Saturday, February 07, 2009

Taking Digs at Digger

A nice comeback win, their 11th straight overall; a 22-1 overall mark, Jeff Adrien joining the 'double-quadruple' club (1,000 career points and rebounds) … yadda, yadda, yadda. We'll get to that later. First, the juicy stuff.

After UConn's 69-61 win over Michigan, Jim Calhoun concluded his postgame presser with this good-natured (and totally unprovoked) rant:

"The last thing I heard last night on TV, they had an analyst, I think his name was Digger Phelps, who I think coached at one time at Notre Dame. I don't know how long his tenure was there, but … someone asked him the simple question, 'Does UConn deserve to be No. 1?' I don't know if that is true, but we are 22-1 and we have done a couple of things. I had to say that, for no particular reason … but I feel so good now, because it (peeved) me off so much. He was begging for Wake Forest to be No. 1. I just couldn't understand. Our body of work is OK. I think we've played 12 games outside the league, and I think we've won 12. Gonzaga, Miami could have won today at Duke … There probably are eight or nine teams that could be No. 1. I just think you've got to let the games play out, before you make a determination. When you come off a Louisville game – and Louisville could go to the Final Four, no question – and say, 'No, they don't deserve to be No. 1.' And now we've just won our 11th in a row, you'd have to hink, somewhere along the line, we're deserving of at least a Top 10 ranking."

Calhoun also teased Phelps following the Huskies' win at Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago. We're pretty sure there's no real feud going on here … but we're just as positive that Calhoun was not pleased with what he heard from Phelps last night.

Gotta love it.

Anyway, as for tonight's game …

***The most inconsequential rebound of Saturday night's game wound up being a very consequential milestone for Adrien.

With 3.4 seconds left to play and UConn's victory well in-hand, Adrien hauled in a rebound of a missed Wolverine shot. It was Adrien's 14th rebound of the game and, more significantly, the 1,000th board of his career.

Adrien, who also has 1,436 career points, became just the fifth player in UConn history to notch at least 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career.

"I definitely didn't come in here making that as a goal," said Adrien, a senior, "but coming in this year, I knew it could be one, and I definitely did try to make it as a goal."

He also joins Emeka Okafor as just the second member of UConn's 1,000-1,000 club in Calhoun's 23 years at the helm.

"It's an honor, it's great to be mentioned with a name like Emeka Okafor," said Adrien. "To achieve something like that, shows a lot of hard work that I've put in, day-in, day-out."

The other members of UConn's 1,000-1,000 club: Corny Thompson, Toby Kimball and Art Quimby.

Said Michigan coach John Beilein: "He's on a mission to get the ball. He was when I was at West Virginia and he was a freshman, and we couldn't stop him then. Now, he's dieseled up even more."

***Jerome Dyson scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the latter half, but it didn't come without some pain. With 5:19 to play, Dyson drew a charge. While Dyson was sprawled out on the ground, however, Hasheem Thabeet – all 7-foot-3, 263 pounds of him – stepped squarely on Dyson's chest.

"It was painful, to say the least," Dyson reported. "I felt like I was going to die there on the floor. I couldn't breathe for a couple of seconds there."

Dyson lay motionless for a while before leaving the floor under his own power. He returned a few minutes later and scored four more points down the stretch.

"He's a tough guy," said Thabeet. "When I landed on him, it didn't feel good at all, too. He looked like he died and then came back to life. He said, 'You almost killed me.' That's all he said."

***During a break early in the first half, p.a. announcer John Tuite introduced some former Husky stars in the house: Cliff Robinson, Chris Smith, Lyman DePriest, Murray Williams and Norman Bailey. Only problem: Ray Allen and Donny Marshall were sitting two rows behind the bench, in plain view of everyone. The student section had even broken into a "Ray Allen!" chant a few minutes earlier.

That chant went up again, and a few timeouts later, Tuite introduced Allen and Marshall, as well.

***Ater Majok said an MRI on his left knee revealed a "joint problem," but that it doesn't appear to be serious and he should be back practicing soon. Majok said the knee has some swelling, a result of slipping on ice while walking on campus recently. A Sudanese native who has lived in Australia for the past several years, Majok had never seen snow before coming to the United States.

*** Nate Miles, the short-time UConn player who was expelled from the university in October, made his collegiate debut for the College of Southern Idaho Friday night. Miles scored 24 points, hitting three 3-pointers, in CSI's 118-112 overtime win over College of Eastern Utah. CSI is a junior college program that competes in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.

***The UConn Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will be sponsoring a book drive at Wednesday's game against Syracuse at Gampel. All patrons are invited to bring "gently used" children's books from their collection.

The books will be donated to the Burgdorf Health Center in Hartford. There will also be a book drive at the UConn women's game on Sunday, Feb. 15 against Pittsburgh, also at Gampel.
***UConn trailed at halftime (34-33) for just the second time this season. The only other time? Its loss to Georgetown in its Big East-opener on Dec. 28.

***Calhoun believes that facing a team like Michigan, which switched back and forth from both a 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone and man-to-man defense and employed a patient, Big 10-style offense, will help the Huskies down the road.

"We're going to see somebody, somewhere – Big East play, NCAA (tournament) play – that's going to do the exact same kind of thing, and we'll at least have been through something like this. It was a terrific win for us."

Friday, February 06, 2009


Couple of interesting items from our meeting with UConn players (Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price) and Jim Calhoun prior to their 3:30 p.m. practice today. The Huskies face Michigan tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Gampel.

***The Huskies aren't dwelling on all the national attention they've been getting since reaching No. 1 in the polls and thrashing Louisville at Freedom Hall Monday night. In fact, they've received this kind of overwhelming attention before.
"When we were losing (two years ago)," according to Adrien. "It was like, 'What's wrong with UConn?' We don’t let it get to our heads. We just go out there, do what we do, play great basketball and great defense."

***After playing three games in five days (two on the road) the Huskies got Tuesday off before returning to practice Wednesday. Jerome Dyson sat out of Wednesday's practice due to some bumps and bruises. Ater Majok will get an MRI on both knees due to some swelling that Calhoun attributes to "overuse."

Added Price: "You'd much rather have it the way it is now, though. The recognition is nice to have, it gives you something to work for. It makes you more motivated to work harder, because everybody's coming for that top spot."

***If you've noticed a bit of a kindler, gentler Calhoun on the sidelines lately, you're right. Calhoun has been giving this group a lot more rope, a product, obviously, of their 21-1 record, as well as the veteran nature of the team.

"Doron Sheffer, Khalid on offense, and a few other players who have come in here have made it easy to trust them," Calhoun said. "Ray (Allen) … Rip (Hamilton) wasn't ready probably until his sophomore year. It takes time. Coaches, players and teams develop confidence. When you've won 21 out of 22 games, you should develop some belief … I do have a lot more trust and faith (in this team). A lot of these guys are the same guys from last year, and a heck of a lot more than their freshman/sophomore years, (when) it was impossible to get their trust because they had just begun, they were so young."

Added Price: "It really helps us in practice when we're on a roll like this. He's less grueling on us. He understands we, as a veteran team, kind of know what to do now. It's a great tribute to him acknowledging that."

***Calhoun was (jokingly) asked by a reporter how his team has the fewest fouls called against them despite having the coach that complains the most.

"I've had one technical called against me all year," he said, apparently not detecting the sarcasm.
(Actually, we don't believe Calhoun has been 'T'd up at all so far this season)

***Adrien needs 14 rebounds to become the sixth member of UConn's 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound club and just the second in Jim Calhoun's 23 seasons. Emeka Okafor is the only other.

"I'm kind of speechless, to be mentioned with Emeka Okafor in that sense," Adrien said. "When I came to visit here, it was my dream school, I never really thought I could get here. Finally, I just played great at the Peach Jam, and they offered me a scholarship. Now, to be in a sentence with Emeka Okafor as a 1,000-1,000 player, it's kind of amazing. It shows I've come a long way."

***Both Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet have also been nominated for the prestigious Wooden Award.

"It's cool, it's a great award," Adrien said. "A lot of great players have won it."

***The Huskies went 0-for-8 on 3-pointers in the win over Louisville. Last prior time they'd notched a win without benefit of a trey? Jan. 17, 2005, when they went 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in a win over Seton Hall.

***As for Michigan (15-8, 5-6 Big 10), they had a nice, comeback win over Penn State last night. The Wolverines were down by three early in the latter half before abandoning their 1-3-1 zone for straight-up man, and wound up winning by 20 (71-51). They've also got wins over Duke, UCLA and Illinois this year, but had dropped two straight and five of their prior six before the win over Penn State.

It'll be a contrast in styles as the Wolverines (like virtually every other Big 10 team) prefers to work the shot clock down and keep the score in the 60's.

Calhoun likes the fact the fact that his team has faced so many different styles this season, believing it will help them come March.

"I really believe that it prepares you … you just don't want the price to get too high, and it takes an awful lot out of you. It always seems we're preparing for something different – different location, different kind of team. We just got off a team that wants to make the game up and down, as quick as they can, all kinds of pressure. Now we're playing a team that wants to keep the game a lot more halfcourt than we'd like to."

***Couple of quotes from Michigan coach John Beilein, courtesy of UM's basketball media relations guy:

On what he knows about Connecticut (following last night's win over Penn State): "I haven't watched one second of them yet, I'm sure that I will be immersed in it from hereuntil we get on the plane tomorrow. Obviously they are a tremendous teamand we are honored to play them."

On how the game came to be scheduled in February: "We wanted a secondhalf game. We said that if we end up going to the Coaches vs. Cancer(finals), we are really crowded with exams (in the fall semester). Wefelt that second semester we have two bye weeks (in conference), let'sput it in there. Unfortunately, the Big Ten scheduled a Thursday game(against Penn State), it should have been a Tuesday or Wednesday game,but once it was scheduled we couldn't change it."

On his experience against Connecticut while at West Virginia: "Theyare usually so athletic and they play great defense, great pressuredefense and you have to be really sharp to even be able to throw a passagainst them. They always have great talent and they always rebound theball very well. I can't believe Jeff Adrien is still there, I can'tbelieve it, it seems like he has been there forever."

***Manny being Manny. UM top scorer Manny Harris scored 28 Thursday against Penn State and is still awaiting word on whether he'll be suspended for elbowing Purdue's Chris Kramer in the face on Jan. 31. It doesn't appear that, if a suspension comes down, it will be for tomorrow night's game.

***Adrien was sporting a Los Angeles Dodgers cap prior to practice. Has the Brookline, Mass. resident switched allegiances from the Red Sox?

"No," he said. "I just like the color."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A.J. a Cousy Finalist

A.J. Price is one of 17 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award presented by The Hartford, an honor presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate point guard.

Beginning today, college basketball fans nationwide will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite candidate online at The top vote-getter from the on-line poll will receive the "Fan Vote", representing one vote to be cast by the Blue Ribbon committee selecting the Award winner. The Blue Ribbon committee is comprised of Hall of Famers including Bob Cousy, Dean Smith and Jim Calhoun, as well as college coaches from Divisions I, II and III, members of the media and additional college basketball experts and celebrities.

The 2009 Bob Cousy Award presented by The Hartford winner will be presented at the NCAA Men’s Final Four in Detroit on Monday, April 6.


Sheron Collins University of Kansas
Darren Collison UCLA
Stephen Curry Davidson College
Toney Douglas Florida State University
Levance Fields University of Pittsburgh
Jonny Flynn Syracuse University
Dominic James Marquette University
Ty Lawson University of North Carolina
Eric Maynor Virginia Commonwealth University
Patrick Mills St. Mary’s College
Jeremy Pargo Gonzaga University
AJ Price University of Connecticut
Jeff Teague Wake Forest University
Virgil Buensuceso BYU – Hawaii
Darren Duncan Merrimack College
David Arseneault Grinnell College
Sean Wallis Washington University

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cardinal Sins

It's been a bad couple of days for Cardinals. First Arizona in the Super Bowl, now Louisville against UConn tonight at Freedom Hall. Tony La Russa's crew is lucky they're not playing yet. Somewhere, I'm fairly certain a cardinal just got his jugular ripped out in someone's backyard by a house cat. Or a Husky.

If there were any lingering doubts that UConn wasn't the No. 1 team in the nation, they were swatted away like a Hasheem Thabeet blocked shot tonight in the Huskies' 68-51 dismantling of Louisville.

Speaking of Thabeet's blocked shots, he was credited with just four this evening – much to Jim Calhoun's bemusement.

"Four blocks?" he said while perusing the postgame stat sheet. "Those are first-half stats, I believe? If you want to lead the league in blocked shots, go ahead, I'd rather lead the league (in the standings).

Louisville is third in the conference with 6.5 blocks per game; after tonight, the 8-1 Cards are behind the 10-1 Huskies in the Big East standings.

"It's irrelevant," Calhoun continued. "He's a great defensive player because people look for him. His presence is overwhelming. Samardo Samuels – we recruited him like crazy, he's a terrific young player. But I don't think he enjoyed the evening, because of Hasheem Thabeet. As soon as we take Hash out, (Rick Pitino) puts Samardo in. It was a smart move, obviously."

Later, Calhoun backtracked a bit: "I was joking about the blocked shots, I say that every game. It seems to me he gets alters, travels. The sum total: he owns the paint."

In truth, it did seem Thabeet got short-changed in blocks tonight.

***Calhoun has been talking up Terrence Williams a lot lately, but he may start shifting his focus to Thabeet for Big East player of the year.

"I talk about Terrence and (Luke) Harangody and (Jerell) McNeal. Maybe there's a guy whose stats don't look that good, but if we end up with a record that we could … I'll have to certainly throw (Thabeet) in the mix, because he does change virtually every game he's been involved in. Every big game we've won, he's had a major hand in."

***Ex-Louisville (and New England Patriots) star receiver Deion Branch was in the house. So were 30 NBA scouts, including Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars. Those scouts are starting to take notice of Jeff Adrien, who led the Huskies with 18 points tonight (15 in the first half) and, though listed at 6-7, keeps shrinking in Calhoun's eyes. (Tonight, he was just 6-5 ½, according to the coach).

"It's amazing how many guys are starting to call me about him," Calhoun said. "He can guard a 3, he can guard a 4, and he's going to make a 17, 18-foot jump shot, and he's got the heart of a lion. Those are pretty good things. He's never going to give you a bad effort. What a thing to say about a player."

***Samuels, a freshman, was held scoreless with four turnovers tonight. He took just two shots. 'Ville scoring leader Earl Clark (13.5 ppg coming in) scored just five points on 2-for-16 shooting with Adrien guarding him most of the night.

On the other end of the floor, Adrien and Thabeet combined for 32 points. The fact that the Huskies missed all eight of their 3-pointers hardly mattered.

"The two young kids inside can't handle Hash, and they can't handle Jeff," Calhoun said. "Clark is not going to handle him, and the other two kids are young. They're going to be great, and Clark's a terrific player, but they're not going to be able to handle those guys. We weren't looking for 3's, only on kick-outs."

*** Stanley Robinson hardly followed up what appeared to be a breakout game two nights earlier against Providence. Robinson missed a dunk within the game's first 30 seconds, let Terrence Williams beat him for a pair of baskets, then picked up his second foul just two minutes into the game.

Hardly mattered. In fact, Calhoun said he was planning on going with a three-guard look most of the night, anyway.

***Pitino was quite impressed with the Huskies.

"They are truly the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and are very deserving of their ranking," said the Louisville coach. "We were not in their league tonight. We've played decent basketball all seson, but we ran into a team that was much better than us tonight. You have to give them all the credit. They were aggressive on defense, they ran their offense and they got a lot of good shots … They were a great basketball team on both ends of the floor."

***Speaking of Pitino, the days of his whining and yelling at officials seem to be long over. Even though the Cardinals committed nearly twice as many fouls (17 to 9) and took 22 fewer free throws (24-2), I can't remember a single time tonight when he shouted at or even disagreed with the refs.

This is a far cry from the Pitino of yore.

***Williams scored nearly half the Cards' points with 26, on 11-for-19 shooting. The rest of his teammates shot a combined 11-for-45 (25 percent).

***Apparently, Calhoun's wife, Pat, is tired of hearing her husband complain about how tough the Big East is.

"Quit the league," the coach said his wife told him the other day (kiddingly, of course).

***The Huskies were relatively unfazed by Louisville's vaunted fullcourt pressure all night, thanks to their guard play.

"As a matter of fact, it helped us," said Calhoun. "It's a great advantage to us if we can just attack pressure. That's the number one thing that Rick's teams always do, they like to attack you offensively and, of course, defensively. I thought we did a wonderful job with that."

*** And when it was over, Thabeet raised both his arms in the air, his index fingers forming the "No. 1" sign, as he looked out into what was left of the crowd. Many of the 20,069 fans began leaving when there was still 3:42 left to play.

"Why not? We really worked hard for the win today, we had to celebrate a little bit," Thabeet said. "But we're not going to forget, we've still got 10, 12 games to go."

Actually, it's 10 … not including the postseason.

Top Jimmy

To no one’s surprise, UConn is ranked No. 1 in this week’s AP Top 25 men’s basketball poll. Here's a look at the AP poll (the Huskies got 64 No. 1 votes, while No. 2 Oklahoma got five and No. 3 North Carolina got three; Louisville, tonight's opponent, is No. 5), as well as the Huskies’ history as the nation’s top-ranked team:

***This is the 26th week UConn has been ranked No. 1, and the 25th time since 1997-98 – behind only Duke (56) and North Carolina (33) in that span. Since 1989-90, only Duke (80), UNC (48) and Kansas (32) have been No. 1 for more weeks than the Huskies’ 26 weeks.

***UConn is 36-7 as the nation’s No. 1 team – 18-2 at home (9-1 at Gampel, 9-1 in Hartford) and 15-2 on the road. They’re 3-3 on neutral courts (2-3 at Madison Square Garden), 12-4 vs. ranked foes and 24-3 vs. unranked opponents.

***It’s eighth different time and sixth different season that UConn has been ranked No. 1. It’s the fifth time that both the Husky men and women have topped the polls together, and the 12th week they’ve done so.

*** The Huskies are the second Big East team to occupy the No. 1 spot this season. Pittsburgh was the first. It's the first time two different Big East teams have held the top spot since 1984-85, when both Georgetown and St. John's attained such status in the same season.

***It’s also worth noting that, in the four prior seasons that the UConn men and women have each been ranked No. 1, at least one of them has won a national title. In 2004, of course, both teams started the season as the top-ranked teams and both won their respective national titles, the only time that’s ever been done in NCAA history.

“It never gets old,” said women’s coach Geno Auriemma. “You never get tired of hearing that Storrs, Connecticut is the basketball capital of the world because you are a part of it and who would have thought it (would happen). Maybe one time it happens and you go, ‘That is just blind luck,’ but I don't think it is just blind luck anymore. It is not one of those passing phases, both programs have been around too long for people to say anything but Storrs, Connecticut is the basketball capital of the world. The thing I love about it is when people come up here from outside the area, they walk in and want to know where is the locker room that looks like the Taj Mahal, where is the practice facility that is unbelievable and the dorm rooms, they're like the Ritz Carlton. It's not. People come here because they want to win, they don't come here because we have a nice locker room.”

***(Oh, who sang "Top Jimmy"?)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Dunkin' on Rick Pitino

Greetings from Louisville, home of Muhammad Ali ("The Louisville Lip"), Churchill Downs, Louisville Sluggers, the Triple-A Louisville Bats and, of course, the Cardinals. And it's the latest of many homes for Rick Pitino.

Ah, Pitino, a central character in my first-ever brush with fame. I wasn't going to do this, but after telling this story to a couple of fellow reporters in Chicago, they suggested I put this on my blog when I hit Louisville. So, here goes:

It's the summer of 1987, and I'm at Providence College basketball camp. I'm in between my junior and senior years of high school, and the Pitino-led Friars are coming off a miraculous, Final Four season. Pitino – who would leave for the New York Knicks in a matter of weeks – held court each morning of camp with a different topic, and subsequent drill. One morning the focus was free throw shooting: Pitino, a good player in his days at UMass, at one point hit 25 in a row without blinking an eye.

Anyway, on the last day of camp, at the end of Pitino's final morning session, he announces: "Our last subject of the week will be … dunking. The first guy who can come up here and dunk will get a free pair of Converse All-Stars."

I knew I could do it, but four or five guys got up before me. Surprisingly, they all missed, so I got up and got in line. Pitino tossed me the ball, and I threw down a rather routine slam. (Remember, this was 22 years and about 50 or 60 fewer pounds ago! And yes, that is me in the above picture).

All the campers stood up and cheered wildly. Pitino came over with a smile on his face, shook my hand and asked me what size shoe I wore. I was so flustered by the whole moment – this was, after all, my first brush with fame – that I couldn't even think of my shoe size. Whatever I said, they found a pair of high-tops that fit. I couldn't have realized at the time that I'd be writing about this moment more than 20 years later on something called a blog.

But enough about me …

Jim Calhoun has been positively gushing about Pitino lately. After practice on Friday, and again after Saturday's rout of Providence, Calhoun couldn't stop praising his longtime rival.

"I haven't made my mind up yet, and I'm not holding back on Marquette (and first-year Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams) … but if I had to vote today – forget what he's had, they struggled early – Rick Pitino has done as good a coaching job as anybody in this league. They look like they're peaking, they're really good. They'll press us the entire game. We'll see that three-guard attack."

Calhoun and Pitino have been coaching against each, on and off, for more than 30 years, dating back to when Calhoun was at Northeastern and Pitino at Boston University. They both joined the Big East at roughly the same time (Pitino had the better early success at PC), and now they're conference combatants again.

Pitino owns an 11-6 all-time advantage against Calhoun, though Calhoun has won three of the five match-ups since Pitino returned to the Big East with Louisville. Here's how their individual encounters went:

Calhoun at Northeastern, Pitino at BU: Pitino, 6-3.

Calhoun at Northeastern, Pitino at Providence: Pitino, 1-0.

Calhoun at UConn, Pitino at Providence: Pitino, 2-0.

Calhoun at UConn, Pitino at Louisville: Calhoun, 3-2.

Of course, there's also this:

National championships: Calhoun, 2-1.

While there's obviously great respect between these two great coaches, don't think for a moment they don't relish the chance to beat each other. Too much history, too much at stake now that they're both coaching Top Five teams … and, of course, there's that old Irish vs. Italian thing.

Oh, Calhoun has been singing hosannas for 'Ville senior forward Terrence Williams lately, too, and for good reason.

Calhoun thinks Saturday's Providence game was a good warm-up for tomorrow's battle at Freedom Hall. Like PC, Louisville likes to press and shoot the 3-pointer. Louisville just does both much better than the Friars.

"(Providence) played that 1-2-2 press twice against us, we scored both times and they took it off," Calhoun said. ""I'm sure that won't happen Monday night. Rick's going to press us for 40 minutes, I'm sure, all over the court. It will be a similar-type team, 3-point shooting-wise but certainly not pressure-wise, Monday night."

And if Jerome Dyson or Stanley Robinson or whomever gets through the Cardinals' press, they should definitely throw down a dunk right in front of Pitino. Hey, I did it … how tough can it be? (Though I don't think Pitino will give them a pair of Converse All-Stars for their effort).

***Getting off the plane that I was about to get onto for my connector flight from Baltimore today? Hideous NFL player agent Drew Rosenhaus, who counts T.O. among his clients. Next question ...

***Guess who was on my flight from Baltimore to Louisville? The Louisville women's basketball team, who had beaten Providence on Saturday. A guy sitting next to me tells the stewardess, "You should announce that the Louisville women's basketball team is on the plane. They are really good. I mean, they're beyond good."

Now, it would be difficult for me to care any less about women's basketball. But I was tempted to make some sort of comment about the No. 1 women's team in Storrs. I bit my tongue, the stewardess announced the Lady Cardinals were onboard, and they got a big ovation.