Saturday, March 21, 2009

By the Time They Get to Phoenix

And so, it's off to Phoenix for UConn (actually Glendale, Ariz., about 10 miles from Phoenix). Either way, it's a place UConn has greatly enjoyed over the past decade: the Huskies' national championship runs in 1999 and 2004 each ran through Phoenix.

"I'm very excited," said Jeff Adrien. "It's a place where we've had great success in the past."

The Huskies will face Purdue, which topped Washington on Saturday 76-74, in a Sweet 16 battle on Thursday.

This will be UConn's 12th trip to the Sweet 16 since 1990 and 15th time in the program's history. The Huskies are now 12-3 in second-round NCAA tourney games under Jim Calhoun.

***R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Feeling a certain amount of disrespect nationally as the weakest No. 1 seed in the field, the Huskies have emphatically stated their case. Their combined margin of victory of 82 points over Chattanooga and Texas A&M is the program's largest ever in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and the most since Duke outscored its two foes by 82 in 1999.

"This should be a message sent, showing we are a good team," noted A.J. Price. "We've had a great year thus far. For anyone to question (if) we were a No. 1 seed, I think we answered those questions by playing hard and showing people that we can beat good teams."

Even President Obama recently "dissed" the Huskies: UConn was the only top seed not to advance to the Final Four in Obama's bracket. No. 2 seed Memphis was picked to come out of the West Region.

"I'm a big Obama fan," said Craig Austrie, "but that definitely pushed us."

But, as Calhoun pointed out, UConn's work is far from through.

"Are we special yet? No," said the 23rd-year coach. "(We're) a couple more wins from that. But we played two very impressive games."

***I'm Special: "Special," however, was a word Calhoun reserved for Price's performance.

Price canned four 3-pointers and doled out eight assists in an effort that further put him in "that special category of player that we've had who, in big-time games make big-time plays," according to Calhoun. "He was absolutely special for us."

In what's becoming somewhat of a hallmark for the senior guard, Price reeled off a personal 8-0 run late in the first half that dazzled the crowd. In the span of 37 seconds, Price nailed a pull-up 3-pointer, scored on a 2-on-1 break with Kemba Walker and canned another pull-up trey that gave the Huskies a 46-22 lead with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left in the half.

***Sweet From 16 Feet: Apparently, Adrien can hit from the foul line extended in the flow of the game, but not so much when play has stopped. He went 1-for-4 from the charity stripe this afternoon and is now 6-for-17 from the line for the tourney. Yet Adrien buried 11 of 16 shots from the field, the vast majority on 15-footers.

Seems his mid-range shooting ability didn't make A&M's scouting report.

"I don't know what scouting report they were watching," Hasheem Thabeet said with a smile.

Added Adrien: "They should have definitely adjusted after I hit the first two."

***Temper, Temper: For the second straight game, an opposing coach got hit with a technical foul. A&M's Mark Turgeon got T'd up after Hasheem Thabeet was fouled with 9:58 left in the half. As usual, UConn got plenty of whistles to go its way. In a twist, the Huskies took advantage at the charity stripe, hitting 13 of 14 in the opening half and 21 of 27 for the game.

***Hasheem Who?: The Huskies held a commanding, 18-point lead at halftime. Yet just 14 seconds into the latter half, Thabeet picked up his third foul. After Josh Carter banked in an offensive rebound with 17 minutes, 47 seconds left, Texas A&M was within 14 (53-39) and on the brink of making things interesting.

And less than a minute later, Adrien went to the bench with his third foul. Yet the Huskies stemmed the tide, thanks to the strong play of Gavin Edwards off the bench, along with another top-notch effort from Stanley Robinson.

By the time Thabeet returned to the game with 11:18 to play, the Huskies' lead was 22.

"We actually gained a little bit during that period of time," noted Calhoun.

Edwards finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. Robinson, on the heels of 52 points in his previous two games, had 12 points and five boards and held A&M top scorer Josh Carter to 3-for-13 shooting.

***A Sort of Homecoming: Edwards' strong play helped punch him a ticket home. The 6-foot-9 junior forward was born in Phoenix and grew up a little over an hour away in Gilbert, Ariz.

"It feels good," Edwards said. "I haven't been home in a while."

Indeed, Edwards said the last time he was home was for "34 hours, two days before Christmas." Before that, he was home for a couple of months over the summer, after completing some summer school courses on campus.

***Who sang "A Sort of Homecoming"?

***Return Engagement: This will be the second trip to the Sweet 16 for seniors Adrien and Austrie. The two were freshmen on the 2006 team that wound up losing to George Mason in the Elite Eight.

"It feels great," said Austrie. "Back then, I was a follower, I was wide-eyed … now I feel like I'm one of the leaders on this team, and I can talk to younger guys. It feels great to go back."

Adrien echoed those sentiments: "It's different, but they're both great. I definitely play a lot more minutes than my freshman year, so I'm more part of it – a bigger piece."

***One Moment in Time: The most meaningless basket of the game was actually extremely meaningful for one UConn player.

With 31 seconds left to play, Jim Veronick, a senior walk-on from Durham, grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a turnaround jumper for the first two points of his career. Veronick, a Coginchaug High graduate, has seen his only playing time of the season in UConn's first two NCAA tournament games.

***Who sang "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"?


Watching the waning seconds of Villanova's brutal dismantling of UCLA (and ex-Pitt coach Ben Howland) in front of about 12,000 Wildcat fans. 'Nova's a good team and will be a tough out for Duke or Texas next week.

If you're wondering why Villanova got to play essentially a home game for its first two NCAA tourney games at the Wachovia Center, it's because the Wildcats only played three games here this season. Per NCAA rules, a team may not play any tourney games at a site at which it plays more than three games during the regular season.

As for UConn, the Huskies watched the first half from the end zone seats behind one of the baskets, then filed into their locker room, to the catcalls of several Villanova fans.

There should be a good number of UConn fans in the building today, but likely at least an equal number anti-Husky fans (Villanova fans, a smattering of A&M fans, and neutral fans simply looking for an upset -- however minor).

Today's game officials: Bob Donato (did Jim Calhoun just get sick again?), Joe Lindsay and Patrick Evans.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A&M Radio (and Video)

Here's what we've got today from the Wachovia Center, where UConn, Texas A&M, Villanova and UCLA met with the media and held closed practices. (UConn actually practiced earlier in the day for two hours at the historic Palestra, home of Penn and its coach, Jim Calhoun disciple Glen Miller):

***As covered in a prior post (scroll down), Calhoun is back with the team and feeling great after being given a clean bill of health. He said he was champing at the bit to get out of the hospital last night.

"I started bargaining, using tickets, anything I possibly could, to get out of there as quick as I possibly could: T-shirts being sent to their children, their next of kin, anything I could think of to get out of there as early as I can."

Didn't work.

***Here's some video of Calhoun talking about yesterday's trip to the hospital, and his current health situation.

***Texas A&M is a long, athletic team that can shoot the ball pretty well and rebound, too. The Aggies shot 44.6 percent from the floor this season and 36.6 from beyond the arc. They outrebounded their Big 12 foes by nearly five per game.

A&M is 16-1 when it scores at least 72 points, including 8-0 in Big 12 play. It's 18-2 when shooting at least 43 percent from the floor. In their last seven games, the Aggies have shot 49.6 percent from the floor and 43 percent from Trey Land, going 6-1 in that stretch. They hit their first 10 shots in a 79-66 first-round win over BYU on Thursday and never looked back.

***The Aggies are led by 6-7 senior forward Josh Carter, who averaged 14.1 ppg this season and was an all-Big 12 Third Team pick. Derrick Roland, a 6-4 guard who earned Big 12 All-Defensive Team honors, will guard A.J. Price tomorrow.

Carter will guard red-hot Stanley Robinson.

"I watched him grab a rebound yesterday and I was like, 'Whoa,'" Carter said. "He's a freak athlete … (but) I'm up to the challenge. He's a great player, a great jumper. He's probably the first one I'll face who's that athletic. But I look forward to it. I'll just do what I usually do, try to keep him off the boards and make it hard for him."

***Only Fifteen. Hasheem Thabeet needs 15 points to become the 43rd UConn player to reach 1,000 for his career. He'd be the fourth current member of the Huskies to do so, joining Price, Jeff Adrien and Jerome Dyson. This would be the first time UConn has had four 1,000-point scorers on the same team.

***The 99 Pub. Adrien and Craig Austrie will go for their 100th career win against A&M. They're 99-31 in their four years at UConn.

***20-20-20 Vision. In the romp over Chattanooga, UConn had three players (Robinson, Price and Thabeet) go for 20 points for the first time in a game since a December, 2003 win over Ball State. Emeka Okafor (25), Ben Gordon (25) and Denham Brown (20) did the honors that night.

***On the Double. Adrien and Thabeet each notched double-doubles against the Mocs, just the fifth time in Husky history that teammates have done so in an NCAA tourney game. The last time: Okafor and Johnnie Selvie in a 2002 opening-round win over Hampton.

***Bringin' on the Heartbreak? A&M is one of 16 schools to appear in the last four NCAA tournaments. Its last three trips ended in heartbreak, losing in the final three seconds each time. LSU's Darrel Mitchell hit a long 3-pointer with three seconds left in a loss to the Tigers 2006, Memphis's Antonio Anderson made two free throws with three seconds left for a 65-64 win in 2007, and UCLA came from behind for a controversial, 51-49 win last year.

***Who sang "Bringin' On the Heartbreak"?

***"40 minutes to Phoenix." That's Calhoun's mantra, as a UConn win would send the Huskies to Glendale, Ariz. (about 12 miles from Phoenix) for the West Regionals.

***So here's a story that animal lovers (like myself) will hate at first, but ultimately enjoy.

The other night, I and a couple of other writers pulled into the hotel parking lot after dinner in South Philly. As we get out of the car, we hear several loud "Meows" from an obviously distressed cat nearby.

The Post's Neil Ostrout notices a pillow case in between cars, from which the imperiled cat's crying is emanating. A closer look reveals that the top of the case is tied in a knot. Some idiot actually put a cat in a pillow case, tied it up and left it in the parking lot. Sick world.

Anyway, Neil unties the case and the cat walks out – not frantic, hinting that it was pretty well-domesticated. The next couple of days, the cat is seen everywhere – the parking lot, inside the hotel lobby. And here's the happy ending: a hotel manager apparently has decided to adopt the black-and-white cat and take it home.

Calhoun: 'I Didn't Realize I Was That Healthy'

He's baaaack …

Jim Calhoun was back at the Wachovia Center today for a 30-minute press conference (typically, only 20 minutes are reserved for players and coaches).

He seemed in perfectly good spirits, complete with some typical self-deprecating humor and wisecracks. Here's some of what Calhoun had to say about his bout with dehydration that caused him to missed Thursday's first-round win over Chattanooga:

I fully expected to coach the game yesterday early in the morning, 10, 11 a.m. I mentioned to Jeff Anderson, our doctor, that I wasn't feeling particularly well (and) had felt weak for a couple days, but no problem. He said, 'Let's go down and have you checked out'. So we went down. I was checked out. Next thing I know, this hour or so turned into being admitted so they could do a full and thorough examination. They looked at virtually everything, it seems, and came out with the fact that I probably was totally dehydrated. They could find that out. I left early this morning. I bribed my way out of there as quick as I could. Quite frankly, I feel good now. I probably feel good because, once again, I got a full physical examination. I will say one thing. The full exam, which got high ratings, did not include a psychiatrist.

(on George Blaney)
I can only make this about a friend. When I called him about 7 a.m. He said, 'Where are you?' I said, 'Quite frankly, I'm getting ready to get out of the hospital. His response was, (unenthusiastically) 'Oh.'I think it was that picture in USA Today. That was George's response when I told him I was on my way back to the hotel. In all honesty, the farthest thing from my mind, this is really true, sometimes you know if -- everybody hears of some illnesses, any different type of thing, and I'm thinking of the game even in the ride over just to be checked out quick to see everything. Next thing I know, they put a bracelet, I was admitted. I was the most shocked guy in the world. Right now, I practiced with the team at the Palestra. I had to only walk a couple paces to join the team over there, got to practice with the kids. We will go out to eat tonight and have our chart talk. I'll get a chance to talk to almost all the kids.

(on this being somewhat of a yearly occurrence)
I missed 10 games or something (actually 21). I had looked at it and I said the other day, I've coached 1,142 games. I had to look at the sheet, so I knew. It isn't like it happens every single day. I haven't had a great run over the last year certainly of not having something happen, at least it seems, from cancer to shingles to this, although this was not an illness really, it was something where I didn't feel well. Normally, if I probably hadn't gone, got such expert care at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, they wanted to be exceptionally thorough, and they were very thorough, as in the whole time that I was there. But bottom line is that, you get to the fighting part, then you realize that bracelet, unless you can whip up on a couple security guards, you're not going anyplace, and I wasn't going anyplace.

Once again, if you get me a day or two before an NCAA tournament game, I go back to the kids. On occasion they tell me, Coach, I'm a little bit high strung, nervous before a game. I said, There's a guy named Bill Russell who threw up before every game. He turned out okay, the greatest winner ever. Biased, but the greatest winner ever. I have the stats on that one to prove it. And there is no game that I've ever approached that I don't feel that in my stomach, okay? And I felt a little bit the night before, but nothing really drastic. But in the morning I just felt lousy. So I thought Jeff could give me something. Jeff said we can either go right around the corner here, up to Penn, we'll do this and that. Once again, one thing led to the other and I had no choice in the rest of the matter.

(on whether there could be any lingering health issues for him)
I'll probably take it the other way. Actually the opposite. I got more than a clean bill of health. Once again, I'll preface by saying no psychiatric tests were taken. So we have to keep that in mind. Regardless, quite frankly, I didn't realize I was that healthy. I didn't feel that way, you know. That's the honest truth. There's no guarantees in life and all that type of thing. But I left there feeling awfully good because they did an extensive look at me to make sure everything was okay.

(on the coincidence of missing all or parts of games in both the 1999 and 2004 tournaments)
I hope it is. I do remember those years vaguely, some good things happened to us at the end, if I had my druthers. You know, I really can't -- it doesn't seem that my body picks its spots. I think it's different because I didn't feel that I couldn't get to the game or I had to sit or anything else. As I said, when I told our doctor, I mean, I was not by any stretch of the imagination, if I hadn't told him, I wouldn't have gone over at 11:30 a.m. to watch the first game and keep on going. So it wasn't quite that critical. I still remember San Antonio, he came over, had a suit on, I was soaking wet. Kind of knew then that I wasn't going to the game. Maybe it's an omen or something. Hopefully it is. I wouldn't necessarily like these types of omens. I'd rather have the kids play. If they play like they did yesterday, everything else will work its way out.

Clean Bill of Health for Calhoun

Jim Calhoun was released this morning from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with a clean bill of health. His grandchildren came to town last night, and he's reportedly in very good spirits. Calhoun was with the team at practice earlier today at The Palestra.

Calhoun will conduct his scheduled press conference today at 2:40 p.m.

Huskies Play 3:30 p.m. Saturday

UConn will play the second game of Saturday's doubleheader in Philly, starting around 3:30 p.m.

Villanova-UCLA will kick off the day's coverage on CBS at 1:05 p.m., and UConn-Texas A&M will follow after the conclusion of that game. Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas do the honors.

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.

Calhoun in Hospital

Jim Calhoun was admitted Thursday afternoon to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, will remain in the hospital overnight for observation and is listed in good condition.

Calhoun was accompanied to the hospital by UConn Director of Sports Medicine Dr. Jeff Anderson and was admitted this afternoon.

"I have been feeling lousy for the past several days and this morning talked to Dr. Anderson about it," said Calhoun. "He recommended that I not coach in the game today and stay back at the hotel. As the day went on, he suggested that we go over to the hospital to have some testing done. Fortunately, those tests have all gone well and I am feeling much better. I will stay the night as a precaution and anticipate being checked again in the morning and being able to leave the hospital at that time."


Wow. Impressive. A 48-20 halftime lead, a 25-2 run (despite six straight missed free throws from Jeff Adrien). I honestly thought Chattanooga would put up a better fight than this. The Mocs had one field goal over the final 12 minutes of the opening half.

UConn is simply too big, too talented, too … everything for the Mocs. The Huskies are getting the ball inside effectively, and when Hasheem Thabeet or Adrien don't have a shot, they're kicking it out effectively to guards for open jumpers. And the guards, for the most part, are hitting them.

And Chattanooga is yapping a little bit. At one point, referee Dwayne B. Gladden told Moc forward Kevin Goffney to "keep your mouth shut" while yapping at Stanley Robinson as Robinson stepped to the free throw line. A.J. Price smiled like an assassin as he pulled up for the third of his three straight 3-pointers during a 10-0 personal run midway through the half. 'Nooga coach John Shulman got T'd up after complaining that Thabeet wasn't called for a foul on a blocked shot with 3:45 left.

There's one other thing worth noting here: the Huskies tend to play a lot freer and looser when Jim Calhoun is not on the sidelines, and that's the case today. The man is a Hall of Fame coach, one of the greatest of all time. But, at least initially, UConn players seem a little less nervous, a little less gun-shy about getting yanked after one mistake, when Calhoun isn't on the bench.

Not to say this will continue if Calhoun isn't able to coach any of UConn's ensuing games (and by most accounts, that doesn't seem like it will be the case), but for at least this afternoon, this seems to be a much more relaxed Husky squad.

More on Calhoun ...

Jim Calhoun's son, Jeff, said he saw his father this morning at the team hotel and asked if he wanted him to stay with him rather than go to Wachovia Center for today's game. Jim Calhoun said don't worry about it, so we're assuming this illness isn't too serious.

A list of games that Jim Calhoun has either missed or left early over his 23 seasons at UConn:

1. Dec. 23, 1990 vs. Fairfield (HCC) W 94-70 Flu-like symptoms, chest pain

2. Feb. 22, 1993 vs. Maine (HCC) W, 108-72 Food-related

3. Jan. 29, 1994 at Pittsburgh W, 88-67 pneumonia symptoms

4. Feb. 1, 1994 at Syracuse L, 108-95 pneumonia symptoms

5. Nov. 24, 1998 vs. Hartford (HCC) W, 95-58 intestinal virus

6. March 11, 1999 vs. UT-San Antonio W, 91-66 intestinal virus

7. Jan. 3, 2000 vs. Sacred Heart (HCC) W, 83-56 stomach cramps

8. Feb. 3, 2001 vs. Virginia Tech (GP) W, 85-72 light-headedness, flu-like symptoms

9. Feb. 5, 2002 vs. Providence (HCC) W, 67-56 food-related

10. Feb. 5, 2003 vs. Virginia Tech L, 95-74 prostate surgery

11. Feb. 8, 2003 at Providence W, 84-68 prostate surgery

12. Feb. 10, 2003 vs. Syracuse (HCC) W, 75-61 prostate surgery

13. Feb. 15, 2003 at Villanova L, 79-70 prostate surgery

14. Feb. 19, 2003 vs. Rutgers (HCC) W, 87-70 prostate surgery

15. March 20, 2004 vs. DePaul (left and returned) W, 72-55 flu-like symptoms

16. Jan. 16, 2006 at Syracuse W, 88-80 dehydration

17. Jan. 13, 2007 at St. John's (MSG) (left and returned) W, 68-59 flu-like symptoms

18. Jan. 8, 2008 vs. St. John's W, 81-65 dehydration, light-headedness, fatigue

19. Jan. 12, 2008 vs. Georgetown L, 72-69 intestinal virus

20. Jan. 3, 2009 vs. Rutgers W, 80-49 flu-like symptoms, shingles

21. March 19, 2009 vs. Chattanooga ????????????????????????????????

Calhoun Won't Coach Today

This from UConn sports information a minute ago:

University of Connecticut head men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun will not coach today's NCAA Tournament First Round contest against Chattanooga at Wachovia Center.

"Coach Calhoun has not been feeling well for the past several days and it is best that he not coach the team today for precautionary reasons," said UConn Director of Sports Medicine Dr. Jeff Anderson.

Dr. Anderson is with Coach Calhoun, who is not expected to be at the arena for the game today. Associate head coach George Blaney will direct the UConn team today in Coach Calhoun's absence.

A report that Calhoun may miss more than just today's opener was labeled "absolutely ridiculous" by UConn men's basketball media relations director Kyle Muncy.

The last time Calhoun missed an entire NCAA tournament game was on March 11, 1999, for a first-round game against Texas-San Antonio. Calhoun was sidelined by an intestinal virus, and associate head coach Dave Leitao led UConn to a 91-66 win.

Calhoun left a second-round tourney game against DePaul on March 20, 2004, only to return later in the game. The Huskies beat the Blue Demons (who were coached, ironically, by Leitao), 72-55.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Philadelphia Freedom

Greetings from Philadelphia, home of Rocky Balboa, Will Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Sun Ra, Hall and Oates, Geno Auriemma, Kobe Bryant, the Iggles, 76ers, Flyers and world-champion Phillies (and Soul!). And a lot of historical figures, too.

Day One of the NCAA tournament got off to a slow start … literally. The wireless Internet ($16.50 per writer!) took quite a while to get going this morning. Lots of writers couldn't get on, and those that could were met with glacially slow Internet access. Nothing worse than a bunch of disgruntled writers who can't get on the Internet they (well, their company) is paying for.

But, the problem was solved, and everything's good.

Here's some news, notes and quotes from the Wachovia Center, where UConn will face upset-minded (and very loosey-goosey) Chattanooga tomorrow around 3 p.m.:

*** Craig Austrie will return to the starting lineup this afternoon. Freshman Kemba Walker started over the slumping Austrie in Thursday's Big East tourney loss to Syracuse.

"Craig and I have a very close relationship," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "He's always been the guy that, 'OK, now you're going to start after not starting 12 games, or you're going to have to sit because Marcus (Williams) is coming.' He's always been there as a guy, a player, a teammate. I took him in my office (and told him), 'I really believe in you … much more than you do.'"

Calhoun said he told Austrie, "You start on Monday in practice and you carry it, you'll start Thursday. He's had three good practices."

Austrie will start off guarding Mocs leading scorer Stephen McDowell, who canned 135 3-pointers this season.

***Here's a Register video of A.J. Price talking about the challenges UConn faces tomorrow, and a bunch of other stuff.

***It will be one year ago on Saturday that Price's season was unceremoniously ended by a torn ACL in the Huskies' first-round loss to San Diego. He went through long months of rehab to get back in time for the start of this season, but even he marvels at what Chattanooga's Khalil Hartwell has gone through.

Midway through last season, Hartwell tore his ACL in a game against Davidson. He finished the game but sat out the next four, and it seemed obvious his season was over.

However Hartwell begged to keep playing. Doctors eventually gave him the OK and, wearing a knee brace, he finished out the Mocs' season, even going for a career-high 19 point and 11 rebounds in a win over College of Charleston.

"I wasn't the same player, it took me a while to get adjusted to the brace," Hartwell said. "But I was still able to get out there and give some good minutes, help my team get some more victories. My team was better off with me than without me."

Hartwell added that his ACL was "completely torn. They said I might have had an old injury before, then all of a sudden after hyperextending it, it completely tore. The doctor said in the next 30 years, he may never see anything like that again, that it was a miracle what I was able to do with a torn ACL."

Count Price as being impressed.

"I know how difficult it is to come back from an ACL injury. So, for him to do that, that is really impressive."

Could Price have done the same thing?

"I don't think so. That does say a lot about him."

***Jimmy Fallon is picking Chattanooga to win the NCAA tournament this season. That's certainly funnier than most of his Weekend Update performances.

*** The Hasheem Thabeet Factor could be huge tomorrow.

Opposing centers going up against Thabeet for the first time – or one of the first times – in their career don't normally have good results. Last season, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody got off to a good start against Thabeet, but had three quick shots blocked after halftime and went 0-for-8 in the second half. This season, Louisville freshman Samardo Samuels appeared completely intimidated by Thabeet's presence, going scoreless in 19 minutes of play.

"Two shots," Price noted. "Two shots."

Indeed, Samuels took just two shots all night.

"It's almost like a 'wow' factor," Price added. "The first time (they) get on the court with him, they realize he's very athletic. He's not your typical 7-3 guy, if there is a typical 7-3 guy. He's very different. People that play against him for the first time, even in the Big East … it is very difficult for them to react and adjust on the fly."

Such is Chattanooga's challenge this afternoon.

"We can't back down, but we've got to be smart," said Shulman. "We're not going to sit there and challenge him all night long at the basket. A lot of people tried that. If it doesn't work for some of the Big East people, trust me, it doesn't work for Chattanooga. We have to make sure he goes this way, away from the basket, make him defend a little bit away from the basket."

According to Thabeet, the feeling-out process works both ways. Here's what he has to say about that -- and Jimmy Fallon's prediction -- in a Register video.

***Register columnist Dave Solomon doesn't believe ducks can fly. Geese, even turkeys, sure, but he insists ducks can't fly. Can someone please straighten him out?

Austrie to Start

Craig Austrie will start for UConn in tomorrow's NCAA tournament first-round game with Chattanooga. This according to freshman point guard Kemba Walker, who started over Austrie in the Huskies' six-overtime loss to Syracuse on Thursday night.

Much more to come from Philly ...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't Mock the Mocs

It's amazing, the more you hear about a team you've never seen play, from both common opponents and the team itself, the better that team seems to get. If you're not careful, you might seriously start thinking Tennessee-Chattanooga can pull off the upset of UConn on Thursday.

Back to reality. A team that lost to Fairfield by 19 early in the season (the same Fairfield that was popped by UConn by 20 a month later) can't really be a serious threat to the Huskies, can they? Can they really become the first 16-seed to beat a 1?

Well, no. But here are a few things that might at least make UConn fans at least a little nervous:
  • The Mocs don't seem like they'll be intimidated. "We've all seen (UConn) play, they're on ESPN and SportsCenter every night," said senior forward Nicchaeus Doaks. "We'd laugh about it, all throughout the year, if we played against UConn in the tourney, what we're going to do against Adrien, Thabeet, Price ... Now, those jokes are going to be realilty in the coming week. We'll just play with our hearts, do what we do, and we'll look up at scoreboard and maybe there'll be a surprise."
  • And this from Chattanooga coach John Shulman: "We'll have great preparation this week. If I haven't prepped team to get a win against UConn, I've done my team a disservice."
  • Stephen McDowell can flat-out shoot the rock. He averaged 18.6 points per game this season and shot the 3-pointer at a 43.4 percent rate! Said Fairfield coach Ed Cooley: "McDowell can single-handedly keep you in the game, the way he shoots the ball. That would be the one thing that Connecticut must be aware of. I don’t think they’re going to get second shots on Conn. Like they do at our level."
  • Doaks (a 6-7 forward) and 6-5 guard Kevin Goffney also score in double figures, while guard Khalil Hartwell averages 9.1. Cooley was also impressed with 6-6 athletic junior guard Ty Patterson, who averages 8.4 points off the bench. "To me, it's all about McDowell and (Patterson)," said Cooley.

  • When the Mocs began their season with losses to Tennessee, Missouri, Memphis, USC (all tourney teams) and Fairfield, they did so without Goffney, whom Shulman labeled "our MVP and best player." Goffney fractured his ankle less than a minute into the Tennessee game. He missed eight games, but since his return, the Mocs have been much better.
  • Hartwell tore his ACL in a game last year against Davidson. The following week, he went to Shulman and said, "Coach, I want to brace it up and play." Shulman said no way; Hartwell insisted. So, he braced up his knee and played out the rest of the season, notching a couple of double-doubles, then had surgery after the season. What does this have to do with the UConn game? Nothing. But it sure tells you that this kid has some heart and toughness.

Worried yet? Don't be. The Mocs have a few things to worry about, as well. For instance:

  • UConn doesn't lose to teams it's supposed to beat -- at least not in the past two seasons. Seriously, other than Georgetown this year and San Diego last year, when's the last time you were shocked at one of its losses? And San Diego was obviously good enough to be a tourney team, so that shouldn't even count.
  • Fairfield held McDowell to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting by face-guarding him all over the floor.
  • The Mocs have never faced anyone like Thabeet before. "He's a little different than what we see every day," said Shulman. "We've got a 7-1 guy (Jeremy Saffore), but trust me he's not 273 ... We are prepared. I am inside-oriented guy, so we're prepared. We're not as physical as Pitt. We can't be (DeJuan) Blair, we can only be who we are. "
  • Chattanooga is 5-10 on the road this season and 0-3 on neutral courts.
  • The Mocs don't have much size down low. "There’s no answers for their interior guys," said Cooley. "Doaks is good, but good at the mid-major level and good at the high-major level is a different kind of good. If I go to a party with Denzel Washington, I’ve got no chance. I'll end up with Roseanne Barr."

Will the fat lady sing for UConn on Thursday? Nope. But the Mocs aren't going to go down without a fight.

Special NCAA Section

The Register will feature a special NCAA tournament section on its website, featuring stories, videos, etc. throughout UConn's run. (Yes, I'll be wielding a web camera while in Philly and beyond. Should be interesting. And expect some Podcasts from Dave Solomon, too).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

All Aboard!

Some notes & quotes from Selection Sunday at Gampel Pavilion, where UConn learned it's the No. 1 seed in the West and will face Tennessee-Chattanooga on Thursday in Philly:

Jim Calhoun: "Even in 2004, as good as we were, we were a two-seed. And we won a national championship. This is an objective committee saying that they're one of the four best teams in America. That's a nice thing to be able to hang up on your wall."

Calhoun admitted he thought the loss of Jerome Dyson might have an impact on whether the Huskies got a top seed or a No. 2 seed.

"I was nervous that they were going to make that a factor ... but I think the body of our work was just too strong, and all those wins on the road – at Louisville, at Marquette, at Gonzaga – those things really hold an awful lot of weight. I think they had a tough time turning that down, the fact that we were just so strong on the road."

Memphis got the No. 2 seed in the West and, obviously, would face the Huskies in the Regional finals if both are able to get that far.

***Following UConn's marathon, six-overtime loss to Syracuse Thursday night/Friday morning, Calhoun was oddly critical of his team -- even saying, at one point in the post game presser, "We didn't come to play."

But upon a couple of days of reflection at his Madison home, he has come to realize what a special game that truly was.

"I’m still probably really upset, because I think when you play the sport and they keep score, you should try to win. (But) I really came to appreciate, without any prompting … just how proud I was of our kids, and just the grit they showed. I don't think they showed great execution, but in a game like that, you can almost throw that aside.

"From Hash diving, at 7-foot-3, to get a loose ball and call a timeout, to Gavin (Edwards) coming in and blocking shots, to A.J. stepping up big-time, to Stanley … and to Syracuse's kids. I think every kid was truly tested in an athletic sense. Never have I been involved with a greater test with what an athlete has inside."

In fact, Calhoun even felt the loss to Syracuse may have actually benefited the Huskies in the eyes of the tournament selection committee.

"I'm not so sure the six-overtime (game) didn't tell them, 'I think this team's body of work is great, but they also have some grit to them.' That might have helped us, in a strange sort of way."

"As we leave for Philadelphia on Tuesday, I know I'm taking a pretty gritty bunch of guys. I knew that, to some degree, with all the road wins. But given the circumstances, I'm just so proud of them, I really am."

Jeff Adrien learned something about his team against Syracuse.

"That we don't quit. We fight very hard to the end. A lot of teams could have quit, maybe in the third overtime. But we kept fighting, and obviously Syracuse kept fighting, too. It showed that guys really wanted it, and we weren't going out without a good fight. It's very unfortunate that we didn't come out on the winnings side, but it definitely was a great experience."

Adrien believes that's something that will carry over into the NCAA tournament. Calhoun agrees.

"As we leave for Philadelphia on Tuesday, I know I'm taking a pretty gritty bunch of guys," said the coach. "I knew that, to some degree, with all the road wins. But given the circumstances, I'm just so proud of them, I really am."

***Both of UConn's national titles, in 1999 and 2004, came out of the West Region. Of course, so did last year's first-round exit to San Diego.

***UT-Chattanooga earned an automatic bid by beating the College of Charleston in the Southern Conference tournament finals. Calhoun watched that game with interest because his close friend, Bobby Cremins, coaches College of Charleston.

"They're a very, very quick basketball team," Calhoun said of the Mocs. "They'll come at us, they seem fearless. We know that Texas A&M and BYU are there, but they're there for Chattanooga, too."

Calhoun likened Chattanooga scoring leader Stephen McDowell to Miami's Jack McClinton.

***Injuries may have had an effect on several teams' seedings, including North Carolina, which was the third overall seed -- due in part, most likely, to the questionable status of point guard Ty Lawson.

"They probably called Carolina, and Carolina probably gave the same answer I would have, that he'll be fine for next week. I'm sure he'll play, there doesn't appear to be anything broken."

***Don't tell Adrien he's in a slump.

"Slump? I don't feel like I'm in a slump. I definitely may be, since Jerome's gone, he had helped me out a little bit with maybe finding me a little more or whatever it was. But there's other ways of scoring and helping my team on defense. I've just got to figure it out. I've done it before, and I'll do it again."

***A.J. Price's father, Tony, helped Penn (not Princeton, as I originally wrote) to a Final Four in 1979.

"He'd always say that was easy, and I need to take it one step further," said A.J. "That's this team's goal to try to get to Detroit and play in that Final Four."

***Price's only personal NCAA tourney memory came last year, when he tore his ACL nine minutes into the eventual overtime loss to San Diego.

"You definitely want to get out there more than nine minutes," he said.

Sixty-one again, A.J.?

"Not that long."

***Just went from the media room into the Gampel gym to make a cell phone call, and there was Craig Austrie, hours after the rest of his teammates had left, working on his jump shot. Don't tell me he's not trying.

UConn Gets No. 1 Seed in West

So UConn gets the No. 1 seed in the West Region, edging out Memphis. I thought the opposite might be the case, but then I've never considered myself much of a Bracketologist.

UConn will play No. 16 seed Tennessee-Chattanooga in its first-round game on Thursday in Philadelphia. The only other time the Huskies have pleyd the Mocs was on March 16, 1995, in another NCAA tournament first-round game. UConn won that game easily, 100-71. Going scoreless with one rebound in one minute of play in that one for UT-Chattanooga? T.O. himself, Terrell Owens.

The Mocs are led by Stephen McDowell, a 5-11 grad student who averages 18.6 points per game. Nicchaeus Dokes, a 6-7, 239-pound senior forward, averages 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.

More to come ...