Saturday, January 10, 2009

Redemption Song

Not going to blog too much tonight, as I've got to hit the road for a 2-hour drive up to Columbus, followed by a 3 1/2-hour drive to Pittsburgh to fly home tomorrow morning. Plus, most of the relevant stuff from tonight's game will be in my gamer and notebook tomorrow, plus a follow that will run on Monday. Here's a couple of things:

***A.J. Price gave an indication earlier this week in practice that he was ready to redeem himself from his 0-for-9, 1-point clunker vs. West Virginia with a big performance tonight.

During a 3-point shooting drill late in practice, Price knocked down 31 out of 37 shots in a 90-second span. It was the best performance, according to Jim Calhoun, since Rashad Anderson knocked down 35 a few years ago.

When Calhoun told us about Price's exhibition yesterday, we assumed it might have been a little more of the coach's penchant for, shall we say, exaggeration. But Price confirmed it today -- he really did knock down 31 of 37. Now, he's got his sights set squarely on Anderson's "record."

"That's my next goal," he said, "to try to get that."

***To answer a few e-mails I've received during and after tonight's game, I'll say that it appears that Jonathan Mandeldove may have lost his chance at a medical redshirt this season after his five minutes of action vs. Cincy.

According to NCAA Bylaw 14.2.4, a player can only receive a medical redshirt if an injury occurs prior to completion of the first half of the season, or when the player has not participated in 30-percent of the school's scheduled contests.

That puts 'Dove in a precarious situation. Saturday was the exact midpoint of UConn's 30-game schedule, though Mandeldove has played in just four (27 percent) of those contests. Does that eliminate the redshirt possibility? Can't say I'm exactly sure. Sorry about not being able to give a definite answer, but then, neither can associate head coach George Blaney, who said he wasn't sure when I asked him after the game about Mandeldove's status. (Didn't get a chance to ask Calhoun).

It's also not a certainty that the Huskies were planning on red-shirting the 7-footer, though it appears that may have been the case. Calhoun had mentioned earlier in the season that Mandeldove is suffering from a bad back, and in several blowouts this season, he's put in walk-ons during garbage time instead of Mandeldove.

Mandeldove's last bit of action was back on Dec. 20 against Gonzaga.

***That's it for now. Can anyone name who sang the song "Redemption Song"?

Now UC It, Now You Don't

A couple of pregame notes from Fifth Third Arena, prior to UConn's bout with the University of Cincinnati:

When the Huskies host Seton Hall on Jan. 18, they'll have at least three high school teams in attendance.

South Atlanta High, featuring Class of 2009 top-rated center Derrick Favors, American Heritage High out of Plantation, Fla., and Mater Dei High from Santa Ana, Calif. will all be in the house. All three will be among the schools playing in the Hoophall Classic at Springfield (Mass.) College Jan. 18-21.

Favors, a 6-foot-9, 220-pounder who is's top-rated big man for his class, is still unsigned. Mater Dei is the school which UConn commit Jamaal Trice graduated from (he's currently at Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C.).

Speaking of Trice, UConn assistant Patrick Sellers went to watch him play last week and saw Trice drop 28 points.

Oh, and remember John Riek, the 7-footer from the Sudan who visited the Huskies last year both for First Night and down in Orlando at UConn's game against Central Florida? Well, it's looking like he'll never play college basketball. Riek committed to Cincinnati in August, but has yet to get through the NCAA clearinghouse (sound familiar?). And, in all likelihood, he never will. Apparently, his transcript out of Africa is spotty, at best.

In fact, the Bearcats recently admitted Oklahoma State transfer Ibrahima Thomas, who looks all of the 6-11 he's listed at. With Thomas eligible to join Cincy next December, it pretty much seals the deal for Riek ever donning a Bearcat uniform.

More to come ...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Of iPods, UConn and Youkilis

Greetings from Cincinnati, home of Pete Rose, Kevin Youkilis (who hates me), an awful, felonious NFL team, Urban Meyer (a UC grad) and the 1979 Who concert tragedy. Oh, and plenty of good things, too.

Arrived here this morning from Columbus, about two hours up I-71, where I had spent the prior two days crashing at my brother's house. Had driven from Morgantown to Columbus Wednesday morning when I realized I was missing a very key ingredient to this trip: the adapter that allows me to play my iPod over the car radio. Without it, I was forced to go great stretches through West Virginy and Ohio listening to stations that played two types of music: country and western. Awful.

Then I solved it by simply listening to the iPod through earphones while driving. iPods rule. Just ask Stanley Robinson, who was rockin' some Young Jeezy this evening just before we interviewed him. Young Jeezy, apparently, is a rapper from Atlanta.

***So here we are in the Queen City, where UConn faces the Bearcats tomorrow (4:30 p.m.) in a Big East battle. Cincinnati is struggling right now, with losses in its first two Big East games. The Bearcats allowed 84 an 87 points to Marquette and (3-0!) Providence, respectively, so defense is an issue. Marquette and PC combined for 27 3-pointers in those two games. Marquette shot 15-for-25 (60 percent), while the Friars were 12-for-24. Wow.

In fact, the Bearcats have lost three in a row – they fell to Memphis on Dec. 29. Still, expect this one to be competitive.

"They lost to some very good teams," Jim Calhoun pointed out. "To be perfectly honest, if you switched schedules (with us), it would be very interesting to see what the results would be."

UConn is a perfect 4-0 all-time against Cincy and swept a pair of games last year. One was a 96-51 whitewash in both teams' regular-season finale on March 9 at Gampel that included a 30-0 run at one point by UConn. But we'll throw that one out the window. Due to blizzard-like conditions, the Bearcats were snowbound and the game was pushed back twice, from Saturday at 4 p.m. to Saturday at 8 p.m. and, finally, Sunday at 6 p.m. Cincy played like an exhausted team.

Their prior matchup, however, was far more competitive. On Jan. 23 at Fifth Third Arena, UConn fought back from a 12-point deficit with less than six minutes to play and won an 84-83 classic. At the time, it was the Huskies' biggest, gutsiest win in "quite some time," Calhoun said afterwards.

Jerome Dyson had a big night in that one, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the latter half, including a couple of huge 3-pointers. Of course, the next night in Storrs, he and Doug Wiggins were caught by campus police with alcohol in their car, Dyson eventually failed his second drug test and was suspended for nine games, yadda, yadda, yadda … and the Huskies pulled off several more gutsy wins (eight in a row, at one point) without him.

"It really was a springboard game for us," Calhoun said of the one-point win. "It kind of put us in a much better stratosphere."

***Dyson has struggled in Big East play so far, shooting just 25 percent (7-for-25) from the floor and averaging 9.6 points in three games. He's contributing in other ways, though, as he seems to be emerging as the lockdown defender the Huskies haven't had in a while. Dyson helped hold the top scorers on both Rutgers and West Virginia – Mike Rosario and Alex Ruoff – to a combined 6-for-29 shooting over the past two games. That'll work.

"I think I can be (a lockdown defender)," Dyson said. "I think I'm quick enough to guard anybody. I can guard point guards, shooting guards, three's most of the time, so I feel like I can shut somebody down if I need to."

He'll have his hands full again tomorrow night in the form of Deonta Vaughn, the Cincy guard who torched the Huskies for 34 points in last January's game. Vaughn is averaging a team-high 14.5 ppg this season. He was actually held scoreless in 37 minutes (0-for-10 shooting) against Marquette but bounced back for 20 in the loss to PC.

Anyway, should be a good one tomorrow night. In the Big East, it almost always is.

***A.J. Price will look to bounce back from his self-described worst game he's played in college against WVU (0-for-9, 1 point). "And I wouldn't disagree," Calhoun noted. "You can make a running case for that."

As poorly as he played, however, Price impressed Calhoun with the way he shouted encouragement from the bench, particularly to freshman Kemba Walker, who took over at the point.

"There's a lot to be said for that," Calhoun said. "For us to be successful, especially on the road, you're going to have to do that."

Added Price: "That's the epitome of a team, not just myself but all the guys on the bench were pretty vocal and into the game. That says a lot about this team. Any given night it's going to be someone else's turn, and it was Kemba's go that night."

***Neither Scottie Haralson nor Charles Okwandu are accompanying the Huskies on this trip. The two are taking an intersession class that meets five days a week, and with two snow days over the past week, they have a make-up class tomorrow they simply can't miss. The class runs until 12:30 p.m., so there's no realistic way they'd be able to get here for the 4:30 p.m. tip-off.

Turns out, the two arrived late to the West Virginia game, as well, after taking the class earlier in the day. Both arrived at WVU Coliseum about 10 minutes into the game. It says something about the lack of playing time each has had that no one really noticed.

***Oh, and if you're wondering why Kevin Youkilis hates me, here's why. The day this story ran it became a hot topic on Boston sports talk radio. Youkilis never confronted me about it the rest of the season, but the following year when I went up to ask him a question about something else, he responded: "I can't answer, because you'll just twist it around again and write more lies …" or something like that.

He seemed to think that I took his comments out of context and told me that I "tried to get (him) booed" by Fenway's fans. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's too bad, because I've known Youkilis since he first was called up to Pawtucket in 2003, have written some good things about him and always had a good rapport with him. In fact, I think he should have been the 2008 AL MVP, not Dustin Pedroia. When you consider the different positions he was asked to play, the numerous different slots in the lineup he was plugged into, and combine that with his truly impressive numbers, I would have voted for Youkilis.

A former UC star, Youkilis was at the UConn-Cincy football game out here this past fall. Maybe he'll be at tonight's game. I'm sure he'll be glad to see me.

Haralson, Okwandu Not Here

Neither Scottie Haralson nor Charles Okwandu are accompanying the Huskies on this trip. The two are taking an intersession class that meets five days a week, and with two snow days over the past week, they have a make-up class tomorrow they simply can't miss. The class runs until 12:30 p.m., so there's no realistic way they'd be able to get here for the 4:30 p.m. tip-off.

Turns out, the two arrived late to the West Virginia game, as well, after taking the class earlier in the day. Both arrived at WVU Coliseum about 10 minutes into the game. It says something about the lack of playing time each has had that no one really noticed.

More blogging shortly ...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Family 4 Life

Here's a mini-feature from today's Register on the bond between Kemba Walker and some other former New York Gauchos AAU stars who are currently making their way in the Big East. One such player is Darryl "Truck" Bryant, the impressive-looking freshman point guard at West Virginia who went head-to-head with Walker for good stretches of Tuesday night's game.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Law Offices of Adrien, Thabeet & Robinson

It sounded funny coming out of Jim Calhoun's mouth, if for no other reason than he usually refers to his players by their first names.

"You think about it: Adrien, Thabeet and Robinson – there can't be too many better threesomes in the Big East that can rebound the ball better than they can," Calhoun said.

Indeed, the law offices of Adrien, Thabeet & Robinson were certainly street legal off the boards tonight, combining for 35 rebounds in the Huskies' 61-55 win over West Virginia. Overall, the Huskies outrebounded WVU by a 52-33 count, enough to overcome poor first-half shooting and some sketchy execution (18 turnovers) throughout.

"They're a foot taller than us," WVU coach Bob Huggins bemoaned.

Well, yes and no. Kemba Walker, all 6-foot-1 (if that) of him, grabbed eight rebounds tonight. As Calhoun pointed out: "We're a big team, without being big. We have (7-foot-3) Hasheem, but right after that, you go right back down, we're small."

The X factor, of course, is Robinson. At 6-foot-9, he allows the Huskies to be far bigger at the three-spot than when they were going with a three-guard lineup earlier in the season.

"And that changes the game," Calhoun noted. "Plus he plays big. He plays so high above the rim, he bothers an awful lot of shots. He gives us a whole different look."

Indeed, as Calhoun added, "We don't win (tonight) without him."

No, they don't. Robinson grabbed 15 of those rebounds, a career-high. He scored just seven points (3-for-7 shooting, including a pair of tip-ins) but also blocked three shots and doled out four assists. The athleticism and energy he brings to this team is immeasurable.

Most impressively, Robinson – who missed the season's first eight games for personal reasons and was making just his second start – played nearly all 40 minutes of the game.

"I'm tired right now," he said afterwards, "but if we had to go do it again, I'd do it."

Adrien played well tonight, scoring 13 of his game-high 17 points in the latter half. Thabeet had 13 points and 13 boards, to go with three blocks. Jerome Dyson had 11 points, including a high runner off the glass on a clear-out with 35 seconds left that put UConn up by four. Kemba Walker had 10 points on 2-for-8 shooting and didn't have an assist, but played well enough as A.J. Price struggled through one of the worst nights of his career.

Price missed all nine of his shots and had just one point and two assists to go with two turnovers.

"A.J. didn't really have a good game tonight, so I had to back him up," Walker said. "Coach was confident enough to have me in the game at the end. I tried to just do what I do."

***During the postgame presser, a West Virginia writer's cell phone went off -- twice -- while Calhoun spoke (the ring was to the tune of a TV show theme, I believe, but I can't quite place which one). Anyway, it was real annoying, but Calhoun ignored it, soldiered on and delivered his answer.

No big deal, maybe, but if the same thing had happened during a Terry Francona press conference, Francona would have stopped, given the dirtiest look imaginable to the offending writer, moaned, groaned and basically completely overreact to the admittedly annoying yet minor distraction. And they say Francona is a nice guy while Calhoun is tough to deal with. For the most part, I've found the exact opposite to be true.

Some numbers to chew on:

***UConn shot just 9-for-32 (28 percent) in the first half but went 12-for-21 (57 percent) in the latter.

***West Virginia shot just 30 percent from the floor form the game and just 25 percent (9-for-36) in the second half.

***The Mountaineers didn't score at all over the final 2:27, despite some good looks from top scorer Alex Ruoff. Ruoff shot just 4-for-16 (2-for-11 on 3-pointers) and finished with 13 points as Dyson continues to emerge as a top-notch, shutdown defender.

***The game had 12 lead changes and eight ties.


Feeling a bit of pressure tonight, covering a UConn game at WVU Coliseum. No, not because of the infamous musket shot that will loudly go off shortly before game time -- though I'm told that no matter how prepared you think you are for it, the blast is still bound to startle you.

No, the pressure comes from being a Register writer here for a UConn game. See, the last time the Huskies played here, on Dec. 30, 2006, Jim Calhoun was a little testy after an 81-71 UConn loss and took it out on the Register's then-beat writer. I wasn't there, so I can't tell you who was in the right or wrong -- though by most accounts, it was a case of wrong-question, wrong-time with a famously temperamental coach who was just about looking for a fight.

It certainly wasn't Calhoun's most famous blow-up with a reporter. It wasn't even his most famous blow-up with a Register reporter (as our columnist can tell you). But it was memorable; they tell me there's a plaque in the press room dedicated to the outburst. So, do I ask a postgame question sure to irritate Calhoun, just to keep up the tradition?

Otherwise, a little thin on the pregame notes tonight. It'll be interesting to see how much UConn's Kemba Walker and WVU's Darryl "Truck" Bryant, a pair of freshmen point guards, square off tonight. The two were teammates for some great New York Gauchos AAU teams and remain very good friends.

"They ran and pressed for 60, 70 games," UConn assistant Andre LaFleur recalled. "They won just about every tournament they played that summer (of 2007)."

Other players on that team included Jordan Theodore, now a freshman at Seton Hall, and Danny Jennings, who's currently at St. Thomas More but will take his talents to West Virginia next season.

Anyway, I'm ready for some Big East basketball. They were just showing highlights of WVU's 2007-08 season on the big screen, with plenty of footage from the Mountaineers' win over UConn in last March's Big East tourney.

The Huskies hope not to make any similar highlight reels tonight.

More to come ...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Of Huskies, Huggy Bear and Ralph Furley

The Big East season turns one week old tonight, and already there have been four instances of ranked teams from the conference playing against each other (with tonight's Notre Dame-Georgetown matchup just the latest).

Tomorrow night marks the fifth, when UConn, who dropped to No. 5 in this week's poll, faces West Virginia, who enters the rankings for the first time this season at No. 25, at the always-tough WVU Coliseum. Those kinds of things happen – and will continue to happen – when your conference puts a record nine teams in the AP Top 25 this week.

"And I don't think all the good teams that can beat you are in the Top 25," Jim Calhoun pointed out. "That's how good the league is."

Look no further than St. John's win over No. 13 Notre Dame on Saturday.

"South Florida, if they can get a shot to go down (against Syracuse last week), who knows what happens?" WVU coach Bob Huggins pointed out. "I think it's going to be that way all year."

Ah, Huggy Bear. Quite the character. He met with the UConn media contingent a few minutes before his weekly radio show (at the same hotel where the Huskies are staying). Huggins was gracious enough to give us some time, but most of his answers amounted to little more than monosyllabic grunts. It almost seems he gets on the defensive for even the most softball of questions.


Q: How long will Joe (Mazzulla) be out for?

BH: No idea.

Q: Will you do your best to pull Hasheem away from the basket?

BH: Just throw it in there and let him block 'em. We're gonna try. If it was that easy, everybody'd do it.

Q: With the league being so crazy, is there any more emphasis put on winning your home games?

BH: There always is, isn't it? I don't think that ever changes.

Q: Have you been able to adopt more of your style into the program?

BH: We don't change. We're doing the same thing we were doing a year ago.

In truth, Huggins has been able to deftly mix his own style of play with that of the style implemented by John Belein, who left for Michigan two years ago.

"To filter out what John Beilein has taught kids would be crazy," said Calhoun. "One thing Bob is not, he's not crazy. A little nuts, but not crazy."

I'll drink to that.

***UConn essentially made WVU forward Joe Alexander the No. 8 pick in last June's NBA Draft after he went for 32 and 34 points, respectively, in last year's two games. Alexander is a Milwaukee Buck now, but the Mountaineers have found plenty of other sources for offense.

"He torched us the last two times," Calhoun noted, "but they're a better, total team without Joe Alexander."

***The Huskies begin a stretch of three straight conference games on the road, only the third times they've ever done so under Calhoun. UConn went 2-1 in the prior two stretches. It really all comes down to defense, something the Huskies have worked hard at in practice over the past few days.

"You can definitely bring hard work, toughness and defense to a road game," said junior forward Jeff Adrien. "Your offense might not always be there, but if you bring those three things, you can get a 'W' on the road."

***Nate Miles, the top-notch recruit who was expelled from UConn in early October, was granted a continuance for counseling on Monday for his case stemming from a restraining-order violation. He is due back in Rockville Superior Court on Feb. 24. Miles was expelled after violating a restraining order taken out against him by a 19-year-old female UConn student. He is currently attending the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college.

***UConn's team hotel is located on Don Knotts Blvd. Gotta love that. Knotts, of Barney Fife, Incredible Mr. Limpett and Ralph Furley fame, was born and raised in Morgantown.

***Apparently, ESPN is going to take a brief pause in bombarding us with football coverage to televise UConn's Jan. 15 game with St. John's at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. The game had been listed on UConn's schedule as either ESPN or espn2, but the network set the designations today.

(Is it me, or has ESPN morphed into the NFL Network? I mean, seriously, it seems the network can't stop talking about football – either pro or college – every waking second of the day. The No. 1 college hoops team in America gets upset Sunday night by Boston College, and today on SportsCenter, First Take, Around the Horn, etc., we get hours of talk about Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Donovan McNabb and a hard-hitting story on Antrel Rolle's "Dirty Bird" touchdown celebration. The most talk we get on Boston College is about how they're going to fire their coach for taking a job interview. Their football coach, of course. But I digress …)

Getting Ripped

Overlook the fact that it's Rip Hamilton who gets burned here and try to enjoy this, um, "enjoyable" color commentary of Kobe Bryant's clutch 3-pointer.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Jim Calhoun is “absolutely” expected to fly with the team to Morgantown, W.V. tomorrow afternoon and coach the team’s game against West Virginia on Tuesday night, according to team spokesman Kyle Muncy.

Calhoun, who’s been battling a cold for about two weeks as well as a bout with shingles, coached the Huskies in the first half of Saturday’s 80-49 win over Rutgers but felt too ill to return to the game after halftime. Associate head coach George Blaney took over the reins.

Calhoun attended the Huskies’ 1 ½-hour practice Sunday morning. Junior center Hasheem Thabeet, who suffered a right hip pointer against Rutgers, also practiced on Sunday.

Back in Charge

The Huskies had about a 90-minute practice this morning, starting at 10 a.m., and Jim Calhoun was in attendance. Hasheem Thabeet, who missed a small bit of Saturday night's game with a right hip pointer, also participated.