Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prepping for the Pirates

Some notes & quotes from practice today at Gampel, as UConn prepares for tomorrow's 2 p.m. bout with Seton Hall at the XL Center.

***Jim Calhoun reported that the Huskies are a bit banged up right now. A.J. Price practiced just a little bit today and is feeling it in both knees. His surgically-repaired left knee is simply fatigued, Calhoun said, while his right knee has a contusion. Jerome Dyson's knee has been acting up, the coach added, and Hasheem Thabeet is still a bit bothered by his hip.

***Seton Hall is fifth in the Big East in scoring offense (76.5 per game) and leads the conference in steals with 9 per contest. However, the Pirates are dead-last in scoring defense, allowing 92.2 points per contest, and therefore are also last in the standings (along with Rutgers and DePaul) at 0-4. Oh, and for a team that likes to hoist up 3-pointers, they don't hit many: the Hall is last in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, too, at 22 percent (17-for-77).

***UConn has won the last seven meetings against the Hall, dating back to March, 2001. The Huskies haven't lost to Seton Hall at home since March, 1997, when the George Blaney-led Pirates won in Hartford.

***Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on Wednesday after the Blue Devils' win over Georgia Tech that the ACC is the best league in the nation. Jim Calhoun disagrees.

"He's wrong," Calhoun said. "I respect Mike, and I know he's right about Carolina, and Wake is very, very good. But we played Miami, who's probably the fourth-best team in that league. We have probably eight teams, at least, as good as Miami – maybe more. Providence is right in that batch of really being troublesome, too. I think it's a no-brainer.

"Their top four may be better than our top four, but we have more close to the top eight. And the bottom – Cincinnati is awfully tough, West Virginia is very tough, Seton Hall's tough, St. John's has already beaten Notre Dame and they'll beat somebody else."

Added Jeff Adrien: "I don't know where (Krzyzewski) got that from. You've got BC beating North Carolina, then they lose to Harvard, they lose two straight. In the Big East, that would never happen. I don't think you'd have a team that would beat the No. 1 team in the nation and then lose to Harvard, no offense. I definitely think our conference is the best, top to bottom. Every game, you really have to bring it. And if you don't, you might be a Notre Dame that loses to St. John's in the Garden."

Take that, Coach K.

***Calhoun was also asked if he believes there is a team in the Big East that could go 17-1 this season, as Calhoun's Huskies did in 1995-96.

"Pittsburgh, they have the components … they have a point guard (Levance Fields) who has (100) assists already, he's so much better than he appears sometimes … he's pretty serious about what he does. (Sam) Young is a young pro, (DeJuan) Blair is one of the most devastating all-around players in the league. They've got depth, and they believe. Could they? Yes. I would bet against it if I was a betting man, only because I think you're going to have a night or two when it just doesn't happen or someone else does great. I think most people would tell you, if you could write 15-3 into their book right now, they might take that."

Adrien also gave the Panthers some props.

"Pittsburgh is very good. What they do, they do very well. You've got Blair playing great, Sam Young has become a player. I also think Louisville's playing really (well) right now. Even though they lost to some teams you'd never expect to at the beginning of the year, they're playing (well). They're 3-0, and I'm looking forward to that game down there in Louisville."

***Good line from Calhoun, who woke up this morning at 7 a.m. thinking it was Sunday, and that he'd have to hurry to Mass in order to get to practice on time: "(I said to my wife, Pat), maybe if we can sneak in and get 15 minutes, He'll understand."

***A.J. Price, on why he had six turnovers against St. John's Thursday night: "I had some tough turnovers, first of all: my fault, combined with another player on the team. I've had some bad turnovers, as well. I've just got to stay focused and cherish the ball a little more."

***There are still about 700 tickets available for tomorrow's game. They can be purchased online at

***Good band playing tonight at The Groggy Frogg in Southington. Name of the band is Dead Flowers, and they play cover music: lots of classic rock, some 90's rock, a good mix. Come check them out if you get a chance, and take particular note of the drummer.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

You're a Native New Yorker

The key stretch for UConn tonight was a 16-5 run midway through the second half, when the Huskies turned a 39-36 lead into a 55-41 advantage. Jeff Adrien and Kemba Walker combined for all the Huskies' scoring during that stretch.

An Adrien tip-in of a Jerome Dyson miss started it with 14:53 left, then Adrien grabbed a rebound of another Dyson miss for a stickback. After Adrien hit one of two free throws, the Huskies got on a 3-on-1 break, with Walker in control. Walker faked a pass, then took off just about the free throw line and soared in for a finger roll, putting a charge in the crowd of 7,545, many of them UConn fans.

Yesterday at practice, Walker was asked why he hadn't dunked yet this season. He explained that if he missed a dunk, Jim Calhoun would immediately yank him from the game. But, he added that he would have a dunk at some point this season.

When asked if that was the play he could have ended with his first dunk, he said: "I wasn't really thinking about it, I was thinking about just scoring. After the play, I thought about dunking it, and I thought about y'all, too, what you asked me (yesterday)."

It kept coming. First, Walker hit a backdoor layup off a nice pass from Adrien. Then, with 9:31 left, Walker banked in a 3-pointer, then gave the Michael Jordan shrug, as if even he couldn't explain how hot he was.

"It was one of those nights for me," he said. "It was a shot I thought was missing, but I got lucky and it went in."

Walker returned the favor to Adrien, hitting him for a 15-footer. Adrien capped the run with a pair of freebies with 8:16 left.

"We were looking for each other," said Adrien. "He found me a lot more, and I found him a lot. It was fun, it was very fun."

Added Walker: "(Adrien) was the aggressor out there. He played hard, got all the loose balls for us. Jeff was just Jeff today, and I tried to bring that extra intensity out there."

After the game, Calhoun noted that Hasheem Thabeet was a difference-maker, with 10 points, eight rebounds, five blocks "and he probably bothered 15 (shots). That's all we needed him to do." A.J. Price also atoned for an awful first half (two points, four turnovers) with a pair of big 3-pointers late in the game.

But this game very much belonged to Kemba Walker (21 points, four assists, five boards) and Jeff Adrien (17 points, 11 boards), particularly during that 8 1/2-minute stretch in the latter half.

***After the game, Calhoun was asked who Walker reminded him of, and he said Khalid El-Amin, particularly because of the joy he plays the game with. Then, Calhoun revealed some disturbing news: a few days after Christmas, El-Amin's home in suburban Minneapolis was damaged when someone threw three Molotov cocktails through the windows.

No one was hurt in the incident, Calhoun reported, even though El-Amin's father, Charles, was in the house at the time. Some of El-Amin's memorabilia was damaged by fire, however. Calhoun, who added that the home was broken into the next day and three televisions were stolen, said he spoke with El-Amin Thursday morning. El-Amin is playing professionally in the Ukraine, but he's heading home to Minneapolis in a few days to help out his family.

Calhoun said that El-Amin's family helped start up a Muslim sect in that area, though it's not known whether or not the incident was a hate crime.

***Ex-Husky great Cliff Robinson spoke with the team after the game.

***Remember that song, "Native New Yorker"? One of the only good disco songs of the late-70's, in my opinion. Can anyone name who sang it?

Miracle on the Hudson

So I'm driving down the West Side Highway, with Register columnist Dave Solomon in the passenger seat, and suddenly a couple of police cars drive by. We didn't think much of it, until a few more whizzed by, along with some ambulances. This raised our eyebrows, thinking there might be an accident (and with it, plenty of traffic) ahead. Then, we see a couple of cars going in reverse in the breakdown lane to take an exit up around 96th Street or so.

So Solomon, wise as his name would indicate, suggests we take the exit, too, fearing a traffic jam. I take it, and it was a good idea. Obviously, it wasn't a traffic jam ahead – it was a plane crash in the Hudson River that was causing the traffic and commotion. We never quite got a glimpse of the plane, since we were off the highway, but longtime UConn statistician Andy Prince did.

Prince was driving south down the West Side Highway at about 3:30 p.m. today, with Mike Haglof (Jim Calhoun's nephew), Prince's nephew Michael Goldberg and friend Carl Martin also in the car.

We'll let Prince, a New Britain resident, tell the rest:

"Hagloff noticed a plane was relatively low and thought it was strange. It looked to be a commuter jet, we thought it wasn't that big at that point. It was making an unfettered descent, we noticed there was no landing gear down. It descended to above the water, then re-ascended another couple of hundred yards in front of us, and then descended straight in, like it was landing on the water, and made a very modest splash. It was as if (the pilot) had done such a good job, like he was landing on a tarmac and there was no problem. The plane landed around 40th Street, we were at 60th Street and at that site within three minutes with traffic. When we got past where they were, the ferries were already out and we could see the passengers already standing on the wing, being evacuated."

"At first I thought maybe it was a training, because it looked like he was descending and maybe practicing up and down. Then my nephew thought maybe it was like Corey Lidle, in a private plane. But when we saw him go up, go down and go back in, we knew that was not right. It was not a sea plane. The splash it made was so minimal, it was incredible to see what he had done. You could tell he had done it on purpose."

"We didn't think there would be any survivors. We parked a car and went to a restaurant and watched it on TV. When they announced there were all survivors, we were shocked. The plane wasn't going at a ridiculous rate of speed, you could tell he had already slowed down, but it still landed on water. I had never seen anything like that. It was frightening. We thought we had seen 50, 75 people (die).

"We thought we had seen a disaster, it ended up being a miracle."


No Boothe Tonight

For what it's worth, St. John's sophomore point guard/floor general Malik Boothe will not be available to play tonight. Boothe has missed the last four games with a thumb injury, but coach Norm Roberts had hoped he'd return to the lineup tonight.

However, Roberts just said during this morning's Big East coaches' teleconference call that Boothe won't likely be ready to play for at least another two/three weeks.

The Red Storm, of course, are already without their best player, Anthony Mason, Jr., who's out for the season with a foot injury.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Back in a New York Groove

With the Huskies traveling to Madison Square Garden for tomorrow night's bout with St. John's, it was the obligatory "Ask-the-New-York-kid-how-he-feels-about-playing-at-the-Garden Day" today before practice at Gampel.

A.J. Price: "It's always a thrill to play there. Being from New York, you always get a different rush from playing in the Garden. The first time is even more special."

It will be Kemba Walker's first time at the Garden at the collegiate level, though the Bronx native played there three times in high school – as a sophomore, junior and senior.

"Especially my first time, I was definitely excited to go on that court. I had never been on an NBA floor, it's the first NBA floor I ever played on. To play in the Garden was definitely exciting … It's my first time playing in the Garden on a college level. Just to be back home is going to be a lot of fun."

Walker said they'll be a lot of people in the crowd he knows, including at least eight family members and friends. He was asked if he grew up a St. John's fan.

"No, not really. I usually would watch UConn, and it was a rivalry with UConn-St. John's. But I wasn't really a big St. John's fan."

The Knicks?

"No. (I like) the Hornets. I like Chris Paul."

O.K., now that that's out of the way …

***St. John's sits at 10-5 overall and 1-2 in the Big East. They've had some narrow wins over lesser opponents (69-61 over St. Francis, N.Y., for example), and their two conference losses (to Providence and No. 1 Pittsburgh) were each by more than 20 points.

But it's that one Big East win that has raised the eyebrows of Calhoun and the Huskies: a 71-65 win over No. 7 Notre Dame on Jan. 3 in the Garden.

Calhoun on the Red Storm: "They're a scrappy team, they're in position for postseason play. They're pretty mobile … they're a much better team than they have been … It's a big game. St. John's-UConn games, regardless, have always been fiercely competitive. That's the nature of things. Pretty much, everybody has played against everybody … I thought they played with great energy in the Notre Dame game. Madison Square Garden, I think, helps them. They used to play every game there. Now, it tells them it's a big game."

SJU point guard/floor general Malik Boothe hasn't played the last four games with a left thumb injury, and his status is still day-to-day.

***This marks UConn's third straight road game. In their eight previous stretches of three straight road games, the Huskies have never gone 3-0 – including a pair of 2-1 stretches in Big East play (1997-98 and 2005-06).

"It looks like we're going to stay in the East for a game, at least," Calhoun said,k before realizing the Huskies host Seton Hall and Villanova next week. "Actually, the next three games."

***Calhoun said that Tate George and Cliff Robinson have each called and requested tickets for Sunday's game with Seton Hall at the XL Center. Robinson was also looking for St. John's tix.

***Walker was asked if the reason he hasn't dunked in a game yet stems from the fact that he's be yelled at by Calhoun if, by chance, he missed.

"Yeah, definitely, that's what it is," Walker said with a smile. "It's only two points, though. But I'm going to get one for y'all this season."

***Who sang the 1978 song "New York Groove"? (Hint: he was a member of a very popular rock band at the time).

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Difference

Here's a follow-up story in today's Register about how A.J. Price's game has changed from last year to this. Through 14 games last year, 37 percent of his attempted field goals were 3-pointers. Through Price's first 14 games this year, 54 percent of his attempts have been from beyond the arc. Why? Tough to say, but it seems logical to conclude that he has been a little fearful of taking the ball to the hole, in part because of last year's ACL injury.

(Oh, and can anyone name the band that performed the song "The Difference" back in the late-90's? Hint: The lead singer has a very famous musical father)