Friday, March 27, 2009
The recipe for the upset was there, outside distractions, Adrien’s elbow wasn’t dropping, Thabeet couldn’t find the handle on the basketball, Price clanked shots from deep, the referees were letting physical play go and the they couldn’t hit free throws. But in the end, UConn leaned on their most reliable aspect of their game, defense. They locked down on they streaky Purdue shooters, holding them to only 36.4% from the floor. Robinson did a fantastic job on shadowing Hummel in the second half and forced the Boilermakers to search for other scorers. When they needed points everyone chipped in, with five players scoring 8 or more points. They remained focused on funneling the ball into the paint and only took eight 3-point shots. They remained cool under pressure, only turning the ball over 13 times, and didn’t force up horrible shots. Credit goes to Purdue’s fortitude and clawing back time after time, but UConn was able to counter every run with one of their own and stayed at arms length of an upset.
Austrie had a breakout game, hitting 3 of 3 from the outside and 6 of 6 from the line. He was the only Connecticut player able to stretch the defense. It was good to see him play well in his senior year in the Tournament. He had a team high 17 points, 2 boards, 4 assist to 2 turnovers. It would be nice to see him continue to hit from the outside. Price’s insane shooting had to cool down eventually and it did, hitting just 5 of 15 from the field, with 15 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists to 2 turnovers, and 5 of 9 from the free throw line. Even with his lack of offense, he played under control and looked to find the open shooter.
Thabeet was a beast and stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 15 boards, 4 blocks, 1 steal, 4 turnovers, and shot 3 of 6 from the charity stripe. While he struggled posting up, he found his way to the basket when the smaller Purdue front line fronted him. His intimidation on defense made the Boilermakers into an outside shooting team, which isn’t their strength. Adrien couldn’t find the basket, hitting just 3 of 13 from the field. He missed wide open lay ups, and bricked his elbow jumpers and free throws. He finished with 8 points, 6 boards, 2 assists to 3 turnovers, and 1 block.
Robinson is that final piece to the puzzle. He is flourishing on the offensive end, hitting the jumper and attacking the rim. He finished with 10 points, 11 boards, and 2 assists to 1 turnover. It was at the defensive end of the floor, holding Hummel to 2 points in the second half, that won this game.
Walker played a well rounded game, scoring 5 points, 2 steals, 4 assists to no turnovers, 3 boards, and shot 3 of 4 from the line. Edwards didn’t have the game he hoped for in his return home. He hit an early jumper, but disappeared after that. Beverly entered the game really early and had 1 rebound. Haralson got into the game and made Calhoun extremely angry at taking a shot in the waning seconds. Jim Veronick became a blocking machine, having 1 block in 1 minute!
With the swirling controversy over the program, this team deserves a round of applause. They remained focused, remained aggressive and played hard. When Adrien and Price struggled, Austrie and Robinson stepped up. That’s a great sign. The deeper that this team gets into the tournament, the harder it will be to score points and it will be an entire team effort to chip in. This team, unlike those in the past few years, is playing their best ball of the season at the right time. With no time to rest, they must hold on to that swagger and confidence it has gained in these past three games. They’ll need every ounce of energy against Missouri.