SUNDAY CUP O’ JOE- February 17. If you had told me last Sunday while mushing to New Jersey that the UConn men would have gone 2-1 this week, I would have agreed. But to have the wins include Syracuse and the loss be Villanova would have surprised me. Such is life in the Big East 2013.
The biggest disappointment in Saturday’s setback to the Wildcats was that UConn led by seven with 14 1/2 minutes to go. That, in my opinion, negates any letdown theory from the Syracuse game. The Huskies were succeeding, even without any scoring from their two top guns, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Napier was still finding teammate, ending with a season high 10 assists, the fourth double-digit assist game of his career. But Villanova’s aggressive perimeter defense negated the duo’s ability to penetrate and create shots on the outside. Eventually, their failure to put points on the board proved fatal to the Huskies hopes on Saturday.But the way that Napier and Boatright have played this season, you have to cut them slack for a one inefficient game.
But the two biggest numbers from the game were these, Villanova had 20 offensive rebounds good for 20 second chance points and UConn turned the ball over a season high 19 times. Four of those offensive rebounds led directly to a made three point field goal, the deadliest being the James Bell 3 that made it 60-54 with 5:16 to play. It’s the fourth time this year that the opponent has gotten 20 offensive rebounds against UConn but the three previous times, UConn won the game, not Saturday. And the 19 turnovers committed by the Huskies limited them to a mere 46 field goal attempts, tying the Harvard game for their fewest of the season.
Their were bright spots in the game, especially the continued improved play of Omar Calhoun and Neils Giffey and the two threes in the first half by Leon Tolksdorf. No one works harder than the freshman from Berlin, Germany and with UConn sure to face zone after zone in the final six games, Tolksdorf may be able to loosen defenses up.
Even the loss on Saturday can’t take away from the euphoria of Wednesday night. It was,considering the circumstances of the season, one of the biggest regular season wins in recent years for UConn. The crowd was into it from the start and very, very vocal. And for UConn to beat Syracuse in their final regular season appearance was easily the marquee victory of the season. That win set the bar pretty high for the Huskies in the final three weeks of the season. But it’s a bar that had been set high from the start by Kevin Ollie.
It was great to see our friend, Staff Sgt Adam Rowland at the game on Saturday and given a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd by P.A.announcer John Tuite during the first half. Adam was the host to the UConn travel party during our visit to Ramstein Air Base in November. Adam became a great friend to all of us during our time in Germany and it was terrific to see him again. He will also join us at the game on Thursday. If you are there, please look for Adam and thank him for his service to our country.
The scene is now set for Monday’s women’s showdown between #1 Baylor and #3UConn. The Huskies struggled at the start against Rutgers on Saturday before pulling away to win, UConn already has a win over #1 this season when they hammered Stanford in December. I am guessing this number one will give them a much tougher challenge. Bob Joyce and Deb Fiske have the call starting at 8:30 on Monday night.
Springtime can’t be far away, the UConn baseball team is in action in Florida this weekend opening its season against Big 10 powers Purdue and Indiana. If Jim Penders pitching comes thru and some key freshman regulars join with LJ Mazzilli, Capt.Billy Ferriter and Tom Verdi to produce a solid starting nine, the Huskies should be in the thick for a Big East title and NCAA tournament berth.
Competition will be the key word when pre season practice begins for the UConn football team. With the addition of HS recruit Richard Lagow, there will be six quarterbacks in camp in August. Incumbent Chandler Whitmer is sure to be the #1 but, with a new offensive coordinator in TJ Weist, it’s safe to say the job is wide open.
Speaking of UConn football, I talked to the head of the Capital Region Development Authority, Mike Freimuth about the decision to award the rights to run the XL Center and Rentschler Field. During our interview, Mike told me they were adding temporary seats to Rentschler for the Michigan game. He said 10,000…It’s closer to 2,000 to 3,000 according to sources at UConn. Time will tell.
BTW, what a nice first impression Kevin Youkilis made to Yankee fans with his declaration of his love for the Red Sox on his first day in camp in Tampa. Better produce Youk, you better produce.
Kevin Ollie Monday Night on Sportstalk, we’ll also talk to Kevin Freeman and Ricky Moore about the 1999 National Championship season (you remember, UConn 77 Duke 74) and then the women’s showdown with Baylor.