Saturday, March 07, 2009

Young's Town

And so, after losing to just two different teams all season, losing just once in 14 games away from home, the best UConn could do for the Big East tournament is a No. 3 seed.

Tough conference.

The Huskies will play Thursday at around 9:30 p.m., a bane to all deadline-dueling beat writers. We won't even know who UConn will play until Wednesday around 11:30 p.m., when No. 6 seed Syracuse's game with either Seton Hall or South Florida is over.

Things could have been made a lot easier if UConn had won today and clinched the top seed in the tourney. The Huskies couldn't come through, but it shouldn't take away from their accomplishments this season, as Jim Calhoun pointed out.

"For me to blast my team today would be foolhardy," he said.

Indeed, Calhoun took today's loss remarkably well. He seems to realize what his team has done so far this season, and still believes it can do a lot more. No overt criticism of any of his players, even though only five different players scored, Jeff Adrien tried to do too much and played very poorly, Kemba Walker also forced things a bit too much and Hasheem Thabeet went scoreless in the second half. No criticizing the officials, either, like he did following UConn's Feb. 16 loss to Pitt.

"I don't want to be on YouTube again," he quipped.

Rather, Calhoun went out of his way to compliment Pitt – and his own team.

"I don't want to discredit my own team by saying, 'Oh, we just had a bad day.' No, they made us have a bad day … When you're fighting uphill, on Senior Day on somebody else's floor – who happens to be maybe as good a team as there is in the country – it makes it difficult. Do I think we can beat Pitt? Yeah. But, we've played them twice and we're 0-2, so I don't have any graphic evidence to support us."

On Sam Young, who's now scored 56 points in two games against UConn this season:

"The word 'brilliant' comes to mind. He was just special … he seemed to hit daggers, all day long … He can graduate tomorrow, as far as I'm concerned … Sticks should be able to guard him, and he didn't. We tried Jeff on him, and that didn't work. Ten, 11, 12 years back, after he's probably still playing in the NBA, we'll think about how good a player he is … No one this year has given us the problems that he gives us. He plays low and quick, lift-fakes, he's got a great feel for the game. I really love him as a player."

Calhoun even agreed with the foul called on Thabeet, when he and DeJuan Blair collided at midcourt early in the second half.

"Yes, that was a foul on Hasheem, because Blair had better position on him."

No YouTube moments, indeed.

***Here's Thabeet's lowdown on his collision with Blair:

"He fell to the floor and he tried to trip me. I was not going to get punked twice (referring to Blair's Feb. 16 "takedown" of Thabeet, when he flipped the junior center over his back -- and Thabeet got called for the foul). He got me the first time, and the second time, I wasn't having it. He got me once, OK, I'll let you do that, and he tried to punk me twice, and I wasn't having it … I was just reacting to it."

Blair was less descriptive.

"He knocked me on the ground. Nobody's gonna knock me to the ground. Batman (Levance Fields) was there to help me, so I was cool."

Blair's a great personality, but he tried to be a little too cute funny in the postgame presser. When asked about Young's highlight-reel, alley-oop dunk from Fields late in the game, Blair said: "If that's not on Top 10, I'm gonna have to talk to ESPN (pointing at Andy Katz in the back of the room) they're in the house."

Rather, the quote of the day came from the far more reserved Young.

"I see that UConn jersey, my eyes light up."

***It was Fields' groin that bothered him more than his bruised tailbone, leading him to be listed as questionable for the game. Coach Jamie Dixon said it was determined about an hour before tip-off that Fields would play, but Fields noted: "I knew I was going to play. As long as I could at least job, I was going to play. Once I saw the crowd, my leg kept loosening up."

***Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Famer Franco Harris was in attendance, as were former Pitt basketball standouts Charles Smith and Jerome ("Send it in, Jerome!") Lane.

***The all-Big East team comes out tomorrow. Here's my fearless prediction on what the teams might look like:

DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
Sam Young, Pittsburgh
Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
Terrence Williams, Louisville
Jerel McNeal, Marquette
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
(I'm naming six, since one of the above will be named Player of the Year. Individual award predictions tomorrow.)

A.J. Price, UConn
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Wesley Matthews, Marquette
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia

Levance Fields, Pittsburgh
Jeff Adrien, UConn
Earl Clark, Louisville
Dante Cunningham, Villanova
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall

Dominique Jones, South Florida
Weyinmi Efejuku, Providence
Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
Greg Monroe, Georgetown

This wasn't easy. A lot of good players left off here. That's what happens in a 16-team conference. By the way, all but two of the seeds for the Big East tourney are now set. Only to be determined now are No.'s 1 and 2, depending on how Louisville does tonight at West Virginia.

Here are the seeds

1. Louisville or Pitt
2. Louisville or Pitt
3. UConn
4. Villanova
5. Marquette
6. Syracuse
7. West Virginia
8. Providence
9. Cincinnati
10. Notre Dame
11. SetonHall
12. Georgetown
13. St. John's
14. South Florida
15. Rutgers
16. DePaul


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