Saturday, April 04, 2009

Detroit Breakdown

And so it ends for Jim Calhoun and the UConn Huskies, in the most unlikely of places: the Final Four. Calhoun had been a perfect 4-0 in the Final Four prior to Saturday night's 82-73 loss to an impressive, unrelenting, extremely well-coached Michigan State team.

It's too easy to say the Spartans wanted it more, though with a large portion of the NCAA tourney-record 72,456 fans at Ford Field bedecked in Sparty green, it's easy to see why MSU might have had a little more incentive. The Huskies played hard, they just didn't play particularly well: 16 turnovers, 21-for-33 foul shooting, 12-for-34 shooting in the second half, outscored 33-7 off the bench. The rebounding totals were even at 42 apiece, but the Spartans grabbed 18 offensive boards and seemingly every big rebound they needed down the stretch.

So now that the Huskies' season is over, what about the UConn careers of Calhoun and Hasheem Thabeet? Hard to decipher from their postgame comments (though it says here that Calhoun stays and Thabeet goes to become an NBA lottery pick).

First, Calhoun: "Very simply, I am the head coach of University of Connecticut, and I fully expect to be the head coach of the University of Connecticut," Calhoun said after the Huskies' national semifinal loss to Michigan State on Saturday. "During the next two, three, four, five months, which I've done every year for the past 10 years, I will reflect on some things. Do I have a little more things that I have to reflect on this year? Yes, I do. I'd be less than candid by not saying that. Were there some incredible disappointments by certain people who took things they have no idea about, unfortunately, and just started to jump? That's hurtful, I'm a human being. These are people I respect, care for and like, and they seem to say, 'We'll side with them and see if he's right.' But, I'm a pretty tough guy, I don't run from things."

Calhoun added that his happiest times over the past couple of weeks, since allegations of illegal recruiting broke in a Yahoo ! Sports story, have been with his players.

"That's why, in my opinion, this is one of the great teams in UConn history," he said. "Were they the greatest talent-wise? No. Were they as talented as some teams that didn't make the Final Four? No. But, it's something special, to get where they have been. I'm always going to love this team, coming off the most difficult summer of my life, physically … it's been incredible."

Thabeet was evasive when asked if he had just played his final game in a Husky uniform. To hear him talk, he's coming back – but I wouldn't bet on it.

"I'm a junior, so hopefully I can come back for my senior year," he said. "I was looking forward to the game on Monday, we didn't make it … I get one more chance … I'll listen to what the coaches tell me. They've pointed me to success."

Calhoun was asked if he believed Thabeet would return.

"I think his basketball future is incredibly unlimited, so it would be very difficult for me to look him in the eye and say, 'By the way, you can't move on.' But that's certainly going to be his choice. Would I like (him to return)? I would like to have him with me next year, yeah."

***One thing is certain: seniors A.J. Price, Craig Austrie and Jeff Adrien have played their final games as Huskies. For Price, it ends an incredible five-year journey of triumph and near-tragedy.

"I'll miss the program, I'll miss playing for Coach Calhoun, miss putting on the UConn jersey, I'll miss all that," said Price. "But, the show must go on. That's the beauty of life, you've got to keep on pushing and keep on struggling, and look forward to the next thing."

Price could be a first-round NBA draft pick in June. Adrien is also hoping to be drafted. Austrie hopes to continue his basketball career, as well, be it in the U.S. or overseas.

"It's not a good feeling," he said of the end of his college career. "I had expectations, I thought it was going to end a little different. But, it obviously didn't."

***UConn is able to roll out some impressive alumni to speak to its players throughout the season, but it's hard to top what Michigan State was able to offer on Saturday.

MSU alum Earvin "Magic" Johnson spoke with the Spartan players in the locker room prior to the Final Four bout with UConn. Ex-San Francisco 49er coach Steve Mariucci (a close friend of MSU coach Tom Izzo) and Minnesota Viking line coach Pat Morris also spoke. But it was Magic who stole the show.

"Nobody tops Earvin," Izzo said. "He's the best. I just love having him around and love what he did."

***Calhoun wasn't about to blame the pro-Spartan crowd for his team's loss.

"It could have been 7,000 people, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I thought the court was great, everything about it was fantastic, except the outcome."

Price agreed.

"It didn't make a difference at all. When you're on the court, you're not paying attention to the crowd. You pay attention to the game."

***Tempers flared a bit with 1:55 to go in the half. Price had a shot blocked, Adrien grabbed the loose ball and was fouled going in for a layup by Walton. Walton quickly popped up and exchanged words with Adrien, and MSU's Marquise Gray stepped in and started barking at Adrien, as well. Thabeet yapped back at Gray, players had to be separated, Calhoun came out on the floor from the other side of the court, and order was eventually restored.

No technicals assessed, just a pair of free throws for Adrien (and he hit them!!!).

***Some more numbers: Price was 5-for-20 from the floor, had just one assist and two turnovers. In fact, UConn had just eight assists – its lowest total since it had only six in a 74-63 loss to Georgetown on Dec. 28, 2008.

Tonight was the first game this season UConn lost after scoring 70 or more points, ending a run of 16 straight games.

Stanley Robinson had 15 points and 13 boards but five turnovers. Freshman Kemba Walker, the start of UConn's Elite Eight win over Missouri, shot 3-for-9 from the foul line (missing his first five!).

The loss to No. 8 Michigan State leaves UConn 11-5 against ranked teams this season.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think Sticks will be back next season? I love him as a player and he seems like a good person. He's got the talent for the NBA, and it doesn't seem like he cares for school. If he thinks he'll be taken (even as a 2nd round pick), what are the chances he stays?

12:14 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

I am positive Sticks will be back. He has the athleticism to play in "The League" right now, but I think the scouts would like to see more consistency out of him before they think he can be a contributor to an NBA team.

But there's no doubt that, aside from Hasheem Thabeet, Robinson has the most NBA-ready body on this UConn team.

12:43 PM 

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