JOE D’S NOTEBOOK November 27th
THANKSGIVING EDITION- Wednesday before Turkey Day 2013 and there have not been any days over the last seven that have been turkeys for the athletic programs at UConn. What a glorious seven days.
First and foremost, congratulations to Nancy Stevens and the field hockey team for bringing back the national championship to Storrs for the first time since 1985. Winning the title is great, and well deserved for a terrific person like Coach Stevens but doing it with wins over North Carolina and Duke is even sweeter. Much like the 2011 men’s basketball team, they got hot at the right time of the season and carried it all the way to the finish line.
Then there is the men’s soccer team, wining in penalty kicks in round two at UMBC. Penalty kicks are the cruelest way in sport to decide a game, the Huskies lost the AAC championship game in that fashion. But with a superior goalkeeper in Andre Blake, you always have to like the Huskies chances in that situation. When we talked with Blake and Ray Reid on Tuesday, interviews you will hear on Sports Talk at 6:35 on Friday, they talked about a lot of chatter coming out of UMBC prior to the match. Talk is cheap, winning silences a lot of conversation. Next up for the Huskies, top ranked UCLA on Sunday Night in L-A at 8 pm. Good luck to them to keep this run going.
The women’s basketball team rolled on with three easy wins in the Hall of Fame classic. There was nothing classic about the matchups, only the Huskies performances in those games. Next up Sunday, a tougher test in Springfield against Ohio State, which Bob and Deb will call starting at 5 pm.
Now on to the three games I had the chance to call. First off, the two men’s hoops wins in New York City against Boston College and Indiana were pulsating. Not artistically pleasing at times but this ain’t synchronized swimming or figure skating, style doesn’t matter. UConn ground out two wins, especially Friday night against Indiana. Shabazz Napier’s performance in both games, particularly against the Hoosiers, continues to cement his spot as one of the program’s greatest big game players. But it’s not just the points for Bazz, it’s his leadership which is so much improved over two years ago. And when he didn’t score on Tuesday against Loyola, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah picked up the slack. Kromah has been a tremendous addition, the grad student from George Washington helps the Huskies in so many areas. UConn still has the nasty habit of letting big leads slip away and at some point, it will be a recipe for disaster. But 7-0 is 7-0 heading into a Big Monday matchup against Florida at what should be a raucous Gampel Pavillion.
And finally football. Not many people, myself included, figured the Huskies would rally from 21-0 down at the half against Temple. But they went from one of their worst halves of football of the season to their best. All three phases contributed to the 28 point second half, a rally that actually began on the final drive of the first half when Tim Willman sacked P.J. Walker, forced a fumble and recovered it at the UConn 15 yard line. It was part of an outstanding game by Willman who earned one of the four game balls awarded by head coach T.J.Weist. Then, the offense scored on the first possession of the second half for the first time this season when Casey Cochran threw a td pass down the sideline to a streaking Geremy Davis to start the 28 point second half. The running game with Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo leading the way was extremely effective. And Yawin Smallwood, the best Husky, made the biggest play, the 59 yard pick six to put UConn in front for good. It was the first time UConn led since 11 minutes to go in the first half of the USF game, and the defense made it stand up. For a group of players and coaches who haven’t stopped working despite the struggles this season, it was a well deserved rewarded.
Now it’s time for the final football game for a while with Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are headed for the Big Ten after this year. They are still one win away from becoming bowl eligible. RU has been uncharacteristically shaky defensively this season. They have given up 40 points or more five times in ten games and have given up 50 points or more three times. The last two games, Rutgers has allowed 93 points in losses to Cincinnati and UCF. But you know Rutgers will come in fired up. They will blitz, trying to rattle Cochran. And with Chas Dodd at quarterback replacing Gary Nova, they hope to get their offense going again.
Our broadcast begins with Ray at the Rent bright and early Saturday morning at 5:30, then the tailgate show with Bob and Kevin at 9:30, Bob and Keith Brake with the UConn Football Magazine at 10:30, and then Kevin, Wayne and myself with the game broadcast. We hope you can join us.