THURSDAY. MARCH 13. Welcome back to the post season UConn fans. Isn’t it great? It should be… Last year when the Huskies were denied a chance to play in the final “real” Big East tournament, it was awful. Empty. But now, tonight, UConn is back in the chase, starting play tonight in the AAC Quarterfinals against Memphis.
Before a look ahead, a look back at yesterdays Awards Luncheon. First off, what a terrific venue. The Gibson Guitar Factory was a great host to the event and ESPN’s Doris Burke (friend of Sports Talk) was equally great as the MC. The story of the day was Shabazz Napier winning Player of the Year honors. It was a three man battle and the coaches chose Shabazz. They wouldn’t have been wrong with any of the choices but to me (somewhat biased here),they got it right. No player was more important to his team’s success than Napier. Coach of the Year Mick Cronin from Cincinnati supported his guy, Sean Kilpatrick when accepting his award. He should. Kilpatrick was obviously disappointed at winning just the sportsmanship award and told the Cincinnati Enquirer “I don’t know the definition behind it”. Expect him to be motivated at not getting the honor.
As for Napier, he gave a speech thanking all the behind the scenes people at UConn like head athletic trainer James Doran, strength coach Travis Illian, all the student managers, his coaches and his teammates. And he had special praise for his mom Carmen who was in attendance. It was a terrific job done by a terrific young man.
Now, it’s on to the games and UConn will certainly have its hands full with Memphis. As Kevin Ollie said Monday Night on his coaches show, those wins mean nothing now. It’s a new season. Memphis lost its first two conference home games but has won its last seven, including wins over Louisville and SMU, two teams that UConn couldn’t beat. Austin Nichols was named Freshman of the Year and is on fire, averaging 14 points per game in his last six games. The Memphis back-court, four deep,is still lethal. The Tigers share the ball as well as anyone in the league, averaging almost 18 assists per game. Stopping their running game is critical because it could help take the crowd out of the game.
And on the subject of the crowd, it will be loud and boisterous. The people here in the Mid-South are stoked to have the first AAC tournament in their building, a place where Memphis romped to the last two Conference USA titles. Obviously this is a stronger field that C-USA but still,don’t discount the fact that the home crowd will make things even tougher for UConn. And the 8:30 CDT start will allow the local partisans to (ahem) hydrate before entering the arena,which should increase their “spirit”
For UConn, this game isn’t about the crowd, or the building, or even the Tigers. It’s about getting back to playing the type of basketball they did after the Texas Mis-Step. The Huskies are shooting just 36% over the last five games, they have been struggling on the boards and have shown some discord on the floor when things have gone bad. That isn’t the way to win in the post season. Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels have to play like they are capable. One of the bigs has to step up every night. And Lasan Kromah and Neils Giffey have to be the glue guys that they have been much of the season.
Expect a late night in Bluff City,our pregame will begin at 8:55. I hope you can join us.