare eight minutes off the bench – canned a couple of 3-pointers.

"It's very satisfying, but I'm still not satisfied," said Haralson. "I'm going to still keep working, on my strengths and my weaknesses."

Said Price: "I feel real good for (Haralson). All week, Coach has been pumping him up and giving him hints that he's going to be playing a little bit more. I've been staying in his ear, telling him to stay ready, keep doing the things he's been doing in practice. He got out there, missed the first two 3's, but he didn't let it bother him. I came down the third time, I had a shot, I saw he was more open, I gave him the ball and he hit it. He's going to help us in some big game this year."

***Think losing Jerome Dyson's a tough break? The Golden Eagles feel your pain – and then some. Dominic James, Marquette's senior point guard and one of the top players in the program's history, broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot less than five minutes into the game.

"His career at Marquette is over," Golden Eagle coach Buzz Williams said, bluntly. "It's probably a 100-day rehab."

Tough break for a team with Final Four aspirations.

"We will be accountable as a team, as men for our work from this point forward, despite the public perception of 'feel sorry for Marquette,'" Williams said.

***Give the Marquette student section some credit for at least one creative sign: A large sign in the shape of a dime, with Calhoun's picture on it over the words "Not Another Dime." At one point, a chant broke out: "How much money? Not a dime!"

Calhoun's lucky he didn't tell the bird-brained blogger that he wasn't going to give a nickel back. Who was well-advertised as coming to the Bradley Center in a few weeks? Yup, Nickelback.

***Tonight's crowd (19,091) was the largest ever to see a game in the state of Wisconsin. They went home disappointed, but got to watch a truly stirring show.

*** Calhoun harked back to win No. 1 at UConn, on Nov. 29, 1986 over UMass.

"The day before, the team (Northeastern) I left, intelligently – Reggie Lewis, God rest his soul, and Andre LaFleur, one of my assistants – beat Louisville, the defending national champs. I watched that game. Then I watched my seven kids I had, and six walk-ons, take on UMass and we won by about four. I still remember the old fieldhouse, there might have been 2,000 people there. It seems like a long time ago, and in some ways, it seems like yesterday."


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