Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blaney on Napier & Smith Injury & more

Know Your Enemy: St. John's

St. John's tops Providence in Big East opener:

Ed Cooley on loss to St. John's

Thursday, December 29, 2011

True Grit

UConn wasn’t heading into Big East play with a lot of confidence, letting leads slip against inferior teams at home. They had a tough road test against a pesky and big USF team to open Big East play and they started out on the wrong foot. Blaney didn’t give the starting line-up on time and was given a technical foul before they even tipped off and the sloppy play continued from there. They turned the ball over on four consecutive plays trips, couldn't find any rhythm in the halfcourt sets and USF began to drain the outside shot. But UConn stayed the course and climbed back into the game with some tough nosed defense which fueled their offense. They carried the defense into the second half, protected the perimeter that has caused them so much trouble, held Gilchrist in check, and limited easy fast break points. The backcourt took over offensively down the stretch making jumpers and the frontcourt began winning the rebounding battle. They held on down the stretch, making just enough free throws to keep USF at arms length and earning them a much needed confidence builder of a road Big East game.

It took awhile for Lamb to get going, hitting a left handed lay-up which led to an off-balanced jumper and an offensive rebound & put-back & 1 in the first half, but it was in the second half that Lamb took over and pushed UConn ahead for good with back-to-back-to-back jumpers. From there he had a wild circus bank shot, a fade away jumper, and made his free throws down the stretch. He did have a horrible foul late in the game, fouling a three point shooter, but other than that and a few turnovers, Lamb had a fantastic game.

Napier cooled down a bit from his torrid pace had has set in the past three games. He had problems handling the basketball, getting stripped and reaching in on defense for needless fouls. He had a 3-pointer mid-way through the first half, but other than a free throw, he didn’t contribute that much offensively. Boatright got off to a fast start, hitting two jumpers in the first half. In the second half, he had a great pass to Oriakhi, sank a 3-pointer, snagged an offensive rebound & lay-up, and played good defense, but he also had a couple of sloppy turnovers.

This was the biggest test for the frontcourt and Oriakhi & Drummond did a great job of holding Gilchrist in check for the most part. Oriakhi continued to struggle offensively and had two quick turnovers and offensive fouls. He did hit a nice jumper against the zone, and had a power move & 1, but he was in foul trouble for much of the second half. Drummond is making leaps and bounds in his development. He worked hard on the boards, protected the rim, had back-to-back offensive rebounds, and scored on a slam when it looked that USF was making a comeback. He has supplanted himself as the team’s best big man and made a statement that he is going to be a force down low all Big East season.

Olander had a solid game. He had a nice dish, a jumper against the zone, made his free throws, and an offensive rebound & put-back. He was the most reliable bench player this game. Smith got the start but struggled to find his offensive game. He did make his free throws and played good defense, but he hasn't shown that defensive or rebounding prowess that he demonstrated last year. Daniels had a sweet reverse early on, had a hustle save, a couple of blocks, and a tip-in. Daniels and Smith will be battling all year for minutes and both are doing a good job with the limited time they are getting because of the three guard line-up, but Daniels' minutes have shined more.

This was a great win for this team. They needed to get off to a good start in conference play and to do it in a hostile environment is the confidence builder that this team needed. The great thing was that they did it on the defensive end, got the lead and answered every run with one of their own. They’ll need to limit the turnovers which they had done a much better job and get off the better starts to both halves, but without their leader in Calhoun and against a gritty team in USF, they couldn't of had a better outcome.

Lamb's Second Half Surge Lifts UConn. Watch more top selected videos about: Connecticut Huskies, ESPN

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Know Your Enemy: USF

<a href='' target='_new' title='Highlights: South Florida beats Cleveland State 70-55' >Video: Highlights: South Florida beats Cleveland State 70-55</a>

<a href='' target='_new' title='Highlights: Jayhawks beat South Florida 70-42' >Video: Highlights: Jayhawks beat South Florida 70-42</a>

Ray Allen Off-Balance Three versus Heat

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fair Fight

Here we go again. UConn once again came out of the gates strong this time on the backs of Napier and Drummond. The Huskies scorched Fairfield with 22 fast break points and walked off the court at halftime with a 20 point lead. But it didn’t last long. With that lead, UConn didn’t push the tempo but settled for half court sets that played into Fairfield’s strength. The offense struggled to get points. The frontcourt which dominated in the first half became a non-factor in the second. The backcourt couldn't contain Fairfield’s perimeter offense, a problem this team has had all year. They were often caught behind screens when the ball switched sides. A hat tip must go out to Fairfield. The three pointer is the great equalizer and allows smaller and less athletic teams the chance to pull off these victories. Ask Kansas this when they lost to VCU. The only redeeming quality about this game though was that when all the momentum was in Fairfield’s direction, Lamb, Napier and Boatright took over and pulled out the victory.

Lamb had another slow start and found himself on the bench early on because of some poor defense. Calm and steady, he didn’t get into the scoring column until late in the first half on back-to-back 3-pointers. In the second half Lamb had a sweet turnaround fade, a 3-pointer, a baseline dunk, and a game sealing slam. His major problem is that when this team was struggling for consistency in the offensive sets, he doesn't demand the ball and take it to the basket. He only had 2 free throw attempts.

Napier was a man possessed and has taken his game to another level. He was on fire early, hitting a 3-pointer, a jumper, fouled on a 3-point attempt, had a fade away, a nice fake and lay-up, and a finger roll. The problem was that was all in the first half. He struggled to find his first half mojo and that coincided with Fairfield’s 3-point barrage. This team is so dependent on him to perform that when he doesn't have the offense flow through him, the team gets stagnant.

Oriakhi’s struggles continued. He played 21 minutes but only had 2 rebounds. He clanked two 15-foot jump shots and missed both his free throw attempts. At this point it is all about confidence for him. Luckily Drummond picked up the slack. He scored the first two points of the game on a put back, had two steals and dunks at half court, and beat the buzzer on another. He also is showing more and more in each game. He showed a step back jumper and is turning into this teams best rebounder. Hopefully he can continue this caliber of play into the Big East portion of the schedule.

Boatright had a quiet night other then the tail end of the game where he once again stepped up and made the play of the game on a 3-pointer that sealed the game shut. He was also money from the line, 5 of 6, and did a good job of distributing the ball, 5 assists. It is amazing that he hasn't been on this team all year and his teammates show so much trust in him.

The Olander brother duel had an effect on Tyler. He wasn’t his reliable self. He only had 2 boards, 2 points, and 2 turnovers in 16 minutes. He was forcing the issue and that isn’t his game. Smith had an early 3-pointer and had more rebounds than Oriakhi, 4, and in less minutes. He did struggle on perimeter defense and was caught a few times behind screens. Daniels only played 6 minutes, and did get to the line and had 2 boards.

It isn’t the way that this team wanted to head into Big East play. They should be dominating on the boards, they should be using their speed to beat the defense down court before they set up, and they should be more effective in the half court sets and they aren’t. The one thing this team lacks is consistency and the ability to sustain offense when they have a lead. Their flat offense often leads to the other side of the court and that has to frustrate Calhoun. The defense, especially the perimeter, just isn’t there yet. They’ll need to figure it out, because these mistakes will be magnified against the comparable talent and hostile environments. It doesn't get easier from here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

UConn Alumni Preseason Basketball

Kemba Walker

Hasheem Thabeet

Charlie Villanueva

Caron Butler

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holy Night

For having a lengthy layoff due to finals, UConn shook off the rust and came out with the best team win of the young season. They did it on the strength of their much maligned frontcourt. Oriakhi, Drummond, and Olander combined for 45 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks. While this isn’t Big East talent that the frontcourt played against, it was the first time that all three players played well in one game and it is a great confidence builder going forward. The defense took awhile to find its legs, letting some early open looks for Holy Cross shooters, but once they settled down they used their quickness and length to bother shots and get into passing lanes for steals that fueled the transition game. The offense was firing on all cylinders, shooting 50% for the entire game and they were passing the ball much better and not relying on one-on-one plays.

The rust garnered by the long lay-off was evident early on for Jeremy Lamb. He had a couple of bad misses and a travel early on. He did have a several steals that led to easy points, had two three pointers, and battled hard on the boards which was a pleasant surprise. The thing about Lamb is that he never forces anything but instead he did the little things to help his team with the victory.

This was the best point guard game of Shabazz Napier’s career. Instead of looking for his shot, he concentrated on distributing the ball, 13 assists, and did it in total control, only 3 turnovers. It is good to see that he can play this type of game as well as his scoring point guard role. His passing was crisp and he was getting into the lanes and creating easy scoring opportunities for the big men. While there will be times when the team will need him to score twenty points, to show that he can be the facilitator is a huge step.

It was refreshing to see Oriakhi come right out of the gates and be aggressive and effective with several dunks and put-backs early on. He carried that over into the second half with two slams and a lay-up. If there is one thing to nit-pick about his day was that he is still tipping the ball around on rebounds and not going up strong for the boards. But beyond that this was a great performance from him and this team needs Alex to lead the young frontcourt.

Drummond was an absolute beast. He showed athletic slams, monster blocks, a fade away jumper, the ability to pull down boards in traffic, and most importantly knock down free throws. This was the coming out party that UConn Nation was waiting on. He is getting more confident in each and every outing and it is showing on both ends of the court.

It is amazing how the tempo of the game changes when Calhoun inserts Boatright into the game. It seems like each and every game Ryan puts his stamp on it. He did it in the second half where he scored on two dunks. He creates havoc on the court. Allen got into the game late and wanted badly to score, jacking up three 3-pointers but missed them all. Kyle Bailey also got some minutes and found himself a rebound. P.J. Cochrane played 2 minutes.

Olander had a solid game and is becoming a fantastic passer in the high low set. He also is playing well with his back to the basket. Daniels had a hard time finding minutes in the past couple of games but didn’t get himself down. He came out and had a solid game. He had a nice reverse, 15-footer, and worked hard on the boards with 6 rebounds. If he can contribute on the boards, he will be hard to take out of the lineup. Smith’s day mirrored that of Daniels. He did a little of everything from rebounding to playing solid defense. He also had back-to-back lay-ups. Giffey on played 6 minutes and was the odd man out. He had a dunk & one, but needs to contribute on the boards to keep up with what Smith and Daniels bring to the table.

It was a total team effort which is something this team hasn’t been able to do. It is a great sign especially the 23 assists on 68 field goals and only 7 turnovers. If they can hover around those numbers than this team can compete with anyone in the country. They have the talent and if they can meld that into a cohesive unit then watch out. The question is if they can do this against comparable talent, because so far this team has been playing against sub-par to par talent and while that will buy you time to get you prepared, it isn’t close to what they will face in adversity of an on the road Big East team. Hopefully they can build on this performance and carry it over into the next and not make this game an anomaly.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Interviews from UConn Practice

Alumni Profile: Charlie Villanueva

Looking Back: Charlie Villanueva had a solid year and did what was asked of him. He came off the bench and was effective but only started a handful of games and hasn’t been able to win a starting spot yet. Unfortunately the most memorable part of Villanueva’s season was his verbal sparring with Kevin Garnett.

The Good:
Villanueva has a small forward’s athleticism with a power forwards size, which is rare. He has a versatile offensive game where he can knock down the outside shot but is more comfortable off the bounce. He moves well without the ball and plays the pick and roll well. He has a nice jump shot and isn’t afraid of contact.

The Bad:
If Villanueva could become a more consistent rebounder and dedicate himself more on the defensive end then he would be a starter for sure, but he relies heavily on his offensive skills to carry him. While he has become a much better shooter, he tends to be too streaky. He shows flurries of the spectacular but hasn’t been able to be consistent.

Looking Ahead:
This is a big year for Villanueva. He needs to show that he can compete for a starting spot on a team that is desperate for consistency. With Detroit not expected to be a playoff team, they might go young which they might dangle Charlie has trade bait. He needs to start the season out strong and commit himself to rebounding and defense.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Alumni Profile: Rip Hamilton

Looking Back: This was one of the most disappointing seasons in Rip Hamilton’s career. He dealt with injuries, sickness, and feuded with his coach. He was relegated to riding the pine for much of the season. When he did get into the game, he was effective but at times didn’t give it his all. The fracture in the locker room created a horrible atmosphere and mired Detroit into mediocrity. It wasn’t the way his storied career should’ve ended and left a bad taste in most Pistons’ fans.

The Good: Hamilton still has skills that teams can use. He is a master of the lost art of the mid-ranged shot, plays great defense, is automatic at the line, and can knock down the outside shot. He still has the motor to keep going and is a savvy veteran and born scorer.

The Bad: This whole episode in Detroit has tarnished an otherwise stellar career. It is never a good sign to be a labeled as not giving it their all or a troublemaker. He will need to do a lot to regain some of his esteem from around the league. He is also at the tail end of his career and will be on a new team with a more relegated role. While he still can shoot the ball, it is unclear how many minutes he can handle at this stage of his career.

Looking Ahead: There is still a lot of basketball left for Hamilton but he will need to find a team that fits his half court style. He’ll find a home that’s a give in, but what his role will be is unknown. He’d be a great sixth man on an established team. There are just too many questions and not many answers for Rip’s upcoming season. The Bulls have shown interest in Rip and he’d make a good fit in that system with a stellar point guard in Rose. Hopefully he can have a resurgence to his career.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Higher Learning

Calhoun knew that this game wasn’t going to be easy. He had a first hand view of Harvard in the Bahamas and came away impressed. So he sent a sharp message to his team to not take this team for lightly and right from the tip-off, UConn looked prepared. They finally put together a game where they kept the turnovers down and won the rebounding battle. This was by far the best game of the year for this young team and a good sign heading into the break. The front court held Keith Wright in check, using their length to bother anything near the rim and the back court played stellar perimeter defense, something that they had struggled with. It was a complete game and a great sign that this team is progressing.

Lamb was his usual smooth self. In the first half Lamb had a dunk, a deflection, and a deep 3-pointer, but wasn't forcing the issue. If he didn't have anything he passed the ball. He really heated up in the second half though, coming right out of the gates by hitting a 3-pointer, but then had two consecutive turnovers before hitting a floater, step back, and steal & 3-pointer. The impressive thing about Lamb's night was his ability to battle on the boards for some strong rebounds. The only knock was that he only got to the line 4 times and settled for jumpers instead of attacking the rim.

It wasn’t the greatest shooting night for Napier, but he seemed to make plays when his team needed them the most. He also wasn’t three happy and did a fantastic job of using the ball screens to get into the lane to make plays. He also had 7 assists to only 2 turnovers. That’s back-to-back games where he has doubled up the assists to turnovers, which is a great sign. He did take a few bad shots that Harvard quickly turned around for easy baskets. Overall it was a great game for him heading into the break. He is getting used to be more of a facilitator and that is making the halfcourt sets run more smoothly.

It was a tale of two halves for Oriakhi. In the first half he took weak shots and didn’t rebound with authority. Hopefully this turns his game around because this team needs his play badly. But in the second half, he came out with a strong dunk and was fouled on another. He also had a great put-back and followed that up with some tough rebounds. Drummond exerted himself throughout this game and put on a dunk-fest. He had four dunks, a hook shot, a put-back, and was a defensive force down low. He is slowly coming along and did a great job on Harvard’s best player, Keith Wright.

It seemed like Boatright was forcing things, but his aggressive play and energy gave UConn a spark that they desperately needed. He was effective off the dribble drive, hitting several jumpers. He also played great defense and made several hustle plays. Giffey only played 5 minutes but did have a rebound and took a jumper without hesitation, all good signs.

Olander continued his productive season and has turned into a reliable role player. He had several nice passes, a 3-pointer, a hook shot, and an elbow jumper, but the best part was his contributions on the boards. If he can be competitive on the glass then he'll remain at 20 to 25 minutes a game. Daniels played in the first half and did hit a 3-pointer from the corner, but with the three guard lineup, his minutes have diminished. Calhoun wanted to give Smith more playing time. He played well, but wasn’t scoring. He did play better defense without fouling, had a block and rebounded much better. All small victories for his confidence going forward.

It was good to see this team clean up the turnovers and use their length and strength to protect the glass against a solid Harvard team. UConn is still learning to play together, especially in the three guard lineup and each and every game they are looking smoother in the half court sets. They head into the final’s break with a bit of tailwind in their sails, putting together a solid performance in every aspect of the game and Calhoun has this team moving in the right direction. Sometimes it is hard to take a step back and see that this team is still very young and needs time to grow, but like all Calhoun teams it is the end product that truly matters.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

November 2011

The question heading into the first month of the season was who was going to replace Walker’s scoring and leadership. That was answered right from the tip-off of the preseason. Napier and Lamb proved plenty capable of pouring on points and the freshmen looked the part of their highly touted rankings. While scoring wasn’t a problem, getting a consistent effort for 40 minutes defensively, especially around the perimeter and in transition, and a combination of poor ball handling, put UConn in some uncomfortably close games through much of the month. Their sloppy play finally cost them a game against UCF, where they held a 17 point lead but watched it wither away with inconsistent play. They didn’t finish out the month strong, battling a pesky FSU team into overtime and scratching and clawing their way to a victory on the back of their freshman guard, Ryan Boatright, playing his first game.

If there was any question to whether Jeremy Lamb could lead this team, this first month answered that. He showed his versatility on the offensive end, knocking down threes, throwing down some spectacular dunks, getting to the line, and using his patented floater. He hasn’t been forcing the issue or taking an inordinate amount of shots to get his points too. He’s been letting the game come to him and makes points look effortless. If there is any knock to his game, it is that he needs to be a bit more aggressive and take it to the rim more. He has the speed and length to shoot over any defender.

Napier has adjusted well to his role as the primary ball handler, especially with Ryan Boatright’s absence. He played a ton of minutes and probably wasn’t as aggressive as he would’ve liked. He has shown the ability to knock down the three, though sometimes falls in love with it to much, and it has opened up the lanes for the frontcourt to work in. His major issue is his turnovers. He needs to get that part of his game under control. He doesn’t need to make the homerun play on each possession but instead he needs to make the simple one. That being said, Napier has exceeded most expectations and this team would be floundering in mediocrity without him. Boatright played in the final game of the month and shined. Calhoun utilized the three guard unit for much of the game and Ryan adds another facet to this team that the Hall of Fame coach can play with. He also showed that he can be trusted in crunch time.

Oriakhi has been an enigma. Calhoun has been pulling all the strings to try to get Alex going. He’s benched him, limited his minutes, and has given him an earful during some heated timeouts, but Oriakhi continues his inconsistent play that has plagued his career. He is shy on taking that 15-footer, is rushing plays around the rim, and isn’t dominating smaller players on rebounds. Hopefully he turns this around, because the frontcourt needs his leadership. Drummond has taken some time to find his footing, but he has shown flashes of his NBA-like skills in each game. The college game is more backcourt oriented and it takes big men like Drummond time to find his niche. He has certainly outplayed Oriakhi in this short season and has deserved the start.

Olander has been the biggest surprise so far. He has shown the ability to hit the mid-range jumper, is rebounding much better, and is finishing plays around the rim. While he started the month out strong, his play has tailed off a bit. Daniels has made the most impact out of all the freshmen. He has shown the ability to be another outside shooter, can rebound the ball, makes the hustle plays, and is strong on the defensive end. He has slowly eroded Smith’s minutes who has struggle for much of the month. Roscoe just couldn’t find his offense and couldn’t defend without fouling. He found himself watching from the bench as Daniels made plays.

Giffey continued to struggle in finding his role. It didn’t help that he was injured for a few games. If he can not be a spot up three point shooter, then his minutes are going to dwindle. Allen, a walk-on, played significant minutes early in the season, but once games began to get close, his minutes dropped. With Boatright on the team now, it will be hard for Allen to get playing time. Wolf has fallen drastically down the depth charts, playing only a handful of minutes in the entire month. It has been a mystery as to why. He has made plays in those limited minutes. Hopefully there won’t be another Okwandu issue, where Calhoun regrets not red shirting him in his freshman year.

It hasn’t been pretty and this team isn't playing like a top echelon team, but the talent is all there. They just need to put it all together and the season is just beginning. They are learning on the fly to life without Walker. They just need to limit their turnovers and most of these close games would’ve been blowouts. This team just has too much talent to not compete for the Big East crown. They just need to absorb the fundamentals, which is easier said then done. But what is always true is that Calhoun’s teams get better as the year progresses and looking at this roster, that’s pretty scary.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Righting the Boat

Coming off a long lay-off with a disappointed performance in the Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas, UConn looked to bounce back with a better performance. They got off to a sluggish start and let a solid Razorback team jump on them 8 to 1. But then Calhoun put in Boatright, who righted the ship and put on a display. The three guard line-up handled the full court press and ignited the offense with an aggressive transition game. If it wasn’t for the ten first half turnovers, UConn would’ve blown the doors open, but Arkansas battled back and closed the gap heading into halftime when Jeremy Lamb sat on the bench in foul trouble. The Huskies cleaned up their act with turnovers in the second half, but was thoroughly dominated on the boards, especially offensively 4 to 23. That’s giving your opponent 23 more looks at the basket. That’s a recipe for defeat, but this team kept the foot on the offensive pedal and powered their way to a victory on the backs of their talented back court.

Jeremy Lamb battled foul trouble for much of this game and didn’t have his usual impact. Calhoun also kept him on the bench longer than normal to send a message to his elite shooting guard. He only took 9 shots in his 26 minutes, but still made an impact, hitting two 3-pointers, three floaters, and a massive dunk. He also had 6 boards, which is a great sign. While the offense stuttered with him not in the game, it was a good test for this team to force the offense through someone else.

Napier had a superb overall performance. He was aggressive with the ball, took some nice open shots, found his teammates in transition, used the step back jumper, a pull-up off a ball fake, and most importantly took care of the ball. It’s been awhile since the assists doubled up the turnovers and when that is happening then this team is playing at a high level. He is also benifiting from Boatright handling the basketball and isn't seeing the double teams he has been.

Boatright put on a show. He was simply amazing. He had a steal-lay-up & 1, an ankle breaker that sent him to the foul line, hustle boards, a 3-pointer, coast-to-coast lay-up & 1, steal & foul, and a floater. Not too bad. He certainly causes mismatches and moves Napier to the two spot and Lamb to the three. That is a tough match-up for anyone, but puts a ton of pressure on frontcourt to rebound and they didn’t do that. Has there been another freshman that has had this type of impact on an already star laden team?

Oriakhi got the playing time, 28 minutes, but didn’t have the impact. He did have a lay-up & 1, played good help defense, a transition dunk, and a lay-up, but also didn’t go up strong with the ball, was rebounding with one hand, gave up a free throw rebound, had a goal tend, gave up a jump ball on a drive and a rebound, and didn’t have good position rebounding. Calhoun has to be happy with his attitude. He looked to have a chip on his shoulder. Drummond again had trouble staying out of foul trouble and played sporadically. He did have some monster blocks in the second half. It takes awhile for big men to find their way in the college game.

Olander pulled himself out of the rut he has been in with a stout performance. He had five jumpers, six rebounds and an offensive board & put back. He certainly expands the floor when he is out there. He is the only frontcourt player knocking down that fifteen-footer with consistency and that shot is the zone buster. With the three guard line-up, the wing position is taking the hit minutes wise. Smith played 6 and struggled to find a role with only a turnover on a sloppy drive and a bad pass as his only contributions. Daniels also had six minutes but took three shots in that time, getting a lay-up and a steal in that time. Giffey had a good outing. He had an aggressive lay-up, got to the line, and a hustle steal. It would be nice to see UConn’s three point champion take atleast one in a game though.

It is like playing whack-a-mole with this team. They figure out a way to stop the turnovers but give up a ton of offensive boards. They have yet to play that 40 minutes of stellar ball yet, but there are plenty of good things to take from this game. Boatright is legit and a credible third scorer this team desperately needs to take the pressure off Lamb and Napier to produce every game. Once they figure out how to get Oriakhi and Drummond on track then this team will be playing at the level everyone expected them to be playing at. But with the backcourt that this team has, this boat is steering in the right direction.