Monday, February 02, 2009

Cardinal Sins

It's been a bad couple of days for Cardinals. First Arizona in the Super Bowl, now Louisville against UConn tonight at Freedom Hall. Tony La Russa's crew is lucky they're not playing yet. Somewhere, I'm fairly certain a cardinal just got his jugular ripped out in someone's backyard by a house cat. Or a Husky.

If there were any lingering doubts that UConn wasn't the No. 1 team in the nation, they were swatted away like a Hasheem Thabeet blocked shot tonight in the Huskies' 68-51 dismantling of Louisville.

Speaking of Thabeet's blocked shots, he was credited with just four this evening – much to Jim Calhoun's bemusement.

"Four blocks?" he said while perusing the postgame stat sheet. "Those are first-half stats, I believe? If you want to lead the league in blocked shots, go ahead, I'd rather lead the league (in the standings).

Louisville is third in the conference with 6.5 blocks per game; after tonight, the 8-1 Cards are behind the 10-1 Huskies in the Big East standings.

"It's irrelevant," Calhoun continued. "He's a great defensive player because people look for him. His presence is overwhelming. Samardo Samuels – we recruited him like crazy, he's a terrific young player. But I don't think he enjoyed the evening, because of Hasheem Thabeet. As soon as we take Hash out, (Rick Pitino) puts Samardo in. It was a smart move, obviously."

Later, Calhoun backtracked a bit: "I was joking about the blocked shots, I say that every game. It seems to me he gets alters, travels. The sum total: he owns the paint."

In truth, it did seem Thabeet got short-changed in blocks tonight.

***Calhoun has been talking up Terrence Williams a lot lately, but he may start shifting his focus to Thabeet for Big East player of the year.

"I talk about Terrence and (Luke) Harangody and (Jerell) McNeal. Maybe there's a guy whose stats don't look that good, but if we end up with a record that we could … I'll have to certainly throw (Thabeet) in the mix, because he does change virtually every game he's been involved in. Every big game we've won, he's had a major hand in."

***Ex-Louisville (and New England Patriots) star receiver Deion Branch was in the house. So were 30 NBA scouts, including Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars. Those scouts are starting to take notice of Jeff Adrien, who led the Huskies with 18 points tonight (15 in the first half) and, though listed at 6-7, keeps shrinking in Calhoun's eyes. (Tonight, he was just 6-5 ½, according to the coach).

"It's amazing how many guys are starting to call me about him," Calhoun said. "He can guard a 3, he can guard a 4, and he's going to make a 17, 18-foot jump shot, and he's got the heart of a lion. Those are pretty good things. He's never going to give you a bad effort. What a thing to say about a player."

***Samuels, a freshman, was held scoreless with four turnovers tonight. He took just two shots. 'Ville scoring leader Earl Clark (13.5 ppg coming in) scored just five points on 2-for-16 shooting with Adrien guarding him most of the night.

On the other end of the floor, Adrien and Thabeet combined for 32 points. The fact that the Huskies missed all eight of their 3-pointers hardly mattered.

"The two young kids inside can't handle Hash, and they can't handle Jeff," Calhoun said. "Clark is not going to handle him, and the other two kids are young. They're going to be great, and Clark's a terrific player, but they're not going to be able to handle those guys. We weren't looking for 3's, only on kick-outs."

*** Stanley Robinson hardly followed up what appeared to be a breakout game two nights earlier against Providence. Robinson missed a dunk within the game's first 30 seconds, let Terrence Williams beat him for a pair of baskets, then picked up his second foul just two minutes into the game.

Hardly mattered. In fact, Calhoun said he was planning on going with a three-guard look most of the night, anyway.

***Pitino was quite impressed with the Huskies.

"They are truly the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and are very deserving of their ranking," said the Louisville coach. "We were not in their league tonight. We've played decent basketball all seson, but we ran into a team that was much better than us tonight. You have to give them all the credit. They were aggressive on defense, they ran their offense and they got a lot of good shots … They were a great basketball team on both ends of the floor."

***Speaking of Pitino, the days of his whining and yelling at officials seem to be long over. Even though the Cardinals committed nearly twice as many fouls (17 to 9) and took 22 fewer free throws (24-2), I can't remember a single time tonight when he shouted at or even disagreed with the refs.

This is a far cry from the Pitino of yore.

***Williams scored nearly half the Cards' points with 26, on 11-for-19 shooting. The rest of his teammates shot a combined 11-for-45 (25 percent).

***Apparently, Calhoun's wife, Pat, is tired of hearing her husband complain about how tough the Big East is.

"Quit the league," the coach said his wife told him the other day (kiddingly, of course).

***The Huskies were relatively unfazed by Louisville's vaunted fullcourt pressure all night, thanks to their guard play.

"As a matter of fact, it helped us," said Calhoun. "It's a great advantage to us if we can just attack pressure. That's the number one thing that Rick's teams always do, they like to attack you offensively and, of course, defensively. I thought we did a wonderful job with that."

*** And when it was over, Thabeet raised both his arms in the air, his index fingers forming the "No. 1" sign, as he looked out into what was left of the crowd. Many of the 20,069 fans began leaving when there was still 3:42 left to play.

"Why not? We really worked hard for the win today, we had to celebrate a little bit," Thabeet said. "But we're not going to forget, we've still got 10, 12 games to go."

Actually, it's 10 … not including the postseason.


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