By the Time They Get to 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"?