Thursday, March 19, 2009

Of Calhoun, Craig and Chatty Chattanooga

Craig Austrie found out that Jim Calhoun wouldn't be coaching today's game while watching the previous game (Texas A&M-BYU) on CBS in the locker room.

Hasheem Thabeet got the news via a text message from a friend.

A.J. Price was told by associate head coach George Blaney.

Calhoun's ailment doesn't appear to be too serious, and the 23rd-year UConn head coach hopes to be checked out of the hospital today and back on the sidelines for the Huskies' second-round game on Saturday against Texas A&M.

Calhoun, 66, spoke with the team (via speaker phone on his son Jeff's Blackberry) after the game.

"I got to make him laugh a little bit," said Thabeet. "I told him I only had two blocks today, and he laughed, so that's a good sign that he's feeling good. We miss him. He prepared us for this."

Thabeet was sitting in the arena's end zone seats with most of the rest of his teammates, watching Thursday's early Texas A&M-BYU game when he got a text message from a friend: "What's wrong with your coach?"

Said Thabeet: "I was like, 'I don't know.' I had to walk back here and talk to the coaches. They told us that and everybody was kind of down. We just huddled up and said, 'OK, we're going to go hard, as if he's here.' Whenever he's around, he pushes you, he wants you to work hard. Today was one of those days."

Blaney said he was on his way from the team hotel to the arena at around 11:45 a.m. when Calhoun called him and told him he wasn't feeling well and that he might not coach the game. He got a call shortly thereafter from Dr. Anderson, who told Blaney that Calhoun would not be coaching.

A report that Calhoun may miss more than just Thursday's opener was labeled "absolutely ridiculous" by UConn spokesman Kyle Muncy.

UConn played as freely and loosely as it has in a while on Thursday. That's not uncommon in the few games Calhoun has missed over the past couple of seasons.

"From the outside looking in, everybody thinks it's impossible to play under coach because he's a yeller and a screamer," said Price. "What he is is a motivator. Some people respond better to him yelling at them, myself being one of them. The overall feeling is not that we're more loose, but that we're determined to win the game because he's not with us."

Added Thabeet: "Everybody has their way of teaching. He wasn't there, but I could see him on the bench and hear his voice telling me, 'Hasheem, you've got to get that rebound!'"

***Here's the Register's early game story, along with video of Austrie and Thabeet talking about Calhoun and the game itself.

***Austrie's shooting woes continued (0-for-8) but he made Chattanooga leading scorer Stephen McDowell's day nearly as woeful. Austrie held McDowell to 1-for-12 shooting and a mere two points – on a harmless layup with 9 minutes, 22 seconds left to play – and had associate head coach George Blaney marveling at the effort afterwards.

"You've seen coach's teams play for so many years and have witnessed great defensive players – Ricky Moore, Taliek Brown," said Blaney. "That was one of those kind of performances, in my mind."

Said Austrie: "That's great company, I don't mind it. I just wanted to go out there and stop this guy."

McDowell, who shot 43 percent from 3-point territory this season, was 0-for-7 from that distance on Thursday.

***For a team that got handed a 56-point beatdown, the third-worst in NCAA tournament history, Chattanooga was a little … well, chatty during the game.

"They talk a little too much out there," said Jeff Adrien. "I feel like if you want to talk to us, we can talk back and play basketball. You can't talk back and play basketball, because we're just in your head and we're just that much better than you."

At one point in the first half, referee Dwayne Gladden had to tell Chattanooga's Kevin Goffney to "keep your mouth shut" as Stanley Robinson stepped to the foul line. Late in the opening half, Mocs coach John Shulman was hit with a technical foul for arguing a no-call against Hasheem Thabeet.

And, in the early minutes of the latter half, Chattanooga's Nicchaeus Doaks pushed Adrien hard on a rebound, and the two had to be separated.

"It was unnecessary roughness," said Adrien. "It's not football. It was unnecessary, I don't know what was wrong with him. I never said anything in the game. He wanted to run me over. It didn't faze me, it's just a dumb foul on you. Everybody in the world saw you run into me like an idiot. They're going home, I'm not, so I feel good. That's all I have to say."

***Of Robinson's 11 field goals, seven came on dunks – many of them alley-oops from Austrie.

***Little-used sophomore guard Donnell Beverly played the game's final eight minutes, looking pretty good while scoring seven points and doling out five assists.

***Kemba Walker's had promised us writers that he'd throw down a dunk at some point this season, and he finally delivered with 2:44 to play on a two-handed fast-break throwdown.

***Cheshire's John Lindner missed his chance at glory, missing an inside hoop while being fouled with 48.6 seconds left, then missing both free throws.

***A couple of times during the game, Inga Price (A.J.'s mom) led the UConn cheering section in a "U-C-O-N-N" cheer, a la "Big Red" at the XL Center.

"I think that's the first time I've ever caught her doing that one," A.J. said with a smile. "It won't be the last for sure."

***UConn's point-differential was the third-highest in Big Dance history. Only Kansas's 110-52 win over Prairie View on March 13, 1998, and Loyola's 111-42 drubbing of Tennessee Tech on March 11, 1963 were more lop-sided.
***Now it's on to Texas A&M, which beat BYU, 79-66, in Thursday's opener. The Aggies hit their first 10 shots from the floor against the BYU's zone and never looked back.

"Their shooters got hot early," Price noted. "Once they got hot, they were making shots throughout the game. That's going to be something we'll look at."

Alas, Texas A&M's victory means no more Cougars in Philly. Unless Demi Moore, Madonna or Nicolette Sheridan are in town.


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