Stuck Inside of Glendale with the Memphis Blues Again
Meanwhile, UConn lived up to its end, putting aside NateGate and heading to the Elite Eight. It will face Missouri (for the first time ever) at 4:40 p.m. EST on Saturday. Pitt-Villanova gets the prime time slot.
The Huskies put aside any potential distractions regarding an NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations by posting a rather perfunctory, 72-60 win over Purdue at University of Phoenix Stadium.
This will be UConn's ninth trip to the regional semifinals and eighth time under coach Jim Calhoun.
"I get goosebumps," Calhoun admitted. "There (are) only one or two better feelings, and (those) usually involve a Monday night. So it was pretty special stuff for us. I couldn't be happier with our kids. I thought we played well."
Craig Austrie had what has to be the biggest performance of his career: 17 points, 3-for-3 on 3-pointers at the cavernous football stadium.
"The depth perception for some guys was a little bit off, but if felt fine for me," said Austrie. "Once I hit the first one, hit the second one, I knew the third one was going in."
Austrie was 3-for-23 from the floor in UConn's three postseason games. He had hit just two of his prior 22 3-pointers.
"I've got to give credit to the coaches," said Austrie. "They've stuck with me for a long time. Coach Calhoun called me in his office before the tournament and told me he's behind me and he knows I can shoot the ball. I knew coming into this game they were going to try to stop A.J. (Price), and I wanted to be there to relieve them and open the game up a little bit."
Added Price: "He got his confidence back tonight. I love to see Craig Austrie smiling. Tonight, he brought that smile out."
***Hasheem Thabeet, meanwhile, had 15 points, 15 boards and four blocks.
He had just five points on two shots in the first half, but his teammates urged him to take over and assert himself over the final 20 minutes – and he did. Thabeet scored UConn's first eight points of the latter half on a layup, an inside hoop, a hook shot and two free throws. By the time Adrien finished off an 8-0 run with a bank shot, UConn had a 42-31 lead with 13:37 to play.
Said Thabeet: "My guys in the locker room just told me, 'The first half you didn't have a good performance, you go back out in the second half and play your game.' They know I'm capable of doing a lot of stuff. Today, in the second half, they told me to go back out there and do what you do all season long."
"I thought it was a really good performance by Purdue who, quite frankly, ran into one fo the best players in America in Hasheem Thabeet," said Calhoun. "Beyond that, the game might have been different, if we had just a 'regular center.'"
***The Huskies haven't trailed in the NCAA tournament since the first 4:43 of their opening-round game with Chattanooga last week. The Mocs held an 8-6 lead at that point. Stanley Robinson followed with a finger roll, and the Huskies haven't trailed since. They got off to a 10-0 start against Texas A&M and 8-0 against Purdue.
***While UConn prepared for and played Thursday's game, controversy continued to swirl around the program. The NCAA has begun its investigation into alleged recruiting violations, according to multiple sources. The Day of New London has reported that the NCAA investigation will target UConn's entire athletic department, not just the men's basketball team. A university spokesman said that report wasn't entirely accurate.
Meanwhile, according to a Yahoo Sports report, current UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur had two lengthy phone conversations with former UConn student-manager turned agent Josh Nochimson while Nochimson shadowed current Husky freshman Ater Majok at the Kentucky Derby All-Star Festival in April, 2008.
The report also stated that LaFleur spent several hours on Dec. 14, 2007 making calls and taking messages from Nochimson and Jason Niblett, who was Majok's coach at the time Heat Academy in Virginia.
Niblett told the Register on Thursday that he has never spoken with Nochimson.
"I know the name," he said. "As far as anything else, I can't elaborate."
Also, Chris Chaney, who coached Miles at the Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C. last year, said he spoke with Nochimson by phone several times regarding Miles while Miles was enrolled in the fall of 2007.
"Basically, (it was about) how Nate's doing, all that stuff," said Chaney. "It wasn't really about basketball, he just wanted to know how he was doing academically and off the court. I think they knew he could play."
Chaney said he didn't believe Nochimson had anything to do with paying for Miles' tuition – which was minimal – at Patterson. Naturally, Chaney also had contact with UConn's coaching staff while Miles played (briefly) at Patterson.
"But I didn't really know what the relationship was with Josh and UConn," Chaney said.
But the Huskies played as if unburdened by the well-publicized situation.
"We really forgot about that stuff," said Jeff Adrien "We just go out and play basketball. That stuff has nothing to do with us, we're just basketball players. We were real focused on Purdue, and there was nothing that was going to get us distracted."
Added Price: "We really don't have any time to focus on that, and I really mean that. We have a much bigger goal at-hand right now, and we can't let anything take us away from that. All the distractions really aren't distractions to us, because we know what we're coming out here for. We leave all that for the people who have to deal with that. Our job is to come out here and play as hard as we can."
In fact, Calhoun had an interesting – if vague – quote at the end of his press conference.
"At 7 a.m. (Thursday), I talked to Jeff Hathaway for a half hour and had what I thought was a very fruitful conversation up in Boston. That's all I'm going to say. I thought we had a very fruitful conversation. And he said 'Go get Purdue.' I said 'Fine.'"
***Gavin Edwards, a Gilbert, Ariz native, had 19 family and friends in attendance – his mother and father and 17 friends. Edwards scored just two points and picked up three fouls in nine minutes.
***Little-used sophomore guard Donnell Beverly got into the game much earlier than normal, 5 minutes and 1 second into play. But he missed badly on a 3-pointer and was out a little over a minute later, never to return to the game.
***Jerome Dyson stayed back in Storrs for classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before flying out to join his teammates Wednesday night.