Thursday, March 31, 2011

Examining UConn's hot streak

Coaching Decisions: UConn & X-Factor

Kemba & Maya Interview

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Perseverance. That is what it takes to win nine games in a row and do it in the fashion that they are. They had everything stacked against them in this game. Arizona was killing UConn on the boards, getting easy baskets around the rim, and frustrating UConn’s front court with foul trouble. But this team answered every run with one of their own and silenced a rowdy Arizona crowd. Once again they did it on the defensive end. They didn’t allow open jumpers on the perimeter and the help was there to limit dribble penetration. That has been the difference during this historic run. The jumpers will clank, they’ll give up some offensive boards, and teams will make shots, but one thing that UConn can control is their tenacity on the defensive end and they are doing that. It also doesn’t hurt to have a superstar on their team and a freshman maturing into a clutch performer.

Walker didn’t have his best game and his jumper was off, but he made the plays in key spots to snatch momentum back. He had a crucial stretch in the closing minutes of the first half where he made two jumpers and a three pointer at the buzzer. His poor shooting continued into the second half. He missed his first three shots before sinking a jumper. Arizona kept him from the rim and he didn’t have driving lanes to use his speed for easy baskets. But he didn’t need to force the issue because unlike the beginning of the year, Walker now has a sidekick.

Lamb was sensational. He started his night off with his patented floater off the glass, hit a three pointer, had a lay-up, and ended the first half with a block. He wasn’t done yet. He hit another three pointer, had two steals which lead to one missed dunk and one monster slam, hit another floater, and sank 3 of 4 from the line. His ability to hit the jumper off screens for a freshman is phenomenal and his length on the defensive end is causing havoc. There hasn’t been a UConn freshman to contribute in the fashion that Lamb has in a long time.

Oriakhi had a tough assignment and struggled early to match the intensity of Arizona’s athletic front court. He did get to the line and sink 1 of 2, had a block, and an offensive rebound, but didn’t do the job on the boards and Arizona took advantage. He did better in the second half but was still in and out of the game due to touch fouls in the post. He had a dunk, offensive rebound and dunk, offensive rebound and lay-up, and two boards, but it wasn’t enough to negate Arizona’s attack of the glass and he didn’t get much help from his teammates. Smith didn’t back up his solid play versus San Diego State. He struggled with his jumper, missing all four of his jumpers and only getting a dunk late. He did have five boards but it wasn’t enough and he allowed way too many offensive boards. He needs to play much better.

Napier had a much better game then he did against San Diego State. He hit two three pointers, had two steals with one leading to a lay-up, had two boards, and broke the press for a nice Smith dunk. He did have a bad three point shot which had him back on the bench, but overall he played a great game and his combined offensive and defensive capability has been a key to UConn’s success during this run. It is also great to see him take the ball to the rim more and not only rely on his jumper. Once he gets a mid-ranged jumper to his game, then he will reach another echelon. Beverly played sparingly but did have a nice lay-up on a cut to the basket. He has done a much better job of limiting his turnovers and not doing too much with his dribble.

Okwandu had a tough task, defending a more athletic, quicker, and outside shooting Arizona front court. He found himself in foul trouble for most of the night but did have an impact. He had three blocks, an offensive rebound and put-back, and a nice dish to Lamb. Olander played early and had a block, an offensive rebound but also missed a dunk and gave up a free throw rebound. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough game. He missed all his shots, had two boards but also had back-to-back bad plays that sent him to the bench in the second half. He still hasn’t found his game that he displayed midway through the Big East regular season. Giffey played a few minutes and spelled Walker, but didn’t do much.

Unbelievable. It is simply incredible what this team has done during this run. Sure the spotlight is on Walker and now Lamb which is deserved, but without Napier’s defense, Roscoe’s rebounding, Beverly’s ball handling, Coombs-McDaniel’s multitasking, Okwandu’s blocks, Olander’s early contributions, and Giffey’s defense, then this team wouldn’t be where they are today, The Final Four. This is a team and it is a beautiful thing when everyone trusts each other and knows their role. They might not be the best individual talent but they have something special, chemistry. And that is what makes sports so intriguing and keeps us coming back for more, because when a you have a true team then anything is possible.

UConn Advanes To 4th Final Four. Watch more top selected videos about: Sports, Arizona Wildcats


Friday, March 25, 2011

Magical Ride

Simply amazing. There is something about the tournament setting that brings the best out of this team and no matter what happens down the stretch of the tournament this has been a special year. A group of unheralded freshmen, two under-achieving sophomores, two bench seniors, and a budding super-star have matured into one of the deadliest teams in America and are putting together one of the best runs ever in UConn history. The offense was sustained early by jumpers and was able to answer San Diego State’s runs. The defense was stellar again. They did have a few lapses that brought SDSU back into the game and fouled too much in the second half to get into the bonus early, but overall, they limited SDSU to jumpers. It was a great game against an elite squad and are now in position to shock the world again.

Walker was sensational. He was aggressive early and missed his first three shots, but was able to get to the line to see the ball go into the basket for his first points. From there he hit a backdoor lay-up, a jumper, two three pointers, and a steal then lay-up to end the half. He continued his superb play into the second half and was able to get to the rim early and often getting three lay-ups, two jumpers, two three pointers, and went six for six from the line. With his impressive offensive output, his defense goes under the radar. He kept his opponent in front of him and didn’t allow back screens or easy drives to the basket. It has been a joy all season to see his game mature.

If Lamb can put up a performance like he did on a stage like this then his upside is through the roof. He hit three 3-balls, sank a running floater off the backboard, a pull up jumper, a nice steal, and two dunks. What was most impressive about his play was that he hit the big shot that stole back the momentum in the closing minutes where San Diego State had everything going their way. Other then a lazy pass early in the second half, Lamb played a flawless game. He has become a consistent threat that is pulling double teams away from Walker.

Oriakhi did what he needed to do, rebound. He rushed most of his shots, but he kept battling. He had a tough match-up defensively and had to cover quicker and more athletic forwards. He found himself getting touch fouls and was late on several rotations, but without his rebounding, especially on the offense glass, this game wouldn’t have been a victory. Okwandu didn’t have much of an impact on the game and with Oriakhi not in foul trouble and rebounding better, he rode the pine.

Napier had an uneven performance. He made several beautiful passes, played great defense, hit a nice jumper, and had a steal, but then he had a turnover, took two bad jumpers, and fouled a three point shooter. His shot wasn’t there, but he made impacts in other ways and freed Walker up by running the point and is driving to the basket more. Beverly played briefly and was solid on defense and didn’t turn the ball over. All positives.

Smith was outstanding and did all the little things that UConn needs to win close games. He was a monster on the boards, hit a three pointer, had a lay-up, and three blocks. This is the type activity that Calhoun has wanted out of Roscoe and just wants it consistently. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough game, missing all his jumpers and gave up a free throw rebound. He did play good defense and had four rebounds. He just needs to find ways to get the ball around the rim more. Giffey played limited minutes and didn’t get into the stat book, but played well defensively and didn’t turn the ball over. Olander had a good game, hitting a nice hook shot.

The magical ride continues. They are playing their best basketball at the right time and players like Lamb, Smith, Napier, and Oriakhi are doing all the little things to back up Walker’s impressive performances. Everyone is settling into their roles, jumpers are falling, and they are closing out halves strong. They'll need to get back on defense against a quick and athletic Arizona team and keep them in the half court. Rebounding will be a key to the victory and they need Oriakhi, Smith, and the guards to all chip in and limit them to one attempt. If they can keep their jumpers falling and play this type of defense than anything can happen. And with this team, who would bet against them?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Win and Move On

It wasn’t pretty but at this time of year, you need to win and move on. Unfortunately the missed jumpers towards the end of the last game carried over into this one. UConn got off to a slow start in both halves and had to gather themselves to take control of the game. With the offense a struggle, they hung their hat on the defensive end, won the battle on the boards, got points at the line and beat a tough Cincinnati squad. Once again they struggled against the zone. They had good looks but they weren’t falling for Lamb, Napier, and Napier. The offense landed on the shoulders of their superstar and he didn’t disappoint.

Walker knew he had to take over and carried UConn to a victory. His jumper wasn’t falling even though he made two three pointers and four jumpers. He front rimed a lot of good shots. One thing that carried this team was that he was able to get to the line and sustained the offense through key stretches. With his offense in flux, he still played hard defense and sealed the game with a beautiful steal and assist to Smith. He'll need to be more efficent against San Diego State because they are a much better offensive team.

Oriakhi did a much better job of rebounding against the zone. He struggled offensively but his rebounding, anchored the paint which is what this team needed against a great rebounding team. He had a hard time defending without fouling in the second half and it helped Cincinnati get into the bonus early, but luckily they didn’t cash in on it. He had several opportunities around the rim but the ball kept rolling off the rim. Olander got the start but didn’t contribute much.

Lamb was effective. He had two jumpers, two three pointers, a steal, a dunk, and five boards. He did have a five second call on an inbound play, but overall he was solid. He has a Dyson type of mentality out there, where he doesn’t show much emotion. He has become a solid pick and pop shooter, which this team hasn't had in some time. The upside to his game is boundless at this point. Beverly played sparingly and didn’t do much. Napier had a tough night offensively. He took another bad three pointer and his only offense was at the line and a nice dribble drive jumper. He did do a great job of rebounding, pulling down four boards. His defense was spectacular and caused havoc without fouling a great deal. He needs to penetrate more and dish out to open jump shooters more, but overall he had a solid game.

Smith had a poor game, having a bad foul on a three point shooter, missed his only jumper and had an offensive foul in the first half. He played a little better in the second half with a rebound, solid defense, a blocked shot, and a game sealing dunk. This team needs more offensive output from him and he won't get it if he is only taking one field goal shot a game. Coombs-McDaniel did a little of everything. He had two jumpers, a three pointer, hit three of four from the line, and had an offensive rebound, but he also had three turnovers. He needs to limit those risky passes against the pressure defenses. Giffey had a rebound and played solid defense.

Win and move on. It doesn’t matter how they get it done, they just need to do it. They’ll need to play much more fluidly in their next game. If they don’t find ways to get Smtih, Oriakhi, and Napier involved offensively, then it could be a tough game. Walker will get his, but he needs to do it more efficiently. Others need to contribute. They haven't been up against a team that is red hot from deep and they will. To combat that, they'll need a better offensive output from the bench. Hopefully they'll get the jumpers to fall again and quick because San Diego State is a great team and hungry to make a statement against a power house school.

UConn Knocks out Cincy. Watch more top selected videos about: Cincinnati Bearcats, Connecticut Huskies

Walker scores 33 as UConn tops Cincinnati 69-58:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Taking Care of Business

It was the perfect storm. Walker created off the dribble penetration and Smith and Lamb reaped the benefits with wide open looks, knocking down shot after shot. Bucknell looked to be up to the task, hitting several threes early to keep pace with UConn, but as soon as the outside shot dried up, UConn ran away with the game. The defense was stellar and didn’t allow any penetration and forced contested jumpers. There wasn’t a lot of foul calls and for a blow out, their was a nice flow to the game. It was good to see them carry over the momentum of the Big East Tournament run and put to rest that they would be tired. This was a great confidence booster for a young team and could be a start of a special run.

Walker played fluidly. He didn’t force up any shots and didn’t need to with his counterparts knocking down shots early and often. He did a little of everything and nearly had a triple double and it was on his mind too, yelling at Oriakhi for snagging a rebound from him. Even if he was stat watching it was all in the flow of the game. He sank a jumper, had two three pointers, and a lay-up. It was plenty of offense. He did have a stretch where he fouled a three point shooter and had a turnover on a bad pass but that was about all that he did poorly in this game.

Oriakhi got into the game early and was effective throughout. He had two blocks, a hook shot, and made one of two from the line in the first half. He did a much better job on the boards in the second half and had three offensive and three defensive rebounds and had several nice plays offensively, hitting a jumper, getting a lay-up, and running hard for a monster dunk in transition. He solidified the paint area and was great helping and recovering on defense.

Lamb had his game going early, sinking three 3-balls and a jumper in the first half and had another three pointer and jumper in the second half. He played great defense and his length gave Bucknell’s guards problems. He did disappear down the stretch, which has been his major problem this season, but the game was well out of hand and their major goal was to run clock. Beverly had a steal in the first half and didn’t do much after that.

Smith played out of his mind and this is a totally different team when he is sinking jumpers. He had a dunk & one to start out his night and it ignited him. After that he hit a three pointer, a lay-up, and a jumper, but it was his blocked shots in the first half that set the intensity dial up a notch. He continued his solid play in the second half, knocking down another three pointer, lay-up, and jumper to put Bucknell away for good. Hopefully he can have this type of impact throughout the tournament. Coombs-McDaniel had an off night and reverted back to his jump shooting ways and it didn’t work, missing all four of his three pointers. He did have two rebounds but he needs to get to the rim more and rebound the basketball.

Okwandu had a good game with a nice block, a hook shot, a rebound, a lay-up, and a dunk. He also played solid defense and was able to help and rotate back without giving up easy buckets. Olander had a nice game too. He hit a jumper, had two boards, and was energetic out there. Giffey had an offensive rebound and put-back, two more boards, and a hustle tie-up. Wolf had a rebound and Stewart had a lay-up, which brought the bench to their feet.

They took care of business and kept the pedal to the floor. While they couldn’t maintain the offensive pace they had early, their jumpers were clanking iron down the stretch. Hopefully that won’t carry over into their next game. The first game was important for the confidence of the freshmen and for them to play in the fashion that they did is a great sign for things to come. They'll be up against a tough Cincinnati team and need to have their front court hold their own. It won't be easy and they'll know each others tendencies. UConn will need to play solid defense, hold their own on the glass, and knock down jumpers. If they do, then they'll move on.





Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Bucknell

Overview: Bucknell is an excellent three point shooting team, hitting a Patriot league best .402 from deep. They make 6.9 a game. They are a well rounded team who have a solid point guard, a deadly shooter, and a low post threat. They also play hard on both ends of the court, holding teams to a league low 63.4.

Players to Stop: Mike Muscala, Forward/Center, is only a sophmore but is their leading scorer at 14.9 and is their leading rebounder at 7.4 a game and 2 blocks a game.

Darryl Shazier is their floor leader and leads the Patriot League in assists per game at 5.6

Bryson Johnson is their sharp shooter and is deadly from deep with a stellar .459 from deep and made 96 three pointers this season.

Keys to victory: They’ve lost to Villanova, Marquette, Princeton, and Boston College, but that was early in the year. UConn needs to limit Bucknell's three pointers, not turn the ball over, and win the battle of the boards. If they can do that then they should have their way in this game. A lot of experts are predicting UConn to be tired, but for a team playing the way they are, it is best for them to get back on the court to get the rhythm going again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Impossible

Heart. That is what it takes for a team to play five games in five days to battle through the best league in the entire country and end up victorious. They had to have tremendous belief in themselves to face and win against teams that have beat them thoroughly in the past. For the most part, they did a great job of attacking the press, something they had a tough time dealing with. Fatigue started to creep in midway through the second half and the offense stuttered, but Louisville’s harassing defense led to fouls which UConn was able to cash in for points. There were many unsung heroes to this impressive run from Olander, Okwandu, to Smith. This team is maturing at the right time and their confidence is on an all-time high and this is a truly special group of players.

Walker was on fire early, hitting two jumpers and two lay-ups before getting his second foul and sitting for the rest of the half. In the second half, his legs started to get heavy and had six turnovers, offensive fouls, poor passes and had a horrible foul on three point attempt in the closing seconds. But when they needed a play, he was there. He got to the line and sank free throws, had a beautiful lay-up & one and a sweet pass to Lamb for a lay-up in crunch time. Calhoun is right that no other player is as dependent on his team in the conference and he is still effective against the double and triple teams. One thing about Walker that makes him different then other UConn stars is that he knows that he needs to take over and does.

Oriakhi didn’t have the game that he wanted. In the first half, he got to the line early, had a lay-up, and an offensive rebound and put-back, but in the second half, he only had a dunk and an offensive rebound and tip in. He had a tough time defending without fouling and Calhoun needed ball handlers on the court to deal with the pressure and it limited his minutes. Okwandu had an early offensive rebound and put-back, but disappeared from the game after that. Olander got the start after his superb performance against Syracuse, but struggled to find the magic again. He had a bad save under his own basket for two easy points for Louisville.

Lamb had an amazing game and tournament. His whole arsenal was on display from hitting a three pointer, knocking down a jumper, getting two lay-ups, grabbing seven boards, a block, and getting a clutch deflection in the closing seconds. His confidence is at an all-time high right now and he is getting comfortable in taking over the offense in key stretches. Napier had a slow first half with a board, a steal, and a turnover, but turned it around in the second half. He hit a three pointer, had two steals, and knocked down two clutch free throws in the closing seconds. UConn's arrow is pointing up with these two up and coming stars in the Big East.

Smith was a monster. He blocked a ton of shots, hit a long jumper, knocked in a three pointer, and rebounded much better. He was all over the offensive boards and in one stretch he got fouled three times on the offensive glass, sinking three of four from the line. He has been a mystery for this team and has had games like this before. He needs to continue to provide this type of energy out there for UConn to make another tournament run. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough night. He did hit a jumper and two free throws, but only had one rebound in the second half as his only contribution. Giffey had an offensive rebound and then an immediate turnover on a bullet pass. Beverly had a jumper, and a steal and got fouled, hitting two of two from the line. It was a great sight to see him hug Calhoun after the victory.

They did the impossible, winning five games in five days. It will go down as one of the greatest feats by a UConn team because of the strength of the field and the teams that they had to beat to win the title. Walker didn’t win the Big East Player of the Year award but he stepped up and showed the conference who the best player was when it counted the most and walked home with a nicer trophy. This team went from limping into the NCAA tournament, to putting their name in the hat for contention for the title, because if they could beat the caliber of teams that they did and the ways they did it, then the sky is the limit and the impossible is now possible.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In the Zone

Who saw this coming? UConn’s major flaw all year was the zone and not only were they playing against the best zone team in the Big East, but they were doing it on the fourth game in four days, but it didn’t matter. UConn played it to perfection. They didn’t settle for threes, screened at the top of the zone to free Walker, and the front court found the soft spots in the zone and converted, something this team didn’t do all year. They still had problems with dealing with pressure defense, which caused UConn’s once insurmountable lead in regulation to disappear on bad passes and poor execution. And while everyone thought it would be Walker to carry this team to the finish line, it was Lamb who made the clutch plays to finally seal the game, which is a great sign.

Walker is on a magical run in this tournament and is playing great ball at the right time. He was everywhere from jumpers, lay-ups, steals, knocking down free throws, getting a charge, hitting two three pointers, and attacking the zone with confidence. Something he hasn’t done all season. This is the best individual run in any tournament ever by a Husky and it is a privilage to witness. He is truly a special player.

Oriakhi has found his stride in this tournament and rebounded with authority. The zone has given him so much trouble and he has disappeared in games against it, but he hit two jumpers in the middle of the zone, was able to get behind the zone for trips to the foul line and had a dunk. He played solid defense though had a few touch fouls in the post and needs to defend without putting a hand on his opponent’s back. This is a diferent team when he is playing well. Smith played early and had two boards, but didn’t play after that.

Lamb had a slow start, only having two points in the first half, but he started heating up late, hitting a jumper and a three pointer at the end of the first second half, but he wasn’t finished. When the game was in the balance in overtime this team did what it hasn’t done all year, Walker differed to Lamb who hit two floaters. He ussually is a fast starter an fizzles out later in games, but this is a different Lamb. He is finishing games strong and it is making this team extremely tough. Beverly had a tough night and had three turnovers with two coming in the Syracuse’s comeback. He did have a couple of rebounds and a lay-up, but he needs to do a much better job of not turning the ball over. Napier had a tough first half, having two sloppy passes and a miss as his only contributions, but he played better in the second half. He hit a nice rhythm three but followed that up with a bad one. He played his patented pesky defense without fouling but also missed an important one and one opportunity that would've sealed the game in regulation.

Okwandu played a good first half with a charge, three blocks, a hook shot, and two boards, but didn’t have much of an impact in the second half or overtime because Olander decided to emerge as a player. Tyler had the best game of his career. He hit a jumper, a lay-up, three boards, a tie-up, hit one of two from the line, and had a major impact on this game. It is good to see his energy, which has never been lacking, translate into positive plays on the court. Hopefully he can duplicate this effort down the stretch. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough night. He missed all his jumpers, except a floater and had a horrible pass in the closing minutes of regulation. He only had two boards all game. This team needs him to become that third rebounder and finisher around the rim.

It defies all logic that UConn would out offense Georgetown, out muscle Pittsburgh, and then out play the Syracuse zone. The only thing left is to beat the best pressure defense in Louisville to shatter every weakness that this team has shown over the end of the regular season. They’ve cracked under the pressure in both Louisville games and they couldn’t stop Siva, who sliced their offense for easy plays. They’ll need to rely on a smaller lineup to thwart the pressure and players like Lamb, Beverly, Coombs-McDaniel, and Napier will all need to limit their turnovers to stop Louisville’s deadly fast break and try to keep them in the half court sets. They’ve avenged some of their most egregious losses with only one more to go.

Friday, March 11, 2011


This is the beauty of college basketball. The underdog, UConn was blitzed early by a red hot Pittsburgh, but they fought through adversity to get back into the game before the end of the half. From there it was just a terrific back and forth basketball game with both teams and their respected superstars playing at a high level. While UConn’s front court was mired in foul trouble, they did a great job and battled hard on the boards, something they haven’t done down the stretch of the regular season. UConn found offense on second chance points and fast break opportunities and kept pace against the fluid Pittsburgh offense. It came down to who had the basketball last and with the help of Coombs-McDaniel, it was Walker and he came up clutch again.

The legend of Kemba Walker continues to grow. While he only hit three jumpers all game, he hit them when he needed to. Teams are playing to his strength, not playing zone, and letting him split the defense and get into the paint where he either got fouled, scored, or gave others chances on the offensive glass. He has also done a much better job of not turning the ball over and only had three turnovers. He is going to have to have his jumper working against Syracuse and find ways of solving the zone which has given him problems all year. He is getting great looks against the zone, but the shots just aren't falling.

Welcome back, Oriakhi. While he found himself in foul trouble early, he played smart with his two fouls late in the first half and helped fuel UConn’s run to get back into the game. He was a monster in the second half and had four offensive rebounds, a hook shot, three hustle plays that saved the possessions, and made three of four from the line. And this was against one of the best rebounding teams in the country. It is games like this that make Calhoun crazy that he can’t consistently give this type of output, but without his energy, UConn didn't have a chance in this game.

Lamb has been amazing all tournament and continued his superb play. In the first half, he had a jumper, a dunk, two steals, and a lay-up. He also had one of his best second halves in a very long time. He rebounded well, sank two floaters, and made all his free throws. He did have a lazy pass and didn’t hit a three pointer, but his offense has allowed Walker to get into the flow of the game without forcing things early. He is playing well at just the right time.

Napier had an outstanding day and is getting into the game earlier. He hit two three pointers, is taking the ball to the rim more, made his free throws, played pesky defense, and actually pulled down some rebounds. He didn’t take any bad shots and controlled the half court sets effectively. The team plays more fluidly when he is on the court, shifting Walker to the two guard and Lamb to the small forward position. Giffey had an early steal and took a jumper, which is a good sign even though he missed it, and he actually found an offensive rebound. All good signs for a player searching for his role. He still plays hard defense and uses his length to keep his opponent in front of him.

Smith had a good first half before he took a nasty elbow to the head and sat the rest of the game. He hit a three pointer, made both his free throws and was having a solid rebounding game. Hopefully he continues to be this effective. Coombs-McDaniel is coming into his own. He hit a jumper early, had a nice hook shot & one, and made the second most important play with an offensive rebound and time out in the closing seconds. Those three plays alone negate his missed block out on a free throw, a sloppy turnover, and a missed wide open lay-up. Okwandu had a tough game, missing all his shots and found himself in foul trouble all game. With Oriakhi playing well, he road the pine for much of the game. Olander came in and gave the team a nice jumper and a sweet block, but was in way over his head against the front court of Pittsburgh.

This team is built for the tournament for some reason. They’ve shown it in Maui and now through their first three games in this tournament. They play much different with their backs against the wall. The freshmen are all stepping up and contributing in big time ways. Oriakhi, Okwandu, and Coombs-McDaniel are making all the little plays that a team needs to make to be in contention for wins. The only issue yet to be solved is the zone and they will have plenty of it against Syracuse. They’ll need to get those transition points and offensive rebounds that they have rediscovered in these past few games to advance. But for a team searching for chemistry at the end of the regular season, they have found it and it sure helps to have a super star on your side.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


It is good to see UConn playing well and it didn’t matter that it was against a wounded Georgetown team. They carried over the energy level from the DePaul game and feasted on a sloppy Hoyas team that struggled without their point guard. It also helped that they didn’t play zone or full court pressure for a majority of the game, which played right into UConn’s strengths. The defensive rotation was stellar and they kept Georgetown off the glass for the most part. The freshmen all contributed, Walker was the best player on the court, and they played with a renewed vigor that wasn't there for the last month. It is a great time to be playing great basketball.

Walker was masterful and diced Georgetown’s defense. He got to any spot he wanted, splitting the double and triple team and was able to get into transition for easy buckets. Georgetown wanted to play physical with him but he was getting the touch fouls and they had to back off of him, which allowed him to get that deadly first step. While he still hasn’t hit a three pointer in the tournament, his mid-ranged game has been effective and his off-balanced shots around the rim are sinking. If he can continue this type of play and teams don’t play zone, then it could be an interesting end to the season.

Oriakhi didn’t carry over his monster play from the DePaul game but was still effective in the first half. He was able to get to the line early and had several defensive boards and a nice free throw offensive rebound. He didn’t play much in the second half and Calhoun went with Okwandu instead. Charles had a great game. He showed two hook shots, had a steal, a hustle save, a nice dish, and a dunk. The only negative is his lack of rebounding, but surprisingly he has been the best post player for UConn and no one would’ve thought that at the beginning of this year.

Lamb continued his solid play. He had a three pointer, three steals, a lay-up, and dunk, and that was only in the first half. He continues to struggle in the second half though and only had two free throws as his only offensive down the stretch. Hopefully he can play second halves like he does in the first. Coombs-McDaniel had another solid game off the bench with two three pointers, a lay-up, jumper, and floater. He did miss a wide open lay-up, had a couple of bad passes and only had one board, but he is becoming the glue guy of this team.

Smith had a good first half making a three pointer which is a great sign and had two boards, which is not enough. He struggled defensively and was in and out of the game with foul trouble. Giffey had a lay-up & one which should’ve been a charge. He also had a rare rebound. While he didn’t take a jumper, this game should be a confidence booster for him. He still is passing up wide open shots for the dribble.

Napier had a tough first half with a couple of turnovers, a steal, and a missed shot as his only contributions, but he more then made up for it in the second half. He started out with a lay-up & 1, a floater, a steal, and made his free throws. He provided a ton of energy out there and isn’t forcing things. Beverly made his free throws, didn’t have a turnover, and helped break the full court pressure late in the game.

From here on out, UConn is playing with house money. Walker is back to form, the freshmen are scoring, and the defense is doing a great job. They did have two teams that weren’t playing at a high level, but UConn will take any confidence building at this point. They’re going to have a much tougher time of getting easy points and will need the front court to hold their own against a great rebounding team in Pittsburgh. No matter the outcome, UConn has stopped the bleeding and will enter the Big Dance with some swagger that it didn’t have a week ago. Which is all you can ask from a team that had lost its way a for the past month.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cruise Control

It was a good bounce back performance for UConn even though it was against the worst team in the Big East. They rebounded well, the freshmen all contributed, Walker was efficient, they got into transition, and made their free throws. There were still some troubling signs. They were horrendous against the full court pressure and the passing wasn’t crisp, allowing easy traps and turnovers. This has been as much of a weakness for this team as the zone this season. It caused way too many turnovers and kept DePaul in this game instead of having a twenty point lead or more and resting Walker. But at this point UConn will take this victory and the positives that go with it, because they have been few and far between.

Walker was effective and got the calls, sinking eight free throws. He also sank three jumpers, which is an encouraging sign. He played solid defense, tying the ball up once, getting a charge, and getting a steal. He did have a sloppy stretch in the second half where he caused an offensive foul and followed that up with a travel, but overall, he played a consistent game. This back-to-back stretch is going to be a challenge for him and he needs to conserve his energy.

Oriakhi certainly responded from being benched with a monster game. Sure it was against a smaller and less skilled team, but his energy was evident on the court. One of his problems is that he is getting to the spot under the basket but isn’t backing up and moving his man backwards. He did that today and the ball found him. Offensively, he had a nice tip-in, an offensive board and dunk, and three lay ups. One of his flaws is his passing, having a sloppy pass while in-bounding the ball. Other then that his day was encouraging, but needs to keep the momentum going against comparable talent.

Lamb was going into this game with a gimpy knee, but didn’t show signs that it was slowing him down. He made the play of the game with a one-handed tip in on a bad pass from Napier. It is on those types of plays that give glimpses of what type of player he can become. Most of his damage was in the first half where he had a three pointer, a jumper, his one-handed tip-in, a dunk, and a lay-up. He struggled against the pressure in the second half and had some sloppy plays that led to turnovers, but it was a good sign for this team to have him contribute more offensively.

Napier had a low key first half with a steal and a nice assist as his only contributions. In the second half, he struggled to figure out the pressure and had three costly turnovers. He needs to do a better job of handling the basketball and he picks his dribble up too much. He did show his speed and got some easy lay-ups in transition and he didn’t take any crazy three pointers that he used to take. Beverly didn’t contribute much other then a steal in the second half and help deal with the pressure as another ball handler.

Smith did a much better job of rebounding the basketball, pulling down six boards and playing solid defense. He did have an offensive foul, cause two turnovers, and have a lane violation. He has been a mystery all year. He has a great combination of size and athleticism, has a nice dribble and sweet stroke, but can’t do it in game time situations. Coombs-McDaniel had an early turnover but followed that up with two lay-ups and two boards. In the second half, he had a steal, a jumper, a lay-up, and a three pointer. Other than a turnover in the second half, he had a great game.

Okwandu started out strong with a lay-up & 1, played good defense, and had a block before turning the ball over twice to end the half. He only had a 15-footer and a lay-up as his only contributions in the second half. He needs to help out rebounding department more then what he is. Giffey once again dribbled into a trouble, traveling, but did make both his free throws in garbage time. He hasn’t found out that his role is a spot up shooter and it is hurting his playing time. Plus, he isn’t giving this team anything in the rebounding department.

For a one-sided victory like this one, it doesn’t leave most UConn fans feeling like the team is back to form. They continued their sloppy play against the full court pressure and wasn’t effective in hitting threes, but at least they dominated the paint. They have a great opportunity against a beat up Georgetown team to put themselves in contention for a Big East title and fixing up their NCAA seeding that had gathered some rust down the stretch of the regular season. This could be a team that thrives in the tournament setting or it could just be a one-game anomaly. The good thing is that we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Déjà vu

It was Déjà vu. This is a copy cat league and there was UConn with all the momentum with the game well in hand and Notre Dame went zone. From there UConn’s offense gasped for breath, clanking shots and watching their lead disappear. They did a solid job of defending and credit goes to Notre Dame for hitting an insane amount of shots from deep. It put a lot of pressure on Walker to keep pace and he did for much of the game, only stuttering down the stretch. This team’s wheels are falling off, losing the double-bye, the single bye, and now has a tough road to try to get to where they want to be. It doesn't look good and with no one other then Walker able to consistently give offense, this team has a mountain to climb.

Walker played a solid game, only coming up short in the closing minutes. He got off to a quick start and carried UConn’s offense efficiently and did a good job of not turning the ball over, but it wasn’t enough. The zone once again frustrated him and took away his greatest strength of getting to the rim. It must be frustrating to him to have most of his shots go down against the man-to-man, but once the zone appears, he is short rimming everything. Most of the shots he takes are identical, they just aren't dropping.

Oriakhi looked strong early on, but couldn’t sustain it. He isn’t putting a body on a defender and blocking out. That leads to smaller players sneaking around him to get a hand on the ball. Offensively, his hook that he had been shown effective was non-existent. He is the key to the zone. He should be getting an equal amount of offensive boards because he is able to get better position but he isn't. Okwandu gave the team a lift with a nice lay-up, hook shot, and some tough rebounding. It is a shame that he couldn’t have another year under his belt because he is finally hitting his stride as a player.

Lamb had a good first half, hitting a nice jumper, three pointer, and a beautiful dunk, but was a no show in the second half. He had a sloppy pass that led to a lay-up and missed all his shots down the stretch. There is no other freshman on the team that has this much pressure to provide offense. He is the key to UConn's success in the tournaments. If he can get going then they should be able to do some damage, but that hasn't been the case lately. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough game, missing all his jumpers besides a put-back. He should be effective against the zone with his mid-ranged game and rebounding skills, but isn’t. His two monster games are a distant memory now and this team needs him.

Napier played well. He showed solid defense, didn’t turn the ball over, and only took one bad shot. He has certainly been the most consistent of the freshmen. Beverly had a nice jumper early in the game and a rebound. He did have an offensive foul in a tough spot. Giffey got the start, but didn’t do much. He is a good defender and has a nice jump shot, but isn't confident in it yet to take open shots. Smith had a nice offensive rebound and put-back and rebounded well, but did give up a free throw board because he didn’t block out. He is going to be a really good player for UConn, but just can't find his offense right now other then offensive put-backs and those are rare.

UConn isn’t going into the Big East Tournament with any semblance of confidence. They’ve been in most of the games in these losses, but aren’t able to make the plays down the stretch. The zone is a major problem which is likely to be their final downfall. It has been a tough Big East season, losing way too many at home and losing a few games on the road that they should have won. There is no other team in the Big East that is playing so many freshmen as UConn is and while it might not pay off this year, it will down the road. The only shame is that they are wasting a great season by a super star, but then again they can pull off they unbelievable and make a run here to stun everyone and bookend this season.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Work Zone

What can you say? This team just can’t play against the zone. Against man-to-man they were able to sink jumpers, get dribble penetration, and make plays, but as soon as West Virginia went zone, UConn’s offense went sour. There is just too much dribbling, they aren’t moving the ball from side to side or inside then out. They settle for bad shots late in the shot clock and they haven’t shown any improvement since they middle of the Big East season. They played well defensively and credit goes to West Virginia for hitting their jumpers, but it was UConn’s lack of offense that caused them to lose this game and it doesn’t look good for them entering tournament time. Their once growing momentum has shriveled to mediocrity.

It seems like in every game, Walker gets going early but when the game gets into five minutes to go, he becomes selfish and takes bad shots. After making 4 of 5 at the start of the second half, he went 1 of 7 with most of those misses against the zone. He needs to either draw the defense and dish or take the mid-ranged shot and not get to deep, but most of his shots are shot clock beating threes or off-balanced jumpers in traffic. He is also not playing the pick and roll well against the zone, dribbling to deep into it and not distributing the ball when the help comes.

Oriakhi just couldn’t get any offense going. He rebounded well in the first half, but struggled to get much going in the second half. He had a couple of quick fouls, missed on a crucial one-and-one attempt, and didn’t get any second chance points against the zone, which he should with his size. He knew it wasn’t his night when one of his free throws stopped on the rim. Without his help against the zone, UConn had no other option other then chucking up threes. Okwandu had problems with fouls again with some being questionable. He did hit a nice hook shot and a pretty fifteen footer. He isn't getting any benefit for contact in the paint and is drastically limiting his minutes.

Napier was UConn’s best player out there. He had a four point play, hit several jumpers, and most importantly took the ball to the rim more and was rewarded with trips to the line. He did take a horrible shot which always leads to points on the other end, but without his play, UConn had no shot to be in this game with five minutes in the game. The future looks bright for UConn.

Lamb continued his struggles. He missed all his jumpers in the first half and had problems with his dribble. He did hit a three pointer in the second half, but other then that, he was non-existent. This team desperately needs him to get back on track. Smith rebounded well in the first half, but didn’t contribute anything offensively or show up in the second half. He should be solely focusing on getting second chance points for this team at this point. Giffey had a bad pass and wasn’t seen again. Coombs-McDaniel had an early three pointer and a rebound but didn’t do anything in the second half. Where was his flashing to the rim without the ball or his rebounding?

While this team is playing for seeding at this point of the season, there is no way that they can be happy with the type of effort they are showing late in ballgames. If they can’t find a way to get sustained offense against the zone, then it doesn’t matter what seed this team is awarded, because their stay in the tournament will be short lived. Walker has too much talent to play the way he has in these losses. They need his offense, but not the shots he is taking. It is time to put away the Kemba-Iso plays and start rotating the ball and working some inside-outside passes. The offense isn't working and needs a major overhaul.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February 2011

UConn continued their inconsistency throughout February. They struggled against Syracuse’s zone, was ran out of the building against St. John’s, coughed up the ball regularly against Louisville’s pressure, and handed Marquette a victory with poor play late in the game. They did out gun Seton Hall, blew away Providence, took out a very good Georgetown team, and dismantled a red hot Cincinnati squad, but they never put together a stretch of good games. The offense struggled against all types of zones and with no consistent post plays, the offense grounded to a halt and they relied heavily on jumpers to keep the offense going which isn't their strength. The backcourt struggled to handle the full court pressure and didn’t take care of the ball, allowing easy buckets on the other end of the court. When they were able to keep the game in the half court, they played great defense. They just couldn’t consistently keep teams there. It all added up to a mediocre month and saw their once elite status fall to the wayside.

Walker continued to search for his shot, struggling in most of the games in February. This team goes with Walker. He played well in their wins and he struggled mightily in their losses. His major issue has been ball handling in the closing minutes of games. He was attacking the double team or dribbling into traffic. It cost him the Marquette game and nearly showed itself in the Cincinnati game. He has done a great job of helping out on the boards and is still UConn’s best jumper if he can set his feet. He just takes way too many off-balanced shots. But for all his negative plays, no one wants to imagine what this team would be without him.

Oriakhi has struggled to find ways to attack the zone or find ways to contribute on the boards like he did in previous months. He had a few monster games in Georgetown and Marquette but was no shows in games against Providence and St. John’s. He isn’t getting any touches in the post or showing the fifteen footer. He has done a much better job from the line and is playing really good defense without fouling. This team desperately needs some offense from the frontcourt and they aren't getting it done.

Lamb was searching desperately for his shot throughout the month. He continued to take his shots but they just weren’t falling. He struggled with turnovers too, with many coming from sloppy ball handling. Another problem was that he wasn’t getting to the line, which helps a struggling shooter find his rhythm. He did find his shot in the last game of the year against Cincinnati, hitting three 3-balls. Hopefully that game can get him back to the form he had in January.

Napier also struggled in February. He did hit a three pointer in 5 out of the 8 games in the month but he wasn’t able to take care of the ball. The pressure defense caused him to rush things and he dribbled into trouble. He needs to learn when and where to use his blazing speed. He also struggled to get back on defense and caused numerous lay-ups on missed shots with the defense getting behind him. He still one of UConn's best pieces off the bench but needs to learn when to take shots.

Smith desperately searched for his game. He couldn’t find his outside shot having only three games out of eight that he was able to hit a 3-ball. By the end of the month, Roscoe was able to get action on the boards, where this team needs him to crash the glass with effectiveness. He is still a solid defender, has the length to make a difference on the boards, and is UConn's best free throw shooter, he just has problems showing that in games.

Okwandu was one of the most consistent role players on the team. He rebounded well, showed a few post moves and blocked a ton of shots. The only problem was his inability to stay out of foul trouble and his passing, but this team is getting a solid contribution out of him.

Beverly struggled with turnovers, having five turnovers in the eight games this month. He gave the team solid defense and an extra ball handler against pressure defense but his lack of offense was a liability to the team.

Olander played sparingly throughout the month. He had a ton of turnovers on sloppy passes and was getting beat on the boards because of his size. He did have a good game against Georgetown but for the most part he plays in only a few possessions a game.

Giffey hit a three pointer in three of the eight games, but continues to search for his offense. He plays solid defense but doesn’t get rebounds, dribbles into trouble, and makes lazy passes. He needs to take open jumpers and not dribble the ball for difficult shots.

Coombs-McDaniel had a breakout game against Providence and Georgetown but couldn’t maintain it throughout the rest of the month. He was able to get to the rim for easy buckets and rebounded well. He was also able to get some elusive outside jumpers to fall too. He just couldn't sustain that type of contribution into other games.

It wasn’t the best month for UConn. They freshmen need to get going again. This team desperately needs Napier, Lamb, and Smith to find their rhythm again and this team needs to hit jumpers and take care of the ball. If they can do that, then they can compete with anyone in the country. While this month has taken them out of contention for the double-bye in the Big East, they still have a chance to finish strong and get themselves a relatively high seed in the NCAA tournament. They have a Hall of Fame coach, an NBA caliber guard, a sizeable front court, and talented freshmen. If they can put things together down the stretch, then this can be a dangerous team come tournament time.