Friday, February 27, 2009


February 28, 2009

Following a seven-game losing streak, Notre Dame has made things interesting by coming back to win four of their last five games, moving to 7-8 in the conference. However, climbing to that magical benchmark of .500 in the Big East is a tall order on Saturday as the Irish have to travel to Storrs to take on UConn on Senior Day.

The Huskies will be honoring their senior basketball program members, including AJ Price, Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie. The energy and emotion of the day will have Gampel Pavilion abuzz from the get-go, making it a tough atmosphere for any visitor.

Earlier this season UConn defeated the Irish 69-61 at the Joyce Center in the game that ended the record-setting Irish home win streak. While there might be an element of revenge at work for Notre Dame, the Irish do not match-up well against the Huskies.

Neither team has much depth and the presence of 7’3 Hasheem Thabeet and the powerful Adrien will make things very tough for Luke Harangody, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, who is a walking double-double for the Irish. While Harangody is likely to still register his normal 25 points and 14 rebounds, expect it to be an extremely hard-earned stat-line. Even during the seven-game losing streak, Harangody continued to put up big numbers, but the efficiency of his output dropped significantly. Much of that was due to the lack of support from the players around him.

While Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney have picked up their games in the recent weeks as the Irish have returned to winning ways, they will have to do so on Saturday against once of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation. With the perimeter in lock-down mode and Thabeet inside, the high-powered Irish offense will likely be tested like no other time this year.

With the loss of Jerome Dyson, UConn is definitely a more vulnerable team as they will miss Dyson’s ability to break down defenses and his own defensive abilities. However, one very uplifting development from their recent win at Marquette was the 19-point, 10-rebound performance of Stanley Robinson. Finding offense from Robinson, which has been sorely missed this season, could go a long way to helping the Huskies recover some of the punch lost with Dyson’s injury.

Saturday is likely to be a very emotional day for UConn point guard AJ Price who has been through a tremendous amounts of highs and lows in his five years as a member of the UConn program. Wednesday night was among one of the highest highs as Price poured in a career-high 36 points in a win over Marquette and helping Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun to his 800th career win. Now on Senior Day, the coach and his seniors can be honored together for their accomplishments and are likely to go out in style.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 84
Notre Dame 69

UConn-Notre Dame Preview Capsule (Norwich Bulletin)
Seniors Still Working on UConn Legacy (Hartford Courant)
Poor Record Could Hurt Luke Harangody's Player of the Year Hopes (Chicago Tribune)


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Thursday, February 26, 2009


By Zach Smart

It wasn't a coming out party as much as it was a loud thud of a wakeup call for UConn wing Stanley "Sticks" Robinson.

The message sent to Sticks during the Huskies' 93-82 win over No.10 Marquette Wednesday night?

You can be a dominant player in this league, but you've got to want it.

Sticks, a starter averaging a meager five points, wanted it bad.

The freakishly athletic 6-foot-9 jumping jack used his explosive first step, attacked the rims early and often, and scored crucial buckets en route to a wowing 19-point, 10-board performance.

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From the beginning, Sticks played like a possessed man, soaring in for emphatic two-hand dunks and letting out ecstatic roars that ignited his teammates and bench.

"If he can play 60 percent of that, we can maybe overcome Jerome (Dyson)'s loss," said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, who became just the seventh coach in NCAA history to reach the 800-win milestone.

"It will be hard though," he told ESPN after the game.

There had been a mammoth man hunt out for Sticks' game, seen only on milk boxes and missing signs prior to Wednesday night.

The Connecticut State Police nearly called off the search warrant after Robinson busted out for 18 points in a drubbing of Providence on Jan. 31.

But the offensive woes continued for Robinson, who averaged over ten points last year.

Calhoun challenged the junior from Alabama to step it up, explaining he needed much more out of the kid with athletic gifts few players can simulate.

As good as Robinson was at Marquette, he was hardly the headliner.

A.J. Price poured in 36 points, establishing a new career-high. He left the nets burnt on 8-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc.

It's this type of game that Calhoun has come to expect from his high pressure and high caliber point guard, a kid who he remembers hounding down at Amityville (N.Y.) High back in 2004.

Marquette may have suffered a severe setback with the loss of electrifying guard and floor leader Dominic James.

James played just four minutes and left the game with a broken foot. He could be out for the remainder of the season.

Calhoun consoled him after the game and told him too keep his head up. Price also offered his support to his counterpart.

The two teams ran toe-to-toe in the first half, engaged in a wild game of momentum tennis.

The seesaw battle became most intriguing around the 7-minute mark of the second half, when UConn freshman Kemba Walker's traditional 3-point play gave the Huskies a 76-74 lead.

A pair of Hasheem Thabeet free throws padded the lead to 78-74.

Sticks then converted an errant shot into a putback plus the foul. He knocked down the free throw to complete the three point play.

On UConn's ensuing possession, Sticks recovered an up-for-grabs rebound and threw down an authoritative two-handed dunk that had him screaming louder than any of the 19,091 in attendance.

This is the Sticks who UConn needs to see more of.

With Dyson's scoring aptitude and propensity to turn steals into fast break dunks off display until next season, the time is now.

Sticks can be as good as anyone in this wild, talent-leaking conference.

He's got to want it.


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


By Zach Smart

UConn hasn't seen a four-guard attack of this type since 2006. That was Villanova, who's four-guard operation took the NCAA by storm.

But Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, Kyle Lowry, and Randy Foye already put their stamp on the Big East.

This time, the Jerome Dyson-less Huskies play a Marquette team with three fabolous guards--who it seems have been playing together for more than four years--and a versatile 6-foot-6 forward parked on the blocks and forced to play out of his nature this year.

Lazar Heyward will have his hands full with towering 7-foot-3 Center Hasheem Thabeet and boardsmith Jeff Adrien, but the junior from Buffalo, N.Y. has given an efficient account of himself this season.

Heyward, quite undersized in the Big East, has shown good life from beyond the arc (38 3PM in 27 games), taken the ball to the tin (he gets to the line early and often and shoots his freebies at an 83 percent clip) and materialized as one of the best catch-and-release players in the NCAA. He's shot the rock at a 46.4 percent clip and led the Golden Eagles in points-per-minute last season. The key for the Huskies is to not let him get open and force him to put the ball on the deck and try to take somone off the dribble. He's an off guard camoflouged as a forward, one who thrives in Buzz Williams' offense.

While UConn may be able to exploit the mismatch, and the presence of Thabeet will likely keep Heyward from going to the rack, Heyward can dial in a timely trey or feathery jumper. He's also a defensive stalwart, with the ability to clamp down on anyone on any given night.

UConn had a veritable lockdown specialist in Dyson, who's been the team's best on-the-ball defender since his freshman season. One way to make up for Dyson's defensive prowess, and against this team they will certainly need it, is to get more aggression out of senior guard Craig Austrie.

Austrie was austere against Notre Dame last month, when he did a commendable job on Kyle McLarney. Austrie threw the sniper into a 3-for-15 nightmare that saw him go 0-for-the century in the second half.

Austrie will also have to step it up offensively. A senior and homegrown product, Austrie has yet to eclipse 10 points against top-notch competition. He hit crucial treys in the win over Syracuse, and needs to put forth a similar effort against Marquette. Conservative play has lowered Austrie's stock throughout his career, and with Dyson's 14.3 points, 3.2 assists, 1.5 treys per game not on hand, there's no tomorrow.

Another area that Dyson's absence effects the Huskies is in the run and gun game. Dyson was a big part of UConn's speedball, hellfire operation with his explosive finishes and ability to facilitate a fast break. Marquette has plenty of guards that can run the floor and finish in the open court.


Jerel Mcneal recently became the school's all-time leading scorer. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard has been smoking this season, shooting the rock at a 43 percent clip from the perimeter and 48 percent from the field. He's averaging a team-high 20 points and averaged a sublime 25.1 points during six straight wins from mid-January to early February.

Dominic James, who's name was littered in NBA draft talk following his freshman season, is explosive, athletic, and scary with his first step. And if you think Dyson has some bounce at 6-foot-3, you should just see this freakish 5-foot-11 cat's springy hops. James' numbers have dwindled since he was Big East Freshman of the Year, but he shoulders a solid assist-to-turnover ratio and is the offensive operator/heart and soul of the team.

Guard play has been an aspect so paramount to success in Big East basketball this season. UConn's A.J. Price, who's become one of the top guards in the conference and the go-to-guy in pressure situations, will have his hands full. Reiterating what I said before, Austrie will need to step his game up. Kemba Walker, a major presence in UConn's running game, needs to look to score more.

The quartet of McNeal, James, Heyward, and Wesley Matthews (18.7 ppg) have all eclipsed 1,000 points in their career. Relative balance in the scorebook pays dividends for the Golden Eagles. If one of these guys isn't feeling it, another guy can step in and pick him up.


Marquette plays around nine guys per game but doesn't have a great deal of production coming off the knot. Pint-size point guard Maurice Acker showed promise during last year's Big East tournament, but he hasn't seen significant opportunity this season. UConn, on the other hand, has about as much depth as a kid's pool. The season-ending injury to Dyson and 7-foot-1 center Charles Okwandu's academic ineligibility has limited them to a 7-man rotation, with the occasion no.8 thrown in the mix. That man was seldom-used freshman Scottie Haralson Saturday. Donnell Beverly has had his cameos, but the last thing UConn needs is another guard. Gavin Edwards, who averages four points and three boards but can be a solid supplement to Thabeet or Adrien, played just four minutes against South Florida. If anything will hurt UConn in this conference, it's the lack of bench depth. Beverly, Haralson, or whoever it may be must get acclimitized to significant minutes. Marquette clearly has the upper hand on the Huskies in this category, and getting Thabeet in foul trouble can change the game.

-Marquette suffered a wild, 57-56 upset loss to South Florida on Feb.6. They were drubbed by Villanova. Still, the Golden Eagles (like UConn) have just two conference losses to date.

Calhoun Wont Let Huskies Look Ahead (TheDay.com)
UConn Matches Up Well vs Marquette (Courant)
Match-ups: Connecticut vs. MU (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Stakes are Sky-High for Match-up with Huskies (Journal-Sentinel)
Marquette vs. Connecticut GameNight (CollegeHoopsNet.com)
Calhoun's Focus on Present, Not History (Norwich Bulletin)
Huskies Thabeet a Beast Dow Low (Journal-sentinel)

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 70
Marquette 66


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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


By Zach Smart

There's been a number of wild encounters between the media and UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun. Most remember his "I f****d up" rant. This profanity-laced tirade emerged after New Haven Register columnist Dave Solomon questioned him about his recruitment of Waterbury, Conn. forward Ryan Gomes. Gomes starred at Providence and currently plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Coach Calhoun on Gomes Recruitment

Calhoun's penchant for four-letter words has been notable in press conferences. Most recently, we remember the Hall of Famer lashed out on the media over the way they jumped on the Doug Wiggins-Jerome Dyson arrests story.

“I'd like to have you working hard on the team and do your (blanking) job instead of trying to hurt younger people because you feel someone's pressuring you. It's really unfortunate, it really is,” said Calhoun, following the Huskies' 68-63 victory over then no.7 Indiana on Jan. 26, 2008.

"You've done your job, things were reported, and you'll know the information as soon as it comes out. I told you they would not be playing tonight or the next game and I told you this week that something would come out but that's not good enough for you, you've got to go into P.I. (private investigator) mode. If that's what you want, go ahead. Just make sure when you make that call and it doesn't get answered, that you're fooling with my kids. Fool with me now, say I'm a bad coach, I shouldn't discipline. OK? Just so we understand that, just so we all understand each other," said Calhoun.

In his 23rd year as the Huskies head coach, Calhoun demands his respect. The legendary coach who's scored 999 wins has fielded trillions of questions from a number of journalistsas. Some of these guys are as vindictive as the reporter played by Al Bundy in the 1994 film, "Blue Chips." As the aforementioned youtube material and rant at Indiana last year indicates, Calhoun has been in a barrage of heated arguments and put a number of individuals on blast.

Nothing, however, was more whacky than Calhoun's sudden spat with a political activist/freelance journalist following UConn's 64-50 victory over South Florida at the XL Center.

Ken Krayeske, who is currently enrolled as a UConn law student, spoke out for himself and was owned by Calhoun, who had been very calm throughout the press conference.

"Considering you're the highest paid state employee in a $2 billion budget deficit," Krayeske asked before Calhoun abruptly interrupted him.

"Not a dime back," said Calhoun, instigating laughter throughout a press conference that's garnered national news and has made waves on YouTube and ESPN.

"Not a dime back, I'd like to be able to retire someday."

When Krayeske asked Calhoun about his contract with Comcast, indicating that his salary is affecting the state’s economic quagmire, Calhoun gave a terse response.

"You're not really that stupid, are you?"

But when Krayeske interjected by saying "yes, I am," Calhoun thoroughly walloped the magazine writer.

"My best advice to you: shut up...Quite frankly, we bring in $12 million to the university, nothing to do with state funds. We make $12 million a year for this university. Get some facts and come back and see me!''

It made for a pretty awkward moment.

Krayeske, a Syracuse graduate, operates a blog, www.the40yearplan.com.

Krayeske has written for High Times, the notorious marijuana monthly and admits to “dropping LSD and smoking copious amounts of marijuana” during his Syracuse days.


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Saturday, February 21, 2009


February 21, 2009

By Zach Smart

HARTFORD--Jim Calhoun was angry. He was angry at his team for putting together a lackluster first half in which they shot the ball at a meager 14-for-37 clip. He was angry at his guards for not knocking down easy shots early. He was angry that they were letting the South Florida Bulls, who've won just three Big East games this season, run with them and match them on the glass.

He sent his first message to his starters in the first half, inserting seldom-used freshman Scottie Haralson for two minutes. If his message wasn't clear enough at halftime, Calhoun--never one to mask his frustration--made his voice heard in the second half.

After Augustus got free for a two-handed jam, Calhoun signaled for forward Gavin Edwards to get out of the game. He nearly walked on the court and pointed at Edwards, yelling at him to take a seat.

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Moments, later, Calhoun's frustration compounded. A.J. Price threw up a high lob for Stanley "Sticks" Robinson. Robinson caught the ball away from the basket, but still tried to complete what would have been a rocking dunk. South Florida got the rebound and executed a fast break that resulted in a Dominique Jones dunk, slicing the Huskies' lead to 46-40 with 11:48 to play.

Calhoun called a timeout, nearly pulled his hair out, and unleashed a few choice words at his players.

Whatever it was Calhoun said, it lit a fire under the No.1 ranked team in the country. The Huskies rattled off a 9-0 run capped by a Hasheem Thabeet layup. Wedged in the run was A.J. Price's deep 3-pointer and a solid move in which Price shook a defender off the dribble, exploded to the basket and kissed one off the glass.

UConn's lead ballooned to 55-40 and the Huskies never looked back.

"It was a hard bounce back game," said Jim Calhoun, whose team improved to 13-2 in the Big East and resuscitated themselves following a tough-to-swallow loss against Pittsburgh on Monday.

"You want to get back into the fray and get going. All of a sudden they’re taking 25 seconds off the shot clock. That caused us not to play anywhere near the type of defense we need to play early or rebound."

Jeff Adrien, the senior strongman and boardsmith, was off his game offensively. Albeit he pulled down nine boards, Adrien shot just 4-for-14 and missed shots at point-blank range.

Center Hasheem Thabeet, who turned in a Houdini-like performance against Pitt, picked up the slack for his teammate. Thabeet, who loves to feast on smaller opponents, scored 21 points and snared nine rebounds. The 7-foot-3 mountain of a man blocked six shots and changed a laundry list of others.

"At first we went almost four minutes without scoring, and coach joked that it would be a 20 point half," said Thabeet. "We had to pick it up. We were successful when we did that. It’s always tough when we’re coming back from a loss like we had a week ago. Everybody was mad and we came back and everybody wanted to win."

In the first half, it looked like everybody wanted a day off.

Both teams came out of the gates Alaska-cold, until Robinson's putback on a Craig Austrie miss jump-started a 9-0 run. South Florida thwarted the run on a Chris Howard trey from the top of the key with 14:14 left to play in the half.

A coast-to-coast layup by Kemba Walker gave UConn a 23-14 bulge, and the Rice High product gave UConn a 31-20 halftime lead as he once again drove the ball to the rack for a buzzer-beating layup.
UConn was sluggish in the second half, until a 9-0 burst broke the game open with 7:46 to play.

The tempo of the game was the single most important thing," explained Calhoun. "We’re going to see that at times….We don’t know if we’re going to see a slow-down game, per se, but I think it was a difficult game to bounce back."

Bulls head coach Stan Heath lauded Thabeet, who's a surefire first round pick if he declares for the 2009 NBA draft.

"To see him up close, he’s so impressive," said Heath. "You can just see how much he’s improved from last year to this year, especially on the offensive end. He’s always been unbelievable on the defensive end, but offensively he’s much more comfortable making post moves, hit a 15, 12-foot shot. He always so tough on the offensive glass."

Next Stop: Milwaukee.

The Huskies will be put to the test against a Marquette team front-loaded with senior talent Wednesday night.


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Friday, February 20, 2009


by Zach Smart

Jim Boeheim said it.

In a recent interview with SNY, the longtime Syracuse game general pointed out that South Florida copped their first conference win by giving Marquette--a team loaded with four standout 1,000-point scoring seniors--their first loss.

Anything can happen. In a conference filled with a buffet-line of promising talent, anyone can knock off anyone.

Heading into their matchup with UConn (24-2, 12-2) the Hasheem Thabeet phenomenon could have sent shivers down SFU's spine. But Thabeet was neutralized, significantly, on Monday night. He scored just four points and was a non-factor after getting into foul trouble during their 76-68 home loss to Pittsburgh.

The Panthers' DuJuan Blair, a sophomore strongman, took the ball to Thabeet early and often. He pounded his way into the paint. He put the ball on the deck and posted up on the 7-foot-3 mammoth of a man. He beat him to the boards and found various ways to score--putbacks, fallaway jumpers, refined back to the basket moves that Thabeet can't simulate, and so forth.

Unfortunately. South Florida does not have a Dujuan Blair on their roster. They don't even have a Kentrell Gransberry anymore. Gransberry, one of the most under-appreciated bigs in the conference last season, is playing professionally in France.

The Bulls have a 6-foot-10 center in Alex Rivas-Sanchez. Excluding games against Virginia, Notre Dame, and Marquette, the wiry big man from the Dominican Republic hasn't been much to write home about. He's averaging a meager 3.1 points and 4.3 boards in just 14.6 minutes for a squad that acknowledges the gap that was created when 2008 graduation claimed Gransberry.

Guard Dominique Jones (18.2 PPG, 4.0 APG), on the other hand, has been nothing short of a problem. We know you haven't heard much about him with the laundry-list of guards in the Big East--like Dominic James--that make headline after headline. In a guard-heavy Big East, Jones would be raved about if he didn't play for the cellar-dwelling Bulls.

Jones hung 35 on West Virginia, 29 on Providence, and 26 on DePaul. Prior to the 2008-09 campaign, Jones said a personal goal for his team would be to win every out-of-conference game. He's a realist when it comes to the talent level of the Big East and where his team stands this year.

While his wish didn't pan out--Niagara, Vanderbilt, Wright State, and Oral Roberts all had their way with SFU in the non-conference slate--Jones scored 15 points and handed out four helpers as the Bulls defeated Marquette in the upset of the century. It was South Florida's first-ever victory over a top-ten ranked opponent.

The Bulls, however, have tailed off the past two games--dropping a 10-point loss to a sleepwalking Notre Dame team before getting clubbed by a struggling Georgetown team, 65-40.

Jones is averaging just 13 points in the last two games. The kid who has yet to play under 32 minutes in a game this season--a pretty solid indicator that he's the heart and soul of this ailing program--will need to be at his best Saturday. While he's relied on to score the basketball, Jones means so much more. The 6-foot-4 guard can sky for rebounds (he turned in a 26 and 10 double-double in a nine-point loss to DePaul and combined for 17 rebounds in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Providence.

South Florida shoots 30 percent from beyond the confines of the arc. They will not have much of a choice on Saturday, as Thabeet's presence is felt all around the key.

Just ask Seton Hall. Thabeet loves to eat up guards that take the ball to the cup and changes the trajectory of a number of shots throughout the game.

-For UConn, A.J. Price has looked more and more like the player that took the Big East by storm last season. Price is averaging 12.4 points and 4.6 dimes, but is the guy the Huskies go to in the clutch or when in need of a timely trey. The Amityville, N.Y native hit big threes and showed resolve during the Pitt loss. Price had 29 during a crucial win over Villanova last month, but his streak ways have continued.

-Jeff Adrien, newly minted member of UConn's elite 1,000 and 1,000 club has been playing the best ball of his life. Averaging a double-double with 14 and 10, Adrien should get the Huskies kick-started tomorrow.

A Look Back: In 2006, when UConn was hanging around the No.1 mark and punishing teams not named the Wildcats during the regular season, they never let a bottom feeder close to them. This was of course, in Big East action. If you remember correctly, a SUNY-Albany team sporting t-shirts with "Why Not Us?" emblazoned on the back nearly became the first team in NCAA history to upset a no.1 team as a No.16. Some people have compared this team's success to that team. So, if the Huskies are anything like that dominant 2006 squad, which was robbed by George Mason in the elite eight, they will bludgeon South Florida tomorrow. They won't waste time in the early going, as they did during their cupcake non-conference schedule. They will get after it from the get-go, get a comfortable margin, and never let up.

But don't forget, this is the 2008-2009 Big East we're talking here...To paraphrase Kevin Garnett, "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!"

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 78
South Florida 53

UConn Men Anxious to Get Back to Work (TheDay.com)
Bull-fighting in Hartford (Journal Inquirer)
Thabeet and Co. Look to Rebound (Norwich Bulletin)
USF’s Jones Has Unbuckling Bond with Father (St. Pete Times)
Huskies Should be Ready to Go Today (Bristol Press)
UConn Neess to Rebound from Loss (CT Post)


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Monday, February 16, 2009

No. 1 UConn Hosts Pittsburgh on Big Monday

February 16, 2009

Super powers collide on Big Monday as Pittsburgh travels to Hartford (CT) to take on Connecticut in a battle of a pair of teams ranked nationally in the top five. Connecticut, riding an impressive 13-game winning streak, puts that streak on the line in one of two match-ups with the Panthers down the stretch. These two teams will square off once again to close the regular season on March 7th in Pittsburgh.

The Huskies were a preseason favorite to win the Big East and be a leading challenger for a national championship. Even some roster upheaval has yet to slow them down as they are sitting at 24-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Prior to the start of the season, freshman wing Nate Miles was expelled from the school. Freshman recruit Ater Majok was not cleared academically by the NCAA and will not be eligible to play for UConn until December of 2009. Sophomore JUCO transfer Charles Okwandu has been declared academically ineligible and is not going to play the rest of the season. Even with those expected contributors not suiting up, UConn has rolled along to a 12-1 mark on conference play and has not lost a game in 2009 as their last lost came on December 29th in the Big East opener against Georgetown.


However, their latest personnel matter might deliver a weakening blow to their chances of a Big East title and a run to a national championship. Starting shooting guard Jerome Dyson was injured in the early minutes of the Huskies 63-49 win over Syracuse last Wednesday. Dyson suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and is scheduled to have surgery on Monday, a procedure that could end his season. Dyson had been averaging 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and led the team with nearly 2 steals a game. Dyson is often their emotional leader and, even though his all-out play could sometimes be out of control, his aggressive nature would inspire teammates. He was also a strong perimeter defender, the type of player that would ‘hold you together’ according to UConn Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.

Last season, without Dyson, UConn beat Pitt in Hartford, 60-53 as the Huskies outscored the Panthers 9-2 in the last 2 ½ minutes of the game. Pitt led much of the second half, but AJ Price hit the big shots down the stretch, finishing with a game-high 21 points.

Pitt did not have two very key players in last year’s game that they have now: Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon. Fields was out with a broken foot and Dixon was playing at Tallahassee Community College.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has termed Fields play of late as ‘unbelievable’ as the senior point guard is averaging 13.3 points and 8.3 assists in the last seven Big East contests, reaching double figures in scoring each time. What has been the most incredible part of Fields’ play, in those seven Big East games, he has turned it over just 14 times. Even more impressive, in his last four games, Fields has 49 assists and just 6 turnovers.

Dixon has quickly developed into one of the best on-the-ball defensive stoppers in the conference, something Pitt really has lacked the last two seasons. On Saturday Dixon had the assignment of silencing Deonta Vaughn and did so, holding UC’s leading scored to just three of seven shooting and nine points in 37 minutes. He has also made Jonny Flynn disappear for about 36 minutes of their earlier contest with Syracuse and, because of the Dyson injury, Dixon will draw the assignment of guarding AJ Price. Dixon is athletic and taller than any guard Pitt has recently had. Coming off the bench behind Dixon is sophomore Brad Wanamaker (averages 7.8 points in Big East play) and the defense does not fall off very much. Gilbert Brown is another wing sub and he, too is a top defender. Brown was a starter last season when Pitt met UConn, this time he is the 7th man in the rotation, showing that Pitt is a deeper club this year.

In the match-up last season, Sam Young scored 18 points and DeJuan Blair had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Hasheem Thabeet, who is coming off a 25-point, 20-rebound and 9-block performance in a 62-54 win over Seton Hall on Saturday, had just six points, seven rebounds and five blocks in the meeting. However, he was clearly on the Panthers minds as Young and Blair combined to shoot 12-35 from the floor with many of the misses coming inside.

Thabeet also had 8 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks in last week’s win over Syracuse and he has anchored a defense for the Huskies that has sparkled of late, allowing just 55 points a game in their last seven contests, with nobody scoring more than 61. Even more impressive is the fact that UConn has allowed just 0.80 points per possession in that timeframe, which would easily lead the nation if it was done for the entire season.

In a true match-up of offense versus defense, it is Pittsburgh that enters the game as the nation’s most efficient offense, averaging 1.243 points a possession according to www.kenpom.com and has done so against the nation’s 19th toughest schedule (UConn’s schedule is rated as the 29th toughest). Usually defense wins out, but will the absence of Dyson knock the UConn defense down a peg or two?

Connecticut is listed as a 3 ½-point favorite. If there is a team in the Big East that is not intimidated by UConn it is Pitt. While the duo of Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will win their share of battles on the boards and swat some shots, Pitt will keep coming at them. The biggest fear for Pitt is a too-hyped DeJuan Blair and that could lead to him finding himself in some foul trouble. If that happens, Pitt will be in trouble because they are not nearly the same rebounding team with him off the floor. One good thing for Pitt, though, is Thabeet is not always that active setting screens and forcing Blair to hedge and show on the perimeter, a spot where he tends to pick up some cheap fouls. With that being the case, I think Pitt pulls this one out in a meat-grinder type of game. The Husky team has been through a lot the last 11 months, and it might just catch up to them a little in this game.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 65
Connecticut 61

Here are some pregame stories and previews linked from around the internet:

Blair to Test Improved Thabeet (Hartford Courant)
Pitt Hopes to Knock Off No. 1 (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Clash With Pitt Could Decide Big East (Norwich Bulletin)
High Stakes for Huskies With Pitt in Town (Connecticut Post)
UConn Men’s Gameday (Connecticut Post)
Blair, Pitt ready to Take on UConn (FoxSports.com via Post-Gazette)
Pitt Shifts Focus to UConn (Beaver County Times)
Dyson Cautious About Return (Waterbury Rep-Am)


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Saturday, February 14, 2009


February 15, 2009

Hasheem Thabeet showed why he might be the biggest game-changer in the college game today. With the Connecticut perimeter offense stalled in their first game without the injured Jerome Dyson, UConn Gets 25 Points, 20 Rebounds & 9 Blocks from Thabeet in Win over Seton Hall (Briston Press). The Husk defense limited the Pirates to 31% shooting, despite a career day from John Garcia, in the 62-54 win.

Seton Hall had won five consecutive games after starting the season 0-6 in Big East play. However, their perimeter offense went south in this one as Robert Mitchell (4-19), Jeremy Hazell (3-13) and Eugene Harvey (5-22) combined to shoot 12-54 from the field.

Garcia hit 10 of 13 shots from the floor and grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked 6 shots himself, to go along with 22 points.

Thabeet's partner in crime Jeff Adrien added 14 points and 15 rebounds as UConn overcame their own perimeter scoring troubles as both AJ Price and Craig Austrie shot 2-10 from the floor. Husky fans will hope the duo got that out of their system with Pitt coming to Hartford on Monday.

Seton Hall falls to 5-7 in the Big East and travels to Milwaukee to face Marquette on Tuesday night.


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February 14, 2009

The two hottest teams in the Big East collide in a high noon showdown at the Prudential Center in Newark (NJ) on Saturday. The Connecticut Huskies, winners of 12 in a row and currently ranked No. 1 in the nation take on…Seton Hall? Yes, that’s right folks, outside of UConn’s 12-game win streak, the SHU win streak of five is the second longest in the conference now after Villanova’s loss last night.

Connecticut enters Saturday’s contest with an 11-1 Big East mark and a 23-1 overall record. The Husky defense has been devastating in recent weeks and they have not allowed more than 61 points in a game since January 21st, a stretch of six games where opponents are averaging just 55 points a game and just 0.815 points per possession.

With college basketball’s most intimidating eraser in the post, 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, the game plan and preparation of opponents is altered as often as their shots on gameday.

“For Thabeet we’re going to use a hockey stick for a couple of days to try to get ready for it,” SHU coach Bobby Gonzalez said this week in the coach’s conference call with media members.

For Seton Hall, 5-6 in the Big East, a date with the Huskies can be a true measuring stick of their progress this season. The Pirates began conference play 0-6, but have rebounding with five consecutive losses. However, UConn has more conference wins (11) than the aggregate total of the five SHU victims (9-48).

Seton Hall began their streak as the worst (statistically) defensive and rebounding team in the Big East. However, in their five wins, they have limited opponents to 63.4 points a game and a point per possession ratio of 0.97, which is a bit better than their seasonal mark of 0.996 according to www.kenpom.com. In their six losses, SHU allowed 90.5 points a game and 1.23 points per possession. How bad is that mark? Well, of the 344 teams in Divison 1-A basketball, the worst ratio for any team on the season is 1.21.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on the contest:

Huskies Get First Look at What Life After Dyson Looks Like Today (Middletown Press)
Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez has Never Seen Anything like Hasheem Thabeet (Star-Ledger)
UConn Begins Life After Dyson (Connecticut Post)
Seton Hall Center Leads With His Legs (NY Times)
UConn Men: Stand or Fall (Journal Inquirer)

So, on Saturday we will get a chance to see where SHU is. There are some factors in their favor. One, UConn is dealing with an injury situation as junior guard Jerome Dyson is out indefinitely after tearing the lateral meniscus of his right knee in Wednesday’s 63-49 win over Syracuse. Two, UConn likely can’t help but peek at least a little bit toward Monday’s huge top five showdown with Pittsburgh. And, three, Seton Hall is a confident crew that has their coach believing big things are ahead.
“Seton Hall has been playing basketball for 105 years and they’ve never beaten a team that’s No. 1 in the country, not ever,” Gonzalez said in the conference call. “[UConn] is always going to be great, I’m sure. But eventually we’re going to beat them.”

Will that eventually come on Saturday? That is probably too tall of a task right now for SHU. Although they have a starting five that can play with anyone straight-up, it is when adjustments need to be made and different looks that SHU has no answer for while other teams can go to their bench or call on a different style of play.

SHU guard Jeremy Hazell is the league’s second leading scorer and will be looking to bomb away and he has the confidence to get hot and keep the Pirates in it. But in the end, Thabeet and Jeff Adrien are too much muscle inside and AJ Price is a steadying influence on the perimeter and veterans Craig Austrie and Stanley Robinson have stepped up before when Dyson missed time due to a suspension last year, look for them to do it again this season and surpass the college basketball betting line for the contest.

NBE Blogger Preview:

Connecticut 78
Seton Hall 64


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Thursday, February 12, 2009


by Zach Smart

Hasheem Thabeet’s confidence has suddenly become cockiness. While this
rugged mentality is norm for the UConn big man, some of Thabeet’s
colorful antics were off the wall on Wednesday.

Thabeet swatted and plucked seven shots while he altered, influenced,
and changed the trajectory of countless others during UConn’s 63-49
victory over rival Syracuse.

He gave several players his trademark stare down after blocking their
shot. During one sequence, Thabeet blocked a Jonny Flynn shot attempt
that triggered a fast break.

Thabeet once again applied the staredown at Flynn, jogging down the
court while a frustrated Flynn trailed him. Thabeet jolted in front of
Flynn and whipped his hand behind his back, as if to give Flynn a
sarcastic high five, and Flynn batted it away.

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Prior to the game, the UConn fans treated Thabeet to chants of “One
More Year!”

Thabeet, whose name is littered on NBA mock drafts as a consensus
top-five pick, probably won’t meet the wishes of his loyal fan base.
While his larger-than-life presence and nose for the ball has already
elicited a whirlpool of drool from NBA scouts, Thabeet is far from

He still needs to develop refined, back to the basket moves and kick
the habit of putting the ball down in the paint. He could be as good as
anyone in the country if he just goes up strong and avoids putting the
ball down.

During the first half, when UConn had trouble with Syracuse’s patented,
traditional zone, Thabeet didn’t post anyone up or establish himself
offensively. If he could float freely along the baseline and work off
of Adrien via picks, he would be much more of a scoring threat.
Instead, he was parked on the blocks and a non-factor offensively. Guys
like Amare Stoudemire and Tim Duncan will be playing with house money
if they are matched up with Thabeet.

Let’s not forget, he hasn’t been playing organized basketball for that
long. He doesn’t have the skill set that guys that lived on AAU,
constant skill development camps, and coaching clinics galore have
developed over time.

Still, if Thabeet is to live up to his high draft stock and pan out at
the next level, he must become more assertive offensively.
Defensively, you can’t ask for anything more from the 7-foot-3
behemoth. He’s been playing above the law and challenging every shot,
making life hectic around the key and in the paint. Offensively, you
need more post moves and production out of the Tanzania native.

Harris And Calhoun Exchange Words: After Paul Harris’ fastbreak
coast-to-coast dunk knotted it up at 35 with 16:51 remaining, he
touched the ball and was charged with a delay of game warning. Running
down the other side of the floor, Calhoun made a comment to the former
Notre Dame Prep forward. Harris quickly retorted, and referee Jim Burr
got involved by stopping the game. After chatting with Boeheim for a
few minutes, while a rowdy crowd pegged the Syracuse bench—prime
targets Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf, mostly—with insults, Burr got
the game going again.

Both coaches wrote the incident off as nothing.

“Paul Harris, who I’ve known since he was a freshman in high school ...
he and I were joking during the game," explained Calhoun. "He said
something, I said something back. Just kidding with him and then Jimmy
Burr came into the situation. I have great respect for Paul. He’s a
terrific competitor."

According to Boeheim, Harris said something on the lines of “I’m
getting going.”

“To me, it was nothing,” said Boeheim. I don’t know what it was. It was
nothing of importance.”

Harris, who hung 24 points on UConn during last year’s rivalry week
meeting, was held to just five points on 2-for-8 shooting. Harris’
numbers have dwindled. Last year, both Harris and Flynn were a
veritable batman and robin. This, mostly because scoring threats of
Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins sidelined with injuries.

Gone Camping: UConn fans took in the recent good weather by camping
outside the Gampel Pavilion the night before the rivalry week feud. Two hours prior to the game, a line longer than the modern-day unemployment line formed outside of the arena. Huskies fans were decked in team attire and held up giant “No.1” signs. As a college student, class should be the No.1 priority, right? But when the school is No.1 in the nation, distractions tend to crack the surface.


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By Zach Smart

Storrs, Conn.—Considerable balance in the UConn scorebook helped the No.1-ranked Huskies run off their 12th consecutive victory.

Despite losing scoring leader Jerome Dyson—who was helped off the court after knocking knees with Syracuse’s Kristof Ongenaet—everyone got into the act for the Huskies, Wednesday night.

The senior trio of AJ Price, Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie scored crucial buckets, the towering presence of Hasheem Thabeet kept the rims locked, and freshman guard Kemba Walker operated offense like a senior, as the Huskies came up with a convincing 63-49 victory. The Huskies are now 23-1, 11-1 in the ultra-competitive Big East.

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The storied rivalry was renewed in dramatic fashion, though it didn’t come to a last second shot (remember, Jonny Flynn’s 3-point prayer from the parking lot fell short last year) this time.

A deep 3-pointer from Craig Austrie capped a pivotal 8-0 spurt, breaking the game open with 11:56 remaining in the second half. Austrie’s trey, which nearly blew the roof off a strongly partisan, jam-packed crowd of 10,167 at the Gampel Pavilion, gave UConn a 52-40 cushion they wouldn’t squander.

“Jim’s (Boeheim) team came in here, as we thought they might, very hungry,” said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun.

“They did a terrific job in the zone, in the first half, of matching up to us. He’s seen all this “stuff” – our offense – before. In the second half, we were fortunate to make some adjustments, and run a little bit of man stuff and try to get some movement in our offense.”

Syracuse’s trademark zone threw UConn out of their groove early on. The Huskies failed to identify the 7-foot-3 Thabeet, and the guards forced the tempo. This led to a torrent of turnovers, as the Huskies committed 14 of their 20 total turnovers in the first.

“The defense was fine, we just didn’t convert offensively,” said Boeheim, who’s team shot a below freezing 28.6 percent in the second half, en route to a meager 22 points.

“When you play a team as good as Connecticut is, you have to convert…Thabeet is as good as or better, defensively, than anyone that’s ever been in the league. When we had the opportunities, a couple of shots (led to) great blocks.”

Thabeet, who scored eight points and ripped down 16 boards, finished with a game-high seven blocks.

His presence proved problematic for Syracuse big men Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. The tandem combined for just six points and 10 rebounds. UConn won the battle on the boards by a 42-34 margin.

Onuaku has been nicked up, favoring his knee.

“Arinze is trying to work his way back into playing form,” said Boeheim. “He’s not playing the way he is capable of.”

The Orange (18-7, 6-6) desperately need him to.

Syracuse frittered away a sublime start and have now lost six of their last eight games.
How do the slumping Orange hope to rebound from another tough road loss?
“We can’t hope to, we have to,” said a dejected Andy Rautins, who the Huskies clamped down on. Rautins scored just seven points on 3-for-8 shooting.

“It was a tough battle tonight. Right now, though collectively we know we have to bounce back. We’re 6-6 in the Big East right now, we know that’s not good enough.”
The frustration could be felt inside the Syracuse locker room, where you could hear a pin drop.

“We just gotta approach the next game the same way we approach every game,” said Eric Devendorf, who scored 12 points. “We’ve got to play grind it out defense.”
It was offense that killed them tonight.

Syracuse came out of the gates strong, seizing an 18-13 lead after a Devendorf broke down the defense and converted a scoop layup. The lead became 21-16 after Ongenaet banked an off-balance shot.

At the intermission, the Huskies were clinging to a 30-27 lead.

UConn jump-started a 13-4 run midway through the second on three straight free throws from A.J. Price. Price had drawn a foul in the act of shooting a three.

On the ensuing possession, Walker converted a pick-pocket into a fast break lay-in. Then, Austrie’s trey gave the Huskies a commanding 12-point edge that prompted Boeheim to call for time.

“Everybody is on the same page right now,” said Walker, who had seven points, six boards, and two steals.

“Everybody is hungry to win. Everybody thinks this is our chance.”

UConn spokesmen Kyle Muncy confirmed that Dyson suffered a severe bruise and should be fine. Muncy said there is no concern over an MCL or ACL injury.

"The doctors both checked him out (and) there are no structural issues," explained Muncy.

"Just a severe bruise to his right knee. Dr. (Jeff) Anderson said he was banged into so hard, he could have hyper-extended it or just kind of locked it up a little bit."

Dyson, a junior who averages 13.2 points, is yet to miss a game due to injury.

Price led all scorers with 17 points, on the strength of four 3-pointers. Adrien chipped in with 12.

Flynn paced Syracuse with 16.


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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


February 11, 2009

by Zach Smart

Rivalry week hits the state of Connecticut with more juice than Florida this Wednesday.

Two always-formidable programs under two Hall of Fame head coaches that think the world of each other and employ a no-nonsense mentality while trying to run longtime perennial powers, meet at the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

Wednesday looks to be a jumpoff of all sorts as UConn and Syracuse renew their storied rivalry.

Both teams enter the game on opposite sides of the mountain.

Syracuse has lost five of its last seven after ripping off a sizzling seven-game winning streak, one that vaulted them into the Big East’s upper-echelon.

A turnover-plagued, arctic shooting performance produced easily their worst loss of the season Saturday, a 102-85 shellacking at the hands of Villanova.

How the mighty have fallen. Suspect defense rolled the red carpet out for NBA prospect Dante Cunningham, who scored a career-high 31 points and ripped down nine boards as No. 16 Nova rolled to their fifth straight.

UConn, on the other hand, has been back, hit the ground running style. They pummeled a heating up Louisville team in a big resume win last week, and outlasted a hungry Michigan team at home this weekend.

The No.1 Huskies have not only become the team with the bullseye on their back, but they’ve racked up enough individual accolades to fill a trophy room in the process.

In addition to watching players eclipse the 1,000-point milestone, super-sized bigs Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet have surfaced as candidates for the prestigious John R. Wooden award.

Adrien became the fifth player in the NBA breeding machine to eclipse 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Thabeet, whose game tailed off before he exploded for a triple-double against Providence, is playing the best ball he’s ever played. The 7-foot-3 beanstalk’s ability to influence, manipulate, change, and alter the trajectory of shots around the key has been a major factor for a team that’s apparently forgotten how to lose lately.

Game Notes:

-The best thing the Huskies can do is spread the length of the floor and get guys like Adrien and Robinson (that is, if he rips the straightjacket off his game) to float freely. Adrien, who's evolved into the Huskies' leading scorer, is shooting a sizzling 66.9 percent from the floor. It makes sense. His points are mostly the product of dunks and power moves to the cup, though he's added a mini jumper to his offensive repertoire.

-Syracuse could catch the Huskies off-balance if they execute their perimeter game. The Orange have a feast or famine three-point sniper in Andy Rautins (10.1 ppg). Guards Eric Devendorf (15.5 ppg) and Jonny Flynn (17.2 ppg), who combined for 10 threes in a loss to Providence can also dial in from downtown. A zone-buster would be the perfect recipe. UConn's perimeter defense was putrid last season, as they ranked among the conference's worst teams in defending the three-point attack. Michigan’s Stu Douglass, who entered the game averaging five points, scorched the nets to the tune of six treys Saturday.

-UConn guard Jerome Dyson, who loves bullying the marshmallows, needs to begin scoring at will when the stakes are raised. He found his stroke against Michigan, draining three 3-pointers. His cock-back slingshot shooting form seemed to prove problematic last Saturday, as he missed three open treys in the first half. He took a picture of the rim during all three set shots. As a go-to-guy who's great in transition, UConn's 42nd member of the 1,000-point club needs to become more of an aggressive scorer. He needs to ditch the three-point set shots and drive the ball to the cup, what he does best.

- After the search warrant for wiry wing Stanley Robinson's game was called off, Robinson continued his Houdini-like antics at Louisville. The 6-foot-9 forward missed his only two shot attempts, including a dunk, and was saddled with foul trouble.

Pregame stories and previews found on the internet this morning:

Mental Block (Syracuse Post-Standard)
Orange Scouting Report: SU vs. UConn (Post-Standard)
Defense, Resume Building the Huskies' Focus (Norwich Bulletin)
UConn vs. Syracuse Gamenight (collegehoopsnet.com)
UConn, Syracuse Jostling for Postseason Position (Rep-Am)
Thabeet Turns into Game Changer (Rep-Am)
Calhoun Looks to Avoid Run 'n' Gun Game vs. Syracuse (Middletown Press)
Calhoun Wants Huskies to Set Pace Against Orange (Hartford Courant)

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 80
Syracuse 64

Look for the 12 1/2-point favorite Huskies to assume control of this game n the second half. Syracuse will come out with a big effort after their lackluster effort in a loss to Villanova over the weekend. However, the strong frontline of UConn will wear down the Orange and the guards will start to heat up late and Huskies cruise late.


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Sunday, February 08, 2009


by Zach Smart

Storrs, Conn.—Hasheem Thabeet continues to stake his claim as the national Defensive Player of the Year. Thabeet swatted Michigan players audacious enough to take the ball to the cup on the big fella like flies, en route to a 69-61 victory.

The 7-foot-3 mountain of a man registered six blocks and racked up another double-double, scoring 17 points and tearing down 12 rebounds.

This helped No.1 UConn stave off a hungry Michigan team that showed major poise in a hostile environment, to paraphrase U of M coach John Beilein.

Michigan sniper Stu Douglass, a freshman from the Wild Wild West-like, shootist breeding grounds of Indiana, came to the game with a rifle. He scored a career-high 20 points to lead all scorers. Douglass, who entered the game averaging just five points, scorched the nets to the tune of six treys.

Thabeet, the defending national Defensive Player of the Year, is a surefire bet to repeat the honor.

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The junior has registered a whopping 88 blocks in 22 games this season. Thabeet, who was offensively inept as they come and sushi-raw when he arrived at UConn, has suddenly skyrocketed to stardom. Thabeet's name is littered all over NBA mock drafts. He's widely considered a top-five pick.

"The coaches told me not to be sacred about getting into foul trouble so every time I try to help and block it. I’m just trying to change the game," said Thabeet, he of the thick African drawl.

Thabeet sprinkled his teammates with praise, lauding the solid communication on defense.

"Every time my teammate gets beat, I’m there to block the shot. And team defense, the way we talk to each other, they tell me ‘someone got beat, go over there and help.’ So, I go over there and block a shot. The team defense is getting way better. The more we talk, the better we play."

Jeff Adrien scored nine points and swallowed 14 boards, seven on the offensive end. The numbers tap him into an elite society. Adrien is now the sixth player in UConn history to reach the 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound milestone.

"Thabeet is a big story in this game obviously, but Adrien is just…I mean you can't block him out," said Beilein, the former West Virginia coah. Beilein was supplanted by Bobby Huggins in Morgantown following the 2006-2007 season.

"He’s just on mission to get the ball. He just rebounds the ball. I still remember him (when I was coaching) at West Virginia when he was a freshman. We couldn’t stop him them. And now he’s dieseled-up even more."

Douglass shot 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. His quick-strike stroke helped Michigan seize a 29-21 advantage after they reeled off a 9-0 burst with 3:48 to play in the first half. A section of maize and blue-clad Wolverine fans in the house suddenly erupted.

Thabeet thwarted the run with a pair of free throws.

Moments later, Thatbeet's thunderous dunk chopped up the deficit to 31-25 with under three minutes to go. A physical battle between two teams frompotent conferences made for a heart-racing, seesaw first before a packed house of 10, 167 at the Gampel Pavilion.

Ray Allen, the former Huskies standout and newly minted All-Star guard for the Boston Celtics, was in attendance.

Manny Harris (17.7 ppg) and DeShawn Sims (15.1 ppg), the guard-forward tandem that put Michigan on the map after the Wolves' 81-73 upset of Duke back on Dec. 6, were missing in action.

Harris and Sims combined to shoot a paltry 9-for-27 from the floor.

The Wolverines were still willful, employing that never-say-die mentality. Back-to-back three-pointers from Harris and Douglass threatened the lead.

Craig Austrie, who's played for two No.1 ranked Husky teams during his stay at Storrs, answered the call. The kid who Red Sox-crazy coach Jim Calhoun refers to as his "Papelbon," hit a three-point dagger, giving UConn a 64-5620edge with 56 seconds remaining.

That trifecta ruined Michigan's upset-bid.

The school playing with free money nearly looked as if they were playing with house money in the early going, but UConn eventually surged ahead in the second, seizing a 10-point lead they wouldn't squander.

Things got intriguing leading into the half. In a wild sequence, Douglas airballed a three but managed to get the ball back. This time, Douglas splashed the nylon with a shot-clock beating trey from the parking lot, putting Michigan back ahead.

UConn answered, as Thabeet threw down a nasty stickback.

Michigan clung to a 1-point lead at halftime. It was just the second time this season that UConn has trailed at the half.

UConn has now rattled off 11 straight victories. Next stop: Syracuse.

UConn (22-1, 10-1) renews an old-school rivalry at Gampel on Wednesday.

Jerome Dyson, who's apparently kicked the habit of taking a picture of the rim during wide-open set three-pointers, led the Huskies with 19 points. He canned three crucial treys with his unique slingshot.

Beyond Douglass, Harris paced Michigan with 15 points.


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February 7, 2009

It definitely was not pretty, but Connecticut got 19 points from Jerome Dyson and Hasheem Thabeet put together a line of 17 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks as the Huskies Gut One Out (Journal Inquirer), 69-61, over Michigan in a non-league contest Saturday.

UConn trailed 34-33 at halftime, but were too much on their home floor in the second half, winning their 11th straight game as the Huskies Survive Scare (Norwich Bulletin) and remain the No. 1 team in the land.

Jeff Adrien scored nine points and grabbed 14 rebounds as Adrien reaches Milestone (Rep-Am) with his 1,000th rebound, becoming the fifth UConn player with 1,000 points and rebounds in a career.

UConn hosts Syracuse on Wednesday night.


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009


By Zach Smart

Cruising through Jeff Adrien’s bloodstream is an overabundance of adrenaline.

Adrien, a jacked and jacked up 6-foot-7 forward who epitomizes the ultra-physical Big East player, feeds off his own high energy attitude. His workmanlike game (one which he’s added a shallow jumper to) and a heart that pumps lion’s blood revs up the crazy, at times crass UConn fan base.

A Brookline, Mass., native Adrien speaks softly but carries a big stick on the hardwood.

He poured in 18 points, 17 of which came before the midway mark of the second half, as UConn cruised to a 68-51 drubbing of Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals. Adrien also tore down seven rebounds as the Cardinals got too much from Terrence Williams (game and career-high 26 points) and too little from everybody else.

Earl Clark turned in easily his worst performance of the season, a la John Starks in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals. Clark shot an abysmal 2-for-16 from the floor as Louisville (17-4) suffered its first Big East loss.

Adrien’s emergence as Hasheem Thabeet’s bruising buddy down low has been an aspect paramount success. The signature shellacking of Louisville gives UConn a 21-1 record, leaving just one Big East team—Marquette—with an unblemished record in conference play. The formidable frontline seems to inject fear into opponents, keeping prolific scorers out of the paint more often than not.

UConn’s relative balance in the scorebook and ability to seal the basket shut (Adrien and Thabeet, who had four blocks and altered the trajectory of shot after shot) threw Louisville into a 22-for-64 shooting night. It’s become a pattern with the two behemoths down low.

“We made out presence known,” said Adrien, following the Huskies’ 94-61 thrashing of Providence at the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs Saturday.

“Me, Hasheem, and Gavin just want to prove that we’re here, that we’re going to get some buckets regardless. The win gives us great momentum. We were playing a team that had been hot, you know? Almost similar to Louisville, a team that we’re playing (Monday night).

Adrien is almost similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Off the court, he’s as soft-spoken as they come. He’s a chill, muscle-bound kid who slaps hands with an army of kids on his way to the cafeteria.

On the court, he’s in-your-face, cleaning up the glass, and grappling for loose balls as if he just downed a ginseng/taurine mix drink.

He’s the kid who busted out a Superman shirt and cape during UConn’s First Night. The kid who’s registered more double-doubles than any Big East player. The kid who swipes a ball out of an opponents hands after they commit a travel. The same kid Calhoun had to pull from a game against Pittsburgh in the first half last year—for being too revved up.

Adrenaline pumping Adrien is a lot of things. A go-to-guy isn’t really one of them. Yet with his new shallow water jumper, coupled with his penchant for putbacks and his knack for attacking the basket, Adrien has evolved into the Huskies’ leading scorer.

And UConn has become the leading team in the national polls, as the nation’s No.1 ranked team looks to keep rolling.


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Monday, February 02, 2009


February 2, 2009

As long as the voters in the ESPN Coaches Poll and the AP Writers Poll do the expected, the Louisville Cardinals will be welcoming in the second No. 1 team to Freedom Hall in less than a month. Connecticut, on the strength of a 94-61 demolision of Providence, and a loss by Duke earlier in the week, is poised to make the move from #2 in the country to the top spot when the polls are released today.

Pittsburgh saw their reign as the country's No. 1 team come to an end with a 69-63 loss at Louisville back in January. Now, the Cards and a frenzied Freedom Hall crowd will look for a second #1 team to knock off as Big Monday commences with a battle of the two preseason Big East favorites.

UConn may be #1 in the country when these teams hit the floor tonight, but they are still looking up at Louisville in the Big East standings. The oddsmakers do not believe the latest run at No. 1 will last long either, pegging the Cards as 3 1/2-point favorites:

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's primetime match-up:

Now They've Got to Prove It (TheDay.com)
Pitino's Cards Primed for Late Push (Plain Dealer)
Just Another Big Game for Louisville (Courier-Journal)
Huskies Face Formidable Challenge (Rep-Am)
UConn Preview Capsule (Norwich Bulletin)
UConn Plays for Big East Lead (Norwich Bulletin)
Huskies Atop Basketball World - Again (Norwich Bulletin)
UConn set for Big Match-up with Louisville (Register Citizen)
History of UConn as #1 Team (Register Citizen)

This match-up starts right away in one area, the frontcourt. Each team has a starting frontline that could see all six players in the NBE within the next year or two. Louisville starts senior Terrence Williams, junior Earl Clark and freshman Samardo Samuels while UConn counters with junior Stanley Robinson, senior Jeff Adrien and junior Hasheem Thabeet. The UConn trio was instrumental in the thrashing of Providence over the weekend with Robinson playing his best game since returning to the program in December from a semester-long hiatus, finishing with 18 points and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes. Thabeet dominated the paint with a triple-double of 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. Adrien, who came into the PC game with six concesutive double-doubles of points and rebounds, scored 14 points and added 6 rebounds. As a team, UConn blocked 17 shots and outscored the Friars 56-27 after halftime.

Louisville had their own dominate half on Saturday, the first half, as the Cards blitzed West Virginia for a 45-25 lead at the half before putting the game on cruise control and winning 69-63. Jerry Smith hit seven of eight shots to finish with 20 points and freshman Terrence Jennings had a career-high 13 in the win.

Back on January 17th, Louisville played then-No. 1 Pittsburgh and knocked off the Panthers, 69-63, behind 20 points from Terrence Williams and an Earl Clark double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Cards pressure forced 20 Panther turnovers and limited DeJuan Blair to just 20 minutes because of foul trouble. A 19-3 run turned a 10 point deficit into a 6-point lead in the closing minutes and the Cards were victorious.

Tonight, UL will hope that pressure gets to the experienced UConn backcourt that features senior AJ Price, junior Jerome Dyson and senior Craig Austrie and frosh Kemba Walker off the bench. Price has been playing very well of late, averaging just over 19 points a game in the last five and connecting on 50% of this three-point attempts (13-26) in the span after a slow start to the season. Price getting back to form has UConn looking like the national title contender they were exected to be in the preseason as they have won nine in a row.

The Cards have been keyed by their (T-)will to win, as in Terrence Williams. The senior small forward does a little of everything in order to win. He plays defense (team leader in steals at 2.4/game), passes the ball (team leader in assists at 4.7/game), rebounds (team leader with 9.3/game) and scored at nearly a 13-point a game clip. In the last seven games, Williams is averaging 15 points, 11 rebounds, nearly 5 assists and over 2 steals a game.

The senior duo of Williams and Price will take center stage and it will be really interesting to see which one can lead his team to a victory. In the preseason, NBE selected Louisville as the league favorite with an ever so slight nod over UConn (mostly due to UConn's uncertainty with Ater Majok, Nate Miles and Stanley Robinson at the time). Both teams are on exceptional hot streaks and the Cards definitely have a favorable schedule here on out to take the conference crown. On this night, we expect a great game, going either way down the stretch, but the UConn experience and their more productive backcourt will prevail.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 73
Louisville 68


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Sunday, February 01, 2009


Huskies Spank Providence, Move To No.1
By Zach Smart

As the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team retreated to the weight room to field a barrage of questions from the media, Hasheem Thabeet jokingly gave A.J. Price a stare down.

“You took my seat again. Why do you always have to take my seat, son?”
Price was quick with a humorous retort.

“Man, this is my seat. You see ‘Hash’ written anywhere on this seat? You’re crazy.”

It was all jokes, laughs and smiles for the Huskies, who moved to No.1 in the country with a wild 94-61 drubbing of Providence.

Thabeet became the just the seventh player in UConn history to record a triple-double. The 7-foot-3 gargantuan registered 15 points, 11 boards (seven coming on the offensive end) and 10 blocks in 28 minutes.

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Price poured in a game-high 19 points, and Stanley “Sticks” Robinson snapped out of a four-week funk with 18 points—two of which came on an earth-shattering two-handed alley-oop—and seven boards.

“As a team, collectively, we know how good we are, how good we can be. Number 1 hasn’t worked out so well for teams this year. We haven’t been there yet. We haven’t had our chance, so hopefully we’ll get that. But we have a tough game (Louisville) coming up Monday, so not too much time to celebrate,” said Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun.

There had been a Providence ghost in UConn territory the past couple seasons.

The last four UConn home games (in which the Route 6 rivalry was renewed) Providence has had UConn’s number. The Friars defeated the Huskies, handily, last year in Hartford. They scorched the nets with 14 threes and talked trash at a relentless pace.

There were no ghosts this time. No ghastly goblins or spirits of any type. None.

Just a dominant UConn team who realized they owe the Friars for the last two games.

“This was probably one of the biggest games that we’ve won, not for the rankings,” said Gavin Edwards, who popped off the bench to score eight points and snare nine boards in 16 minutes.

“Just because of the rivalry between us. They (Providence) always talk trash, they always disrespect us, so it felt really good to go out there and smack them.”
“It was a game we felt we should have won,” said Price. “I think we did a great job of just putting pressure on them, keeping pressure on them the whole game.”

That pressure seemed overwhelming in the second half, as UConn’s slim four-point halftime edge ballooned to 37-point bulge with 3:06 remaining.

Providence’s Geoff McDermott caught his second foul and was yanked from the game midway through the second half.

UConn then rattled off a 9-2 surge capped by A.J. Price’s three. His second trey of the game, it had some extra, beyond-the-game value to UConn basketball history. The shot catapulted Price into an elite society known as the 1,000 point club. Price is the second Husky in as many games to reach the century mark, following Jerome Dyson.
Price followed this up with a stop-and-gun three, giving UConn a 28-23 edge with 8:27 remaining.

The Huskies jumped into the second half on 10-0 burst, forming a 47-34 cushion just three minutes in.

The Friars (14-7, 6-3) never recovered, as UConn’s lead became insurmountable.
The Friars’ exasperation compounded in the second half, with McDermott being slapped with a technical for jawing at the referees.

It got out of hand. UConn continued to surge ahead, and a dunk fest ensued.

“McDermott had a tough time dealing with our two horses inside,” said Price, obviously referencing larger-than-life Thabeet and Jeff Adrien (14 points, six boards).

“They kept attacking, kept going to the rim. We got them in foul trouble and I think we sensed a little letdown from them. They stopped coming as hard as we know they can, and we just put the pedal to the floor after that.”

UConn Block Party: Behind Thabeet’s 10 swats, the Huskies blocked 17 total shots. Everyone got into the act, Robinson, Dyson, Adrien, even pint-sized point guard Kemba Walker. During one eye-popping block in the second half, 5-foot-10 point guard Sharaud Curry tried to take it to the rack on Thabeet. Thabeet threw Curry’s off-balance shot attempt out of the gym, and Curry went sprawling to the floor. Thabeet shook his head at Curry, adding a few choice words. The two teams have never had much of an affinity for each other.

Class-less: The UConn faithful, never held to a high-class standard or candidates for the sportsmanship award, were quick to get rowdy. During the singing of national anthem, one hammerhead UConn fan shouted “YOUR BROTHER’S IN JAIL!” The crude comment was directed at Providence guard Jeff Xavier. Xavier’s older brother Jonathon, he of the checkered past, was arrested following his on the court antics against Marquette earlier this month.

No. 1 in the Country, No.3 in the Big East: You know the Big East is dripping with talent and is probably the NCAA’s most competitive conference when the nation’s top-ranked team in the country isn’t even the first-place team. No.1 UConn is third in the Big East, sitting behind Marquette and Louisville. Both teams are undefeated in Big East play this season.


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