Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tattered Jerseys, Broken Hearts, and Great Memories

This one was hard to swallow. Sure we can point to all the flaws this team has shown throughout the season from free throw shooting, outside shooting, turnovers, and getting burned in transition, but if we were told that this team would be in the Final Four at the beginning of the year, we would all take that. This team put themselves in position to seize a championship and it came up short, but they’ve proved to the nation that UConn basketball is back. You can’t question their effort, hustle, and talent after the game. This senior laden team had all the chips stacked against them before they even stepped onto the greatest partisan court ever in the history of college basketball and laid it all out, coming up short in a miraculous comeback. Be proud, keep your head up, and give this team a standing ovation. They earned every bit of it.

A.J. Price had a great year. He was the heart and soul of the offense, becoming the only outside threat, play caller, and clutch performer. His performance in the Gonzaga game, and the first several rounds gave UConn the confidence that propelled them into the Final Four. He has been through so much during his time at UConn and his perseverance on and off the court will take him to wherever he wants his life to go.

Craig Austrie has always been reserved and did whatever the team needed him to do. His ability to come off the bench, start, knock down clutch free throws, hit the outside shot, and play solid man-to-man defense is something you can’t find easily. His contributions sometimes go under the radar, but without his steadiness on the court, this team wouldn’t have been in the Final Four.

The first time I saw Jeff Adrien play, he was my kind of player, pure hustle. He came onto a team full of NBA caliber stars and dug his nose into everything. He has emerged into one of UConn’s greatest players and has developed every year. His mid-ranged game became consistent and he has been the most reliable player statistically throughout his career.

Hasheem Thabeet improved more than any other player on the team and possibly the country. He developed an ability to attack the rim with his back to the basket, became a solid rebounder, played better in the man-to-man defensive concept, and became proficient from the line. While he still isn’t a finished project, his future is extremely bright and we are all blessed to have him wear the UConn jersey.

Robinson has arrived. His athleticism is off the charts and he has started to channel it into productiveness on the court. His shot has started to drop and he has found a dribble-drive to his game. While his rebounding and put backs were always there, he has been especially deadly around the rim with the ball.

Walker has blossomed into a primetime player throughout the season. While he would like to forget his last game, we sometimes forget he is just a freshman. He has a tremendous burst of speed and an ability to control the ball while at light speed.

Edwards shouldered a lot of the load coming off the bench, entering for both Thabeet and Adrien. He played larger and stronger centers and more athletic power forwards, but Gavin held his own. He has shown an above the rim game, solid hands in rebounding, and an ability to play with his back to the basket.

Donnell Beverly was played sparingly but emerged as the first guard off the bench. He played solid on the defensive end but didn’t flash much offensively.

Scottie Haralson began to show his outside ability late in the season, but never gained Calhoun’s trust to warrant extended minutes, even during Austrie’s long draught from the outside. He really got under Calhoun’s skin in the Tournament when taking a shot in the final seconds of a blowout and he rode the pine the rest of the year.

It was a recipe for disaster, letting teams have 15 to 20 more shots then you in every game and it finally caught up with Connecticut. Turnovers and poor transition defense is a deadly combination then add in poor free throw shooting and it was to much to overcome. By the end of the Tournament there will be 63 broken hearts and one champion. While the loss stings, it shouldn’t deter from the accomplishments of the team and their season as a whole. This team will hang another banner, though not the one they wanted, into the rafters and leave their legacy in the annals of Connecticut basketball. Thank you for the great year.

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