Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The Sixth Man of the Year Award came down to Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Shabazz Napier. While Coombs-McDaniel had a pivotal and versatile role, especially defensively and on the boards, Napier’s ability to confidently run the point through key stretches to free up Walker was a major reason why UConn was able to achieve what they did this season. He was the spark off the bench and gave the offense and defense a jolt when it was lethargic which is what you want in a sixth man.
His ball handling was evident early on, he showed that he could hit the three ball every once in awhile, even if he took a ton of shots that weren’t in rhythm with the offense, and he played tenacious in-your-grill defense. He had problems finding his range late in the season, but he eventually became more comfortable and was using his speed to get to the rim or to the line. He had problems splitting double-teams and tried too many careless plays that led to turnovers, but he is more of a complete point guard at this point in his career than most UConn players ever to come to Storrs.
He is a prototypical Jim Calhoun player, tough nosed, defensive minded, and flew under the radar recruiting wise and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Calhoun knows how to find these hidden gems and more importantly knows how to polish them. He is by far not a finished product and still has a ton of upside. He still has a street ball mentality and needs to be a bit more fundamentally sound when in traffic and when to take the deep shot.
With this magical season behind him, Napier has a chance to leave a significant legacy. He is not lacking in confidence and with more offensive shots to go around, he will be a bit more free to be more aggressive. He needs to develop a mid-ranged shot and find ways to get to the line more because he is a great free throw shooter, especially in crunch time. UConn fans aren't as worried now that Walker is heading to the NBA because they have full confidence that Napier is capable of handling the point guard duties. He has shown that he can handle the big stage and more importantly thrives in it.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
There is little doubt that Kemba Walker deserves the Most Valuable Player of the Year Award. He was UConn's top scorer, floor leader, minutes played, and was the primary focus of the offense. There were questions to his game going into the season from his jump shot to his ability to lead, but those were quickly put to rest with superb play right out of the gates in Maui. He always had a sweet stroke but his percentages never lived up to it. While he isn’t a knock down shooter from deep, he possesses the threat, added a step back mid-ranged shot, and also finished with more efficiency around the rim. He really has the total package for a point guard.
The biggest difference for him this year was his ability to slide into the two guard position. It allowed him to come off multiple screens and created miss-matches, created room to hit a jumper or follow the pick for drives into the lane. No longer could teams throw double teams or trap him. It opened up a whole other way for him to attack and he thrived.
What stood out more then his play on the court was his leadership off of it. It started right off the bat at the Husky run where Calhoun was out of town dealing with the NCAA. He stood up and addressed everyone, setting himself up as leader of this team right from the start. He never grew impatient with his team, even when he didn’t have a legitimate second scorer. He kept battling and would always be sharing advice with with all the incoming freshmen. Without his ability to usher them along, this team wouldn't of had a chance to win the championship.
His season was unlike any other in UConn history. Many of UConn's successful teams had multiple seasoned players, but this one was full of unknown and unproven freshmen. There was an enormous amount of pressure for Walker to produce each and every game and he did. While he might not be the very best to wear the jersey, he is in the conversation and that is saying a lot.
Walker will thrive with the spacing in the NBA, but his major advantage of his speed will be minimized. He’ll have to become more consistent from deep, remain aggressive and get to the line, and be that second unit energy player. He will need to show more passing and court vision to play the point, which will be the optimal position for him. There is no doubt that he can become a starter, but needs to get adjusted to the NBA. Hopefully he lands on a team with enough around him to showcase his skills.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Who knew that after the two losses at the beginning of March to West Virginia and Notre Dame to end the regular season that this team would go on the most historic run ever by any UConn team? It was on that practice after the loss to the Irish that they first sowed the seeds to the stellar defense that they would show during crucial stretches in both tournaments. Who knows what turned on the light switch or why this team plays differently in a tournament format, but they became a different team. One that limited its turnovers, protected the fast break, and made plays in crucial stretches.
Entering the Big East tournament, they dismantled DePaul, nearly dropping a hundred on them. They then took on a reeling Georgetown team and beat them with a combination of Lamb and Walker and the Hoyas couldn’t match. It wasn’t until they took on Pittsburgh and went toe to toe with the best team in the conference, beating them on Walker’s amazing buzzer beater, that this team first felt like they had something special brewing. But they still had a major issue to overcome in the zone and there stood Syracuse and their vaunted zone defense. It was a tough fought game with UConn pulling away in overtime to escape and exorcised their zone demons. With tired legs they then took on Louisville and their unrelenting pressure defense and zone. Again it was a great game and UConn made the plays down the stretch to become Big East champs. They limited their turnovers and were effective against the zone. With a ton of momentum on their side they headed into the Big Dance.
Playing five games in five days turned around UConn’s seeding from what looked to be a seventh seed or worse into a three seed. They also drew a great bracket where they had miss-matches with size and speed. They started out with Bucknell where many pundits thought that UConn might be a potential upset, but they dismantled them and left no doubt that there wasn't any rust from their Big East run. They then had to go up against Cincinnati and played a tough Big East battle but proved to have to much firepower and moved on. San Diego State was an enigma. No one was sure how they stacked up talent wise against UConn, because they didn’t have a great litmus test other than BYU. It was another great game where UConn took control and led throughout to only withstand a late run.
Arizona was a tougher test. They were athletic, long, and offensively potent. Again UConn controlled the pace of the game and clamped down defensively, making just enough plays to sustain their offense. They survived two three pointers as the clock ran out and escaped to move into a rematch with Kentucky. Be it the raised floor, unforgiving rims or great defense, the offense in Houston was hard to come by. Kentucky, VCU, Butler, and UConn struggled to get the ball in the basket. Kentucky and UConn battled it out for ways to get easy buckets. Walker and Lamb were able to find just enough offense to keep them in the lead and Napier sealed the deal with key free throws late in the game to put Kentucky away.
The Butler game was lackluster and both teams struggled early and couldn’t get jumpers to fall. UConn used its length to frustrate Butler’s smaller front court and made enough plays to take the lead for good to cut down the nets. It was a magical month and a quarter and one for the ages. Once this team caught fire, there was no stopping them. Be it a tough nosed Pittsburgh team, A talented Syracuse zone, pressure filled Louisville, athletic filled teams in Kentucky and Arizona, and underdogs looking to take down a powerhouse programs like Butler and San Diego State, UConn found ways to beat them all and did it in different ways. Talent wise, this team will not stack up historically with other more NBA laden UConn teams, but the way they turned things around and went on the run that they had is simply amazing and not seen from any previous UConn team. That alone puts this team on the UConn Mount Rushmore.
(Video lyrics NSFW)
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
What: Calhoun’s Cancer Challenge Ride and Walk
Where: Simsbury Ct. at Iron Horse Blvd. at the Performing Arts Center
When: June 11th , 2011
Contact Information: Go to Calhounridewalk.com or call 860-674-1500
Now that Jim Calhoun and our UConn Huskies have finished a miraculous dream season, this website is privileged to team up with Coach to help spread the word on his Cancer Challenge Ride and Walk event so that others can fulfill their dream, a world without Cancer. This great benefit is on June 11th, 2011 and will be fun for everyone, even if you aren’t planning on participating in the riding or biking, because there is plenty to take part in. There will be a bouncy house and face painting for the kids, a cookout by Price Choppers' renowned House of Barbecue, some live music by Timmy Maia Band, and a chance to meet Calhoun and some of the former UConn players. Even if you can’t make it out there, you can show your support and sponsor a participant or place a specific donation. All donations go to The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UConn Health Center and Coaches vs. Cancer. So come out and support Jim Calhoun when he needs you the most and help find a cure for a disease that has touched most of our lives.
The Flatbread Company in Canton, Ct. located at the Shoppes at Farmington Valley is also lending a helping hand. On May 17th take your friends and family to Flatbread for dinner. They are donating $3.50 for every large flatbread they sell and $1.50 for each small flatbread. After you have some delicious pizza you can head over to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, also located in the Shoppes at Farmington Valley. From 6pm-9pm on May 17th Ben and Jerry's will be donating a portion of their profits to the Jim Calhoun Cancer Challenge Ride and Walk. It will be a great night you won't want to miss.
Please come out to these two events and help Jim Calhoun tackle this horrible disease, because as this college basketball season has proven, nothing is impossible. So spread the word, come on out, and join the team, because he can’t do this alone and collectively we can make a difference.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
UConn’s dreams looked like a nightmare early in the game. Jumpers weren’t falling, they had problems handling the ball, they couldn’t defend without fouling, and Walker and Lamb were sitting on the bench in foul trouble, but this team continued to battle. They relied on some unheralded players, making key contributions to keep themselves within reach. They then put together one of the greatest defensive performances in tournament history in the second half. They walled off the rim, used their length to frustrate the Bulldogs, and kept Butler to jumpers or off-balanced shots around the rim. They also dominated the boards and didn’t allow second chance opportunities. Sure Butler struggled to hit open shots, but they were few and far between and UConn put a stamp to arguably the greatest run in the history of the NCAA by winning five games in five days and then winning the National Championship.
And they couldn’t have done it without Walker who walked away with the M.V.P. award. The night didn’t start out the way that he would’ve liked. His jumper was catching iron and he was forcing the issue. He had trouble with ball screens and found himself picking up a touch foul. With only two jumpers and a lay-up, he picked up his second foul with a charge and went to the bench. In the second half, he hit an early jumper, was able to get to the line a couple of times, and had a great up and under lay-up. His performance throughout this run has been amazing, especially since teams are tailoring their defenses to stop him. It has been a pleasure to watch him throughout his career.
Lamb also struggled out of the gate. He missed most of his shots early and quickly found himself on the bench with two fouls, but all that changed in the second half. He was able to hit a three pointer, get to the line, get a steal and dunk, and wall all over the boards. He has been the most impressive freshman to come to Storrs in some time and could possibly be a better pro then Walker. UConn hasn’t had a player with his complete game in some time. All that he is lacking is a post game.
Oriakhi had an up and down season, but ended it on a high note. They force fed him early and he responded with two hook shots, but like Walker and Lamb, he quickly picked up his second foul. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact in the second half though, blocking any attempt that Butler threw his way. He also made another hook shot, a 15-footer, and a dunk. It was his best game of the tournament and he was key to pulling out this victory. He dominated tonight. Okwandu played solid defense and had a lay-up, but also had a sloppy turnover. His length caused havoc on the smaller Butler squad and his help defense has been key to UConn’s run. It is a shame that he is finally hitting his stride as a player to only leave the team.
Napier had an uneven game. He has been in a slump offensively but he is driving to the rim more and is being rewarded with easy dimes, trips to the line or lay-ups. He also did a fantastic job defensively and is one of the best on the ball defenders ever for a freshman and he has a chance to be a true superstar. Beverly had a jumper and did a good job while Kemba and Lamb sat on the bench with foul trouble. His role has been underrated but crucial to sustaining this run. Olander had another early contribution with a hook shot, boards, and played solid defense. Giffey also played well and had a running lay-up, but also had a bad inbounds pass and had another sloppy turnover. Smith continued to struggle with his jumper and is not even looking for his shots anymore. He did have a few blocks and helped out on the boards. His talent is so apparent but it takes a little longer for wing players to get it.
What an ending to a magical season! Who thought at the beginning of the year that this could’ve been possible? Not with a group of freshmen, two seniors, two sophomores, led by a budding superstar, but here they are cutting down the nets. Simply amazing and what makes everyone dream that their team can have that shot. That no matter what the pundits say, or how the rankings shake out, that the ball must be tipped up in center court and it doesn’t end for forty minutes. Everyone has a shot at the dream, all you need hard work, a few breaks, and belief. It is a microcosm of what makes this country great and why we keep coming back each and every year, because sometimes dreams do come true.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Sunday, April 3, 2011
There must be a higher power looking over this team. UConn was far from playing their best game. Kentucky was killing UConn on the offensive glass and they cashed in on some sloppy turnovers, but once again this team stuck together, wouldn’t fold, and with stellar defense on their side, they are now playing in the biggest game on the biggest stage. UConn had everything going in the first half. The jumpers were falling and the defense was keeping an athletic Wildcat team from the rim, but they failed to meet the energy level in the second half and were blitzed by the three ball and didn’t help themselves with sloppy play, handing Kentucky the momentum. They weathered the storm with some timely baskets from some unsung heroes and strung together a series of incredible defensive stands that frustrated Kentucky and had them go one for ten down the stretch. With the game in the balance one of the freshmen put the game away with some clutch free throws that proved to be the difference.
Walker didn’t have his best game. He had a few untimely turnovers and was out of gas late in the game, forcing up two jumpers that were blocked. Even with his uneven play, his star power was still on display. He was able to get on the break early on some Kentucky turnovers and drew contact to get to the line. Late in the first half, he put together two key jumpers, and a steal that led to a Smith dunk. In the second half, he struggled to find his offense and forced it a bit and took shots in double and triple teams. He did make a key block that looked like a sure two points, had three free throws on a foul, and sank a jumper when all the momentum was swinging Kentucky’s way. But Walker didn’t need to do it all because this isn’t a one man team anymore.
Lamb had an effective first half. He was able to come off screens and get into the paint for two mid-ranged shots and hit a nice jumper. He sustained the offense in a crucial stretch in the first half. In the second, he struggled to find that consistency that has been there all tournament for him. Besides a lay-up and getting to the line, he couldn’t find the basket. He also made a poor foul that luckily turned out to be a two pointer rather than a three pointer, but he needs to be careful on the perimeter. Overall, he played a solid game and his length creates a miss match on the defensive end.
Oriakhi had problems containing a glass crashing Kentucky team and had a few rebounds slip off his hands for second and third opportunities for the Wildcats. He did have an early hook shot but was then injured on an and-one play. He returned in the second half with a monster put-back dunk, a block, a lay-up, and some key rebounds, but also had a couple of turnovers that unleashed Kentucky’s fast break. He played big in some crucial stretches in the second half and was able to secure key defensive rebounds. Smith has been in a rut offensively and missed some wide open fifteen footers. He did have the first bucket for the team in the second half to get them pointed in the right direction and helped out on the boards, but he continues to search for ways to contribute in offensive sets.
Napier also had a poor thirty-eight minutes. He took some bad shots, missing all his jumpers and had a horrible turnover late in the game that almost cost them the game, but he did make a huge play on a reverse lay-up and sank two free throws in clutch time that proved to be the difference. Beverly played sparingly and did a good job defensively and did not turn the ball over. Coombs-McDaniel was in and out of the line-up and missed his only shot.
Okwandu had a great first half with a block and used his size to clog up lanes to the basket which proved key to keeping Kentucky to only jump shots which isn’t their strength. He has done a much better job of showing on help and recovering. Olander played great early on with a hook shot and a rebound. He is doing a much better job in his limited minutes. Giffey used his length defensively in the first half and kept a faster Kentucky guards in front of him. He had a terrible pass in the second half that led to points.
This team is dodging bullets, giving opponents opportunities late in the ball to steal games that UConn was in control of throughout. Like every game since the Big East tournament, they hung their hat on the defensive end and were able to find just enough offense to outlast a very hot and very talented Kentucky squad. With only one more game to go, UConn has the look of destiny on their side. To make it this far against the talent that they have played against in their collective tournaments, this team has already put themselves up against the more experienced teams of UConn championship lore. While they are playing inspired basketball, Butler is a team that thrives on being under the radar. They don’t look like a team that could make a run like they have. They aren’t that athletic, they aren’t tall, but they are a great defensive team and they find ways to take away your first and second option. UConn will need a total team effort, but that’s nothing new from this team.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Houston is a beautiful city and they are doing a great job of handling the Final Four. The shuttle services took awhile to get used to but once you figure out your color and where to find it on the buses, then you can get to the three separate venues relatively easily, minus the traffic. The three venues are Reliant Stadium, Bracket Town, and the Big Dance which is a concert venue. Bracket Town and the Big Dance are walking distance from each other which is great for the fans.
Open practice was at the Houston Texan's stadium and is on a raised platform, which isn't the best way to have a basketball game. It separates the bench, cheerleaders, and courtside seating from the game which is what makes basketball a unique game. Still there are plenty of good seats to see the game unless you are up in the nosebleed sections. I finally got to see Micheal Bradley in practice. He has put on some muscle and is fluid in his shot selection. He will make an impact next year. One of the highlights was seeing Ben Stewart's mom. She was extremely proud of her son and wasn't shy of showing his old basketball photo where he had an amazing afro. There should be a petition to get him to grow it back.
The team had a generic practice with plenty of shots being taken to get the team familiar with the rim and court. They ran through their staggered screens, both baseline, and free throws, working from ten feet and out. They separated the back court and front court twice to work on post moves for the bigs and driving shots for the guards. Shabazz shot the ball well, Oriakhi struggled a bit from the line, and Walker drew iron on most of his shots that missed and went in. Overall it looked like a loose group, laughing and joking around. They seemed to be enjoying the experience with each other and there was a lot of playful banter between Coombs-McDaniel, Lamb, Walker, and Oriakhi.
Across Houston at Bracket Town there was a great interaction events but was mainly tailored for kids. There was plenty of hoops to shoot threes, dunk and play pick up games. They set up a souvenir stand, a place to kick a soccer ball for some reason, and Buick had a challenge going on all day where people had thirty seconds to make as many shots from specific locations on the floor and the winner for the day won tickets to the Final Four.
The night ended with a Sublime concert at the Big Dance hosted by AT&T. It was free to enter and the crowd had a mixture of all ages but they were very hospitable. Other then the failed crowd surfers who entered a patch of fifteen year olds that couldn't hold them up and disappeared head first, everyone enjoyed a great performance. With the clock striking midnight we returned to our hotel which is hosting VCU. There we met many staggering boisterous VCU fans showing their school spirit at my UConn shirt. Rookies. On to day two.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Thanks to Buick, I am living a UConn's fan ultimate dream. They have provided me with the opportunity to experience the Final Four in Houston. I'll be updating everyone with periodical posts on the experience. I want to thank first and foremost my readers. Without you I would never of had this dream of every fan out there realized. I normally don't go first person here, but how can I not. Thank you. Please check in early and often for posts of my experience here so that I can share it with those who truly deserve it, You.