JOE D’S NOTEBOOK

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JANUARY 20- SUNDAY CUP O ‘JOE:  Championship Sunday in the NFL, what a great day. Two games, two winners get to go to the Ultimate Game. Even if your team isn’t playing (like mine), it’s still a great day. But it’s basketball on the agenda to start.

The UConn men have hit their first  speed bump  in the Kevin Ollie era.  They have lost two straight for the first time after their 69-61 loss at Pittsburgh before a sellout crowd at the Peterson Events Center.  The Huskies played their second straight dismal half to start the game, digging a 13 point halftime hole. But after falling 14 down with 14 to go, UConn stormed back to tie the game at 55 and again at 58. Ollie said in his post game press conference it wasn’t any great strategic change, or any magic formula, it was just that his team moved the ball and played tough. Led by Ryan Boatwright and Omar Calhoun who combined for 25 of the Huskies 39 second half point, UConn played with a tenacity that was sadly lacking in the first 20 minutes. There is no excuse for this team to play without passion each and every game. They let Pittsburgh dictate the game in the first half, they dictated things in the second. But Pitt for the second straight game ended strong and thus UConn is now sub 500 in the Big East.

Shabazz Napier tried to give it a go but wasn’t 100%. The week between games should help him recover from his shoulder problems, But a bigger problem for this team is its inability to stop the pick and roll, one of the oldest and simplest plays in basketball. It is something UConn works constantly at in practice. But when it comes to games, they don’t play the defense they worked on in practice. And rebounding was again an issue on Saturday, especially Pittsburgh’s ability to convert offensive rebounds into second chance points. The Panthers had 10 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes and converted them into 16 points. DeAndre Daniels, Enosch Wolf and Phillip Nolan combined to play 37 minutes and combined for zero rebounds…Zero… Tough to win that way. The fact the Huskies were tied with 4;00 to play is a testament to their dogged determination.

Let’s be honest, if before the season, you looked at the schedule and said Louisville and Pittsburgh were losses, it would have made sense. But the bottom line is both were winnable games. But for this edition of the Huskies to win any game, it must play to its potential, and that means each individual.

UConn has never had much success at the Peterson Events Center but it is a terrific venue for college basketball. The best part is the students sit on the lower level surrounding 3/4 of the court. It’s a great environment that we won’t see for a while. What Wayne and I will also miss is our visits with Pitt broadcasters Bill Hillgrove and Dick Groat. Bill has been the voice of the Panthers for an amazing 39 years while Groat is a former All American at Duke and MLB All Star with the Pirates and Cards. Two of the world’s classiest individuals.

The hypocrisy of the NCAA continues to amaze me, and then again, it shouldn’t. Trey Ziegler played two years at Central Michigan University with his day as his dad as head coach. When Ernie Ziegler got fired after last season, Trey decided to transfer and landed at Pitt. But, instead of sitting out for a year, like all transfers do, Ziegler asked for and received a waiver to become eligible immediately. WHAT. What was the hardship? Dad lost his job. Sorry, it doesn’t fly with me. Look, I think the sit out a year rule is stupid anyway BUT a rule is a rule. Except of course where the NCAA is concerned.

Congrats to Stephanie Dolson who joined the 1,000 point club in UConn’s blowout of Syracuse on Saturday. I know everyone is in love with Skylar Diggins, but couldn’t a case be made for Dolson as Big East Player of the Year. The women host 4th ranked Duke on Monday at Gampel, 6:30 on the radio.

The recent  games , for the men against Louisville and the women against Syracuse, proved the passion still exsists for UConn fans. Both games at the XL Center produced loud, enthusiastic, boisterous crowds. Now, the trick is to keep the fire burning for the rest of the season,

The idea that the women would have to play a 9 PM weeknight home game for the benefit of CBS Sports Network is absurd. Just plain out dumb.

Interesting times around the UConn football program. All three coordinators jobs are still open, although it seems that former Cincinnati WR coach TJ Weist will become offensive coordinator. Fans are hoping the changes signal a change of fortunes for the Huskies.

Football prediction time, I like the Giants to beat the Niners…oh, that was last year. Ok, Niners 34- Falcons 21 in the NFC, Patriots 27-Ravens 24 in the AFC. Two best teams get to the Super Bowl.

SportsTalk at 6:10  on Monday night I will talk to interim UConn men’s ice hockey coach David Berard as the Huskies get set to visit 4th ranked Quinnipiac on Tuesday night.

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