Saturday, February 28, 2009

Emotional Rescue

So we know today was the final home game in the UConn careers of A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie. But what about Hasheem Thabeet? It seems a virtually certainty, though the big guy wouldn't bite – even after standing on the scorer's table after the game had ended, his arms raised in the air, as if saying farewell to the Gampel crowd.

"Today was the right time, our last game, we ended up with the win, so why not do it?" he reasoned. "(It was) goodbye for the season."

Of the pregame ceremonies, he added: "I wish they could call my name, but I'm not a senior."

When told he could have his Senior Day next year, Thabeet smiled. In what city?, he was asked.

"In Gampel," Thabeet replied. "I don't have enough credits (to graduate), so … we'll see."

Adrien wasn't buying it. When asked if Thabeet had just played his final game at Gampel, Adrien said: "You know, truthfully, yes. I think so. He's worked at it, you can say he deserves it. There are not many talented players like that who are 7-3. In my opinion, it might have been, yes."

***Not surprisingly, emotions ran high during the pregame Senior Day ceremony. Price had predicted that Austrie would cry first, but it appeared he lost that bet. Price appeared to get misty-eyed before any of his fellow seniors during the ceremony – even before his always-emotional mom, Inga.

"She was giving me the teary-eye before the walk, so she kind of set me up for that," Price explained.

When it was all said and done, all three scholarship seniors – Price, Austrie and Adrien – appeared to have tears welled up in their eyes.

Said Jim Calhoun: "I have never seen Craig Austrie cry, nor do I expect to ever see him cry again. A.J. cried, but I'm not sure if he was crying or he thinks he was supposed to cry, and he did."

It wasn't easy making the transition to a key Big East game.

"But you have to do it," said Price. "It's something you can't really prepare yourself for, as well, so it's kind of difficult."

Price, who's been through a lot over the past five years, admitted he got reflective during the ceremony.

"A part of me did think about a lot of different things that transpired throughout my time being here," he said. "But the one constant was, I just couldn't believe this was going to be my last game I was going to play in front of this crowd. I've played so many games here the last three years, you never really think about it ending. For it to happen, it's a reality, and it's just difficult."
***There was an embarrassing moment just before tip-off. The crowd was asked to turn its attention to the north wall to watch the unveiling of a banner commemorating Jim Calhoun's 800th career win. For several awkward moments, however, the banner wasn't unfurled.


Finally, while athletic director Jeff Hathaway handed Calhoun a ball that also commemorated the 800th win, the banner was revealed. It read: Coach Jim Calhoun, 800 Wins, Feb. 25, 2009."

*** With 41.1 seconds left and UConn clinging to a 66-65 lead, Thabeet was knocked to the floor hard by Kyle McAlarney while driving to the hoop and stayed on the ground for several moments. He eventually left the game, and Austrie (a 90-percent foul shooter last season) was allowed to enter. Austrie hit both free throws; Thabeet returned to the game a few seconds later.

"I didn't know he was that hurt, quite frankly," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said, rather sarcastically. "Maybe we should go to the NBA rule where I get to pick the guy (to shoot the foul shots). Did he get back in the game? Oh, he did. Oh."

Said Calhoun, with a wry smile: "If he faked it, I'm glad. I never thought he was that sophisticated about the game that he would think that way. But if he is, I'm happy for it, because I would have thought of it. Do I think he (faked it)? No. I think he took a good hit and wasn't ready to hit the free throws. But if you ask him and he says he thought of that, (raises thumb)."

Naturally, Thabeet was asked.

"I was not feeling good at all," he insisted. "I was trying to muscle up and go shoot the free throws. Then I felt that I couldn't, so I just took a break. I wasn't even thinking (about that), I was just thinking about pulling my numbers up."

***Thabeet also got a little jump-shot happy. He knocked down a 15-footer early but rushed one late in the game and missed.

"Sometimes it's OK, sometimes it's not OK," said Calhoun. "It's a good play if you make it. If I gave him a choice, he'd spend all his time out there."

Indeed, as Thabeet noted: "People walk by the arena and see me shooting jump shots and say, 'Oh, he doesn't need that.' Times come up, like today, I was open, I shot the ball. I shoot all the time in practice, and I'm shooting in the game."

***The bigger Huskies barely won the rebounding battle, 39-37.

"That's unacceptable, really," said Calhoun.

***Scottie Haralson played just three minutes but canned another 3-pointer on his lone attempt.

"If we got up 8, 10 points, and I felt we were in better control of them, defensively, he would have been back in that game," said Calhoun. "Because the threat of him now is starting to become a threat. And he actually does a pretty good job on defense. He is so hungry to play and enjoys every minute of it, he gives you full possessions every 35 seconds. And some of our kids who've been around now how to not give you a full 35 and still play effectively."

***Kemba Walker made one of the key plays of the game, corralling a loose ball and calling timeout while falling to the ground with 23.4 seconds left and the Huskies up three. He even hurt his knee a bit on the play, but said he's fine.

***The Huskies have now clinched one of the top four spots in the Big East standings – and with it, a double-bye into the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament. In fact, UConn had clinched the double-bye less than three minutes into the game, thanks to Villanova's loss to Georgetown.

***Travis Knight and Souleymane Wane were the latest ex-UConn players in attendance and recognized during a timeout.

***Forget West Virginia's John Flowers, it's Dead Flowers tonight at the Groggy Frogg in Southington.








Rock 'n roll!!!

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