Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rising to the Occasion

It looked like UConn’s perimeter defense wasn’t up to the challenge early on, giving up a barrage of threes in the first half to the pesky Wildcats. Both teams, which pride themselves on their defense, had their offenses firing on all cylinders putting up 48 points respectively. UConn had problems stopping the ball in transition and Villanova smelled blood in the water, attacking the rim and kicking out to open shooters. It wasn’t until the second half that the Huskies were able to clog the wide open lanes to the basket. With the defense finally stopping the outside shot, the offense continued to come from the free throw line and they made Villanova pay, hitting 31 of 39. Though many of those misses came at the most crucial time and nearly cost them the game.

The backcourt needed to step up and they did big time. Price had his best game of the season, though he had way too many turnovers. He had the line of the night with 29 points on 10 of 13 shooting, 4 of 6 from three, 5 of 6 from the line, 5 boards, and 5 dimes to 6 turnovers. It wasn’t only the fact that he scored a career high in points but that he had back-to-back good games. Maybe this is the end of his on one night and off the other performances.

Dyson also had a great shooting night in forever. He had 19 points on 6 of 11 shooting, 7 of 10 from the line (though he clanked two important ones), 4 boards, 1 assist to 2 turnovers, and 3 steals. He made a couple of amazing change of direction driving lay-ups and had one of his patented high-flying dunks. He is still hesitant with his jump shot and only took one three and no mid-ranged shots. His defense was spectacular and he pestered Scottie Reynolds into a 4 for 11 shooting night.

Austrie played a lot of minutes, 27, but had a horrible shooting night, ending the game with hitting just 2 of 10 from the field. He did come in and sink some pressure free throws and had 2 assists to no turnovers. Kemba played sparingly, 16 minutes, and was 1 of 4 from the field. He got to the line and hit 4 of 6. He played great defense in the second half and closed out one the streaky Wildcat shooters on the perimeter.

With Thabeet playing 17 minutes, Adrien was the only muscle down on the block and he produced. Though he struggled with being constantly doubled when he had the ball and shot a paltry 3 of 10, he was a monster on the boards, snaring 14. What was most impressive about his night was his free throw shooting, going a perfect 6 for 6 from the stripe. Hasheem didn’t play very smart on the defensive end, picking up several unnecessary fouls. When he was on the court he produced, scoring 10 points, 3 boards, 3 blocks, and hitting 4 of 5 from the line. He would’ve had a monster night if he could’ve played a wiser game.

Robinson continues to sort out his offensive game. His shot is all over the rim, if it even gets there. But he is playing solid defense, though he could be a little better rebounding, only pulling down 2 boards in his 28 minutes of play. Gavin played well in his 11 minutes, ending with 4 points, 1 board, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.

In a night where the pressure to win fell squarely on the shoulders of the Huskies backcourt, it was good to see Price and Dyson rise to the occasion. While Price was showering from deep, Dyson was carving the lanes. But even with their stellar offensive performance, they nearly let this one slip through their grasp. They were careless under pressure, missed the crucial free throws, and didn’t have the intensity on the defensive end down the stretch. Part of that goes to the gritty Villanova team, but this team needs to be able to step on a team’s throat when they are down and they didn’t do it. They had just enough cushion to sneak this one out, but it could cost them down the stretch and in a one-and-done situation, it could be game over. It only gets easier from here, they’ll have to play a hungry Notre Dame team in their impregnable home court fortress. Hasheem better have a full stomach, because he doesn’t want to eat his own words.

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