Game 1 A.D. (After Dyson)
Calhoun's pro-Thabeet hype was in full swing again afterwards:
"The reason we're in first place is that he's the most dominant force in the league. I was tired of (other coaches) politicking. You know who I'm going to vote for Most Valuable Player. I can't vote for one of our kids, but it'll probably come from a second or third-place team, unless some guy miraculously puts his team on his shoulders and carries them up to fifth place or something like that."
"You hear Bill Raftery and some other guys start to compare him to people, (people) say, 'I don't think he's that good, he's a little bit awkward, I wouldn't take him with the first 10 in the draft.' Next year you probably won't be the general manager of some team, then."
***As he's been several times in road arenas, Calhoun was miffed at Thabeet's blocked-shot total. Clearly, the coach believed it should have been more.
"It says nine blocked shots and (Seton Hall's John) Garcia had six. I'm not a statistician. I do know one thing: it looked like volleyball at times … I don't know why people do that. For the life of me, what purpose does it serve? Does it make Garcia a better player than Hasheem? Garcia's a terrific kid, I'm glad he's healthy, but why would you have him three away from him. Did you guys watch the game?"
***With the guard triumvirate of A.J. Price, Kemba Walker and Craig Austrie combining to shoot just 6-for-25, UConn's best offensive play often seemed the alley-oop pass to Thabeet. There were four in all, including two in a row during a 35-second span late in the first half from Price.
"That was the best thing I did today, just get it to Hasheem," said Price (2-for-10, six points).
Thabeet's most impressive alley-oop was a one-handed slam of a lob from Austrie. His ability to catch such passes – which he couldn't do, even earlier this season – makes him at times nearly indefensible for opponents. It's also become a patented play in UConn's arsenal.
"Most times it's not even eye contact," said Price. "He's doing it off instinct now, which is even better than eye contact. When he sees one of the guards beat his man down the lane and the big man steps up, he pretty much knows it's coming. He makes himself a big target and makes it an easy play for the guard."
Thabeet even kicked off UConn's scoring with a 15-foot jump shot off a pass from Price.
"He's got a pretty good jump shot," said Calhoun. "He's made those. If you put him on the line with Gavin (Edwards), him, Jeff (Adrien), who's a pretty good shooter, Sticks … two out of three times, he'll beat them all."
***With their guards misfiring and with opposing guards penetrating the lane too easily most of the game, the Huskies certainly missed Dyson.
Of course, as Thabeet reasoned: "When they were going by the guards, I was there to block shots. Maybe you'll see me averaging more blocks."
Calhoun: "Why did Hasheem block so many shots? It could be that they were getting to the rim. A.J., Kemba and Craig should do a much better job stopping penetration. What's going to happen, a couple of those guys from Pittsburgh are going to bang you, somebody's going to get two fouls, and now (DeJuan) Blair's going to be allowed to roam free. We have no one besides Hasheem to play Blair, just like nobody else in the league has anybody to guard Hasheem."
"(Dyson) gives us a fiber many times in a game that you can't necessarily get," Calhoun added. "At times, we didn't seem to have that. That's the adjustment we're probably going to have to go through. Some of the (bad) shots early … and Jerome can take his own bad shots, but he does hold it together a lot of times … Hopefully it's an adjustment period. I think Monday night we'll probably have a better test, at least physically. Not that Seton Hall's not a good team, they won five straight … they're good enough to make some noise the rest of the way through."
UConn hosts No. 4 Pittsburgh Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford.
"Now," said Price, "Monday is the test."
***Thabeet's 20 boards were the most in a game by a UConn player since Okafor grabbed 22 on Feb. 21, 2004 against Notre Dame. (Earlier in this space, I said that Thabeet's nine blocks tied Okafor's single-season UConn record. I was wrong. That's the beauty of blogs ... you can always go back and correct your mistakes, unlike in the print edition of the paper).
Calhoun was asked where Thabeet's performance ranked with some of the all-time great efforts in UConn history.
"(The game didn't have) the same importance of the second half of the Duke game in the (2004) semifinals for the national championship by Emeka (Okafor), when everybody said I was a fool for leaving him on the bench because he had two fouls and we fell down by nine. He bailed me out of being a fool by coming back and getting 17, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. It was that kind of performance where you just knew, no matter what Duke did, they couldn't stop him and he could stop them … For a regular season game, this was a pretty special performance. To stay that active, against small people, big people … it was pretty special. (But) it's a little different before 45,000 people with a chance to go to the final game of the national championship."
***The Seton Hall band, at one point, played "Blister in the Sun." Do you think when the Violent Femmes wrote that song some 25 years ago they thought someday it would be played by a college band at a basketball game?
***UConn's 24-1 mark matches its best-ever start to a season, previously set in 1995-96.
***Ex-Husky stars Josh Boone (New Jersey Nets) and Charlie Villanueva (Milwaukee Bucks) watched the game from behind UConn's bench.