Monday, January 31, 2011

Ray Allen on beating the Lakers

Interviews after the Louisville loss

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dead to Rights

UConn had Louisville right where they wanted them. Up four with only minutes to go, they only had to make their free throws and defend, but they did what they haven’t done all season, let a game they had won slip right through their grasp. Give the Cardinals credit for sinking jumper after jumper from the wings and making the plays that they had to make to steal this game. Their tough zone defense stuttered UConn’s half court offense and UConn couldn’t get anything going inside the perimeter. They wound up taking poor outside shots that weren’t in rhythm and it opened the door for Louisville to get back in the game and they did. It was a tough lose and one they'll regret lossing.

It was another tough game for Walker. He just couldn’t get his jumper to drop and wasn’t getting to the line. His last good shooting game was against DePaul and that was a long time ago. Even though his shots aren’t dropping, he is drawing the defense and allowing others to get wide open looks. For some reason the basket is shrinking on him in the first half of ballgames and he is settling for jumpers. But he is still clutch and nearly had his heave go in in the closing seconds.

Oriakhi has been invisible in the past two games. He found it hard to get anything going against the zone because it takes him to long to create a shot and gets surrounded and stripped. He needs to find a quick turn around shot. The most frustrating thing is that he isn’t getting the boards, especially in crunch time.

Napier was lights out and out shined Walker. He was money from deep, hitting several clutch jumpers. He also took the ball into the lane more and actually drew contact and got to the line. He did miss some crucial free throws late but without his superior play, this game wouldn’t have made it into overtime. He is also doing a great job of defending without fouling and caused havoc in the half court sets.

Lamb had a fast start but struggled late. He was silenced in the second half by Louisville's good zone defense that took away his deadly mid-ranged game. He couldn't find ways to penetrate and use that floater and settled for outside shots or deferring. He did come through in the second overtime with a sweet runner and three pointer but it was to little to late.

Smith had a good night on the boards but continues to struggle for consistency in his offensive game. He still plays excellent defense and isn’t afraid to crash the boards. He just needs to find ways to get the ball on the wing more for open looks and knock them down, which is easier said then done. Coombs-McDaniel is trying to find his role but isn’t getting much done late in the game other then a board. Giffey got on the floor but didn’t do much. Beverly came in and helped add another ball handler to Louisville’s press. He is one of those players that do the little things that don’t show up in the stat books but every team needs a Beverly on their team.

Olander got some early minutes but was nowhere to be found late. Calhoun seems to be giving him valuable experience for next season. Okwandu did a better job of defending without fouling, but he is back to not rebounding again. These two players are enigmas to this team. They should be effective against a zone but weren't. Okwandu has had a few solid performances, but with Oriakhi struggling there is just no consistency behind him.

With the early success that UConn has had, it has shifted everyone’s expectations, but it has also allowed them some much needed breathing room. This is a great learning experiences for this team. They’ll see plenty of zone in the upcoming games and need to respond with a better performances. They are still very much in the running for the division and a much needed double-bye in the Big East Tournament, but they need to hold serve at home and can’t let teams back into ballgames that they had dead to rights.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lamb Chops

It was supposed to be a battle of style. Could UConn’s big men hold their own against a smaller Marquette team? But UConn showed that it was just as versatile and out played Marquette at their own game with their trio of guards out dueling Marquette's. Both halves played out the exactly the same. Marquette jumped out early, knocking down jumpers, but UConn kept within reach and when Marquette’s shots dried up, UConn took over and never looked back. This is the second game in a row that UConn won on the backs of their freshmen. No one would've thought it possible for them to win a league game on the road with Walker and Oriakhi having poor games, but they keep proving everyone wrong.

It was another off night for Walker. He missed his first five shots before sinking a jumper. Though his shots were clanking, he was still drawing defenders and making the right passes. He also played solid defense and helped out on the boards in a game that needed the guards to chip in. Kemba might be a little too jump shot happy and needs to get to the line and early to see and feel the ball drop in the basket early on. Once that happens, he seems to find his game.

Oriakhi struggled against a smaller and quicker Marquette front court and was uncomfortable guarding outside the paint. He had two nice dunks but also had a horrible pass that gave up the last play of the first half and several defensive lapses. This is one of those games that he needs to put behind him. He was asked to defend players that he isn’t normally used to and was in foul trouble for most of the night.

It was the Jeremy Lamb show. This is the fourth game in a row now that he has made a major impact on the game and none more so then this one. He showed an above the rim game and had the highlight of the night with a high flying one handed dunk. He also had his outside shot going, sinking three 3-pointers, but it was his deadly mid-ranged game that was so heralded when he was coming into this season that has made his game so well rounded. He had a curl play where he sank a jumper that was reminiscent of Rip Hamilton. He is showing a variety of ways to score and has become a much better ball handler.

Napier had a nice game. His court vision is getting better, hitting several bombs down court for easy buckets and he made some clutch shots down the stretch in the second half. He also stepped up and sealed the game from the line, which is great to see from such a young player. There were times where he could've attacked the paint but pulled it back. He needs to get to the line more. Beverly hit an outside shot but struggled after that with some poor defense and dribbling into trouble. He looks to be stuck in second gear out there.

Smith wasn't as effective offensively as his last game, but he still had a solid night. He was attacking the boards and blocking shots all over the place. He also had a pretty up and under lay-up which displayed his athleticism. While he isn’t as athletic as Stanley Robinson, he already has a more fluid offensive game. Coombs-McDaniel had trouble defending without fouling, but did hit an 3-ball and made his free throws. It is small steps for him at this point and he contributed in a variety of ways, especially when defending the four position. Giffey came in for a couple of minutes but passed up an open look at the basket. It seems like the shrinking rotation has squeezed him out of crucial minutes.

Okwandu outplayed Oriakhi which is a first of the year. He was snagging boards and blocking shots, which is what this team needs from him. His improved play has allowed much needed depth and allowed Calhoun room to let Olander grow. Olander played some solid defense but had a horrible pass and didn’t play much after that. He needs small doses of minutes to get used to the rigors of Big East play.

This team is beginning to mature and Smith, Napier, and Lamb all contributing and getting better in each game. That allows Walker to focus on making others better, which is what he is best at. He is more comfortable as a point guard and this team is playing much better with him distributing the ball. He has shaved off ten field goals attempts and given them to Lamb, Smith, and Napier. And the freshmen have responded with energized play and an unfreshmenlike consistency down the stretch to win big time games. The best thing about this team though is that they still have tremendous upside and if they reach it this year, then the sky is the limit.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No one trick pony here

This team isn’t supposed to be this good. Not with Kemba Walker missing shots. They’re supposed to be a one trick pony and a team too inexperienced to win games in the final minutes. But here they were pulling away from an athletic Tennessee squad with a total team effort. It wasn’t easy. They gave Tennessee a ton of easy buckets and were dominated in the first half in the paint but they were able to settle the defense down and began battling back on the boards. The outside shot kept them in the game and the second chance opportunities gave them the lead. They did give Tennessee an opportunity to crawl back into it down the stretch with a couple of missed one-and-ones. But they played smart, working the clock, and used solid defense without fouling, which is something a young team like this isn’t supposed to do.

Walker struggled for much of the first half, missing his first five shots but once he saw the ball go in at the free throw line, he sank back-to-back jumpers before knocking down a buzzer beating 3-pointer. His jumper still wasn’t working in the second half but he found ways to get points through put-backs and trips to the line. It was far from a dominate performance, but he played a team game and made the correct passes when doubled and tripled teamed. With others knocking down shots, he resorted to drawing in the defense and dishing.

Oriakhi also struggled early on after hitting a 15-footer. He was quickly benched for not running hard on the break and giving up a lay-up. He was also getting caught in bad positions, giving up second chance opportunities. But he came out ready to play in the second half. He battled hard on the boards and had the play of the game with a beautiful steal and dunk in transition. His post up and soft hook has become a consistent weapon for him and he also has shown a double move too. His game has matured and he is becoming a legit center in the league.

Napier had another inconsistent game. He banked in a 3-ball. He is shooting them without setting his feet and getting a solid look at the basket. He also had a couple of bad passes and missed some mismatches. All of this is due to inexperience. He is still a beast defensively and is a confident free throw shooter, but doesn’t get to the line enough to make it a weapon. He needs to use that blazing speed more to penetrate rather then take quick 3-pointers.

It looked like Lamb was going to have a quiet night with only a floater and lay-up in the first half but he came out on fire in the second, hitting two 3-pointers, two jumpers, a block, and sealed the game at the line (After missing a crucial one-and one). He has put together three solid performances against superior talent and should give him the confidence to be productive from here on out. Beverly had a tough game, driving the ball into the teeth of the defense and getting stuffed both times. He didn’t do much after that.

This is a totally different team when Smith is scoring and he did. His jumper was smoking, hitting four 3-pointers. He also attacked the offensive glass. His activeness helped stretch the defense and made it easier for the big men to work the post. Hopefully he can keep this momentum into the next game. Smith wasn’t the only player finding his outside touch. Coombs-McDaniel hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half. It was good to see him knock them down and build up some confidence in his shot. Giffey played sparingly in the first half. He had a bad pass and dribbled himself into trouble. He seems to be the odd man out of the rotation as it shrinks.

Okwandu had a solid game. He helped out on the boards, had a lay-up, beautiful tip-in, and a hook shot, and fantastic block. He is beginning to find his role and is being effective in it. On the flip side is Olander. He struggled blocking out and staying in front of his man. He rode the pine for much of the game. He plays with energy but is being bullied down low and isn’t finishing plays off around the rim.

What more can you ask from this young team? Lamb has put together several strong performances, Okwandu is playing both sides of the court, Smith is hitting the boards and knocking down jumpers, and Walker and Oriakhi are anchoring the points and boards. It has caused all the naysayers to question what the paper says and judge the performances. These freshmen can play with anyone and Walker, though not scoring with efficiency, is still unstoppable. But the most impressive aspect to this team is there ability to seal games down the stretch, which is something a much older team couldn’t do last year. And this is the beauty of college sports.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deadly Combination

This is a gritty team. Everything wasn’t going their way. Jumpers weren’t falling, Villanova was getting all the calls, and they were getting beat on the boards, but they continued to fight. While UConn started out hot it soon turned ugly with both teams struggling to get to the rim and knock down jumpers. Both defenses were effective in sealing lanes and limiting the offense to jumpers and Villanova finally started sinking theirs. With the lead switching hands several times, it came down to the superstars and Walker again showed his magic, sinking the dagger. This team might not be athletic, deadly from outside, or dominate in the paint as previous teams, but this team fights harder then any team in recent memory.

The Legend of Walker continues to grow. He had a tough night with his jumper and was getting in trouble with the double and triple teams in the paint. It looked like he was going to be held in check, but then the referees began calling fouls again, which sent him to the line for five of his last ten points. His clutch floater in the closing minutes masked a bad foul that tied the game up and several missed free throws.

Oriakhi had a tough start to the game, missing on some easy baskets, but he was strong on the boards and continued to snag boards throughout the game. He got himself in trouble a couple of times with taking to long to make a move and having the double team swallow him up, but he has shown a consistent hook shot and finished with authority on a couple of plays. He also did a great job at the line and is making teams pay for sending him there. His improved play is why UConn is winning these games.

Napier did a good job defensively but struggled on the offensive end. He had a nice highlight pass to Coombs-McDaniel but didn’t do much other then that offesively. Lamb has been a completely different player in the past two games. He is taking more shots and it is paying off. He is still inconsistent from deep but his mid-ranged game has been his major weapon and he is helping out on the boards too. Hopefully this is the Lamb that will be around all season. Beverly played sparingly and had a turnover. If he can’t limit his turnovers then he will be riding the pine.

Olander had a rough outing. He fell out of bounds on a rebounding attempt, missed a wide open jumper, and was blocked on a post move. He needs to do a much better job on the boards and he isn’t. Okwandu was a pleasant surprise. He did his job on the glass, snagging offensive and defensive boards and even sank a free throw. Most of his fouls are due to the guards letting their man into the lane and Okwandu helping out. He is in there to provide fouls, rebound, and block shots.

Smith is struggling with his jumper, sinking one in the second half, but he needs to do more on the glass and find ways to get to the line. He has all the tools to be a legit wing man but it is taking him some time to adjust. Coombs-McDaniel clanked all his jumpers but did have a nice lay-up from a great feed from Napier. He is running hard and moving well without the ball. Giffey played a couple of minutes and quickly sat back down. He isn't getting the opportunities to get out of his slump but it was a tight ballgame and Calhoun needed to go with what was working.

With Napier and now Lamb beginning to find their respective roles, this team is beginning to get a rhythm. Like the teams of the last several years, the wing position is the only spot where there is still a question mark. It could lead Calhoun to run more of the three guard lineup which he has used on occasions. One thing for sure is that the defense is legit, the freshmen are gaining confidence and Walker is a superstar. That is a deadly combination.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Road Warriors

This was the first game in a long while that UConn dominated in all aspects of the game. The offense wasn’t dominated by one player but points were distributed throughout the lineup, they held their own on the boards, found ways to get into the fast break, and while they fouled a ton in the first half, they made them earn every point in the second half. This team is beginning to gel and find their roles. The freshmen are all contributing, the sophomores are stepping up, and Walker is getting more comfortable and not hijacking the offense. They are also doing what they need to do, win the games that they are supposed to win and they did it in convincing fashion.

Walker had his best game since his superb play against Vermont. He came out on fire, getting a steal and lay-up, and then sank two jumpers before his first miss. DePaul continued to pressure UConn and it allowed Walker to attack the defense with no double in sight which he made them pay. His whole game was on display. He was getting to the line with aggressive plays, hitting wide open jumpers, grabbing boards, and creating havoc defensively. It is good to see him so effective without taking a ton of shots.

It took awhile for Oriakhi to get going. He only had one board in the first half and missed some easy buckets. In the second half though, he started out strong, getting the ball in the post and finishing. He then found a couple of easy dunks, rebounds, and nice post moves for lay-ups. His free throw shooting has improved so much and is now a weapon for him. He just needs to find ways to get on track earlier in the game.

Napier had a quiet game. He didn’t do much in the first half other then a pretty assist, but in the second half, he made another nifty pass and a three pointer. Lamb had a spectacular game. His mid-ranged jumper finally showed up and he sank four of them. He also did a great job with the ball in traffic. His ball control has improved since the beginning of the year. He had the highlight of the game with a poster dunk on a nice feed from Napier. Hopefully he can keep this type of play up because this is a different team when he is making plays.

Smith did a good job. He had a nice reverse lay-up, blocked shots, rebounded, and found ways to get to the line. He is going to be a special player when he finds his jumper again. Coombs-McDaniel had an on and off game. At times he had some nice lay-ups, boards, and ran hard on made baskets, but then he made some bad passes,did not block out, and had some poor fouls. His jumper is still a liability for him too but atleast he is making positive plays. Giffey had a tough game. He had a bad foul, horrible pass which got him benched, and played some sloppy defense. He did have a couple of offensive rebounds, but his confidence is at an all time low. He needs to keep shooting though and not pass up open jumpers because he still has one of the best strokes on the team.

Olander had a better game on the boards, but he can’t find ways to get anything going offensively. He isn’t getting any opportunities on the block or hitting the fifteen footer. He also needs to do a better job defensively and continues to foul too much. There is a ton of pressure on him though because of the lack of depth there. Okwandu had a couple of blocks, but didn’t do anything on the boards or help out offensively. He needs to do more when in the game. Wolf finally found some minutes with three minutes left in the blowout. He was aggressive when the ball was in his hands and was called for an offensive foul but he plays with a lot of energy. This would’ve been the perfect game to get him some solid minutes, but Calhoun must not trust him yet.

This game was won on the defensive end and once they stopped fouling DePaul and sending them to the line, they began to pull away. They are winning the games that they are supposed to and it sets them up nicely for some upcoming Big East games. They’ll need to continue to play stellar defense, have Walker efficient, and hope some of the freshmen continue their improvement. If they can hold home court and steal a few upper echelon road games, then they’ll be where they need to be. But with a young team like this, consistency is always inconsistent.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Convincing Fashion

It looked like UConn was going to be bogged down in a half court game where they would settle for jumpers and rely on Walker to take over, but that all changed in the second half. The Huskies were able to get into the fast break and found easy points on account of players like Coombs-McDaniel, Beverly, and Smith who were able to rediscover their offense and Oriakhi and Walker who continued their Texas magic. But this game was won really won on the defensive end. They wore down the undermanned Rutgers squad to contested jumpers and didn’t allow easy lay-ups. While it was far from perfect, they were able to get some players valuable minutes and get themselves on track in the Big East.

Walker played a much more controlled game. He was able to get some points early and didn’t take a ton of shots to get his points and instead let the game come to him. This team plays much better when Walker is playing the two guard spot where he can come off multiple screens to get the ball. He is also doing a much better job of helping out on the glass. He had multiple offensive boards which gave him easy buckets. While his point total took a dip, the offense played more fluid which is a trade off Calhoun can live with.

It was great to see Oriakhi carry over his superb play in Texas to a Big East game. He started off slow, missing his first two shots and not get a rebound, but he then came back with three nice post moves, showing a consistent baby hook. He is a totally different player when he is getting boards though. In the second half he started out with three defensive boards, two blocks, an offensive board and lay-up, and then a monster dunk. That was when UConn pulled away for good. Alex was having problems with undersized teams like Rutgers and it was good to see him dominate.

Napier had another solid game. He only had one freshman play, where he fouled his defender again with seconds to go in the half, but he has limited his forced shots and poor decisions. The offense is totally different when he is on the floor. Teams can’t sag off of him like Beverly or Lamb, and that creates lanes for Walker and Oriakhi to go to work. He just needs to do a better job of knowing when to be aggressive and when to remain more in control.

Lamb seems to be in Calhoun’s doghouse since the Texas game. He didn’t start and struggled with his jumper and defense in the first half. He did have a jumper in the closing minutes, but he needs to find his mid-ranged game again and the best way to do that is get to the line, which he hasn’t been able to. Beverly had a good second half and finally found his jumper, hitting a 3-ball and a jumper. It is important to get him some confidence because that allows Napier some rest and still keep Walker as the two guard.

Smith had a tough first half, missing all his jumpers, had a poor pass, and when he did make a shot, he rolled his ankle. But he toughed it out and came back in the second half to have an And-1 lay-up and a 3-ball. If he can find a way to become a ten point scorer, then this team can compete with anyone. Coombs-McDaniel had a solid game. He found his outside shot early and his confidence only grew from there. He still needs to help out more on the boards and find ways to get to the line then make free throws when there. Giffey finally got some minutes and had a couple of boards, a nice save, and a late jumper. Hopefully he can get more minutes and find his range again, because he can be a important sharp shooter off the bench.

Olander struggled and wasn’t effective on the boards. He is also stiff defensively and is letting his defender get into his body for easy trips to the line. Okwandu was effective defensively and had a couple of blocks but he just isn’t rebounding and this team needs him to help Oriakhi out. This team really needs these two to do more on the boards.

This was a great confidence booster for players like Coombs-McDaniel, Beverly, and Smith and hopefully they can take their good performances and build on it, because this team needs them to contribute and not let Walker take twenty or more attempts a game and rely on Oriakhi to get fifteen boards a night. It was also good to see a team not shoot lights out on them, like in the past four games. They played solid defense for most of the game and it allowed the minutes to be spread about more judiciously. It was an overall solid performance against a team that could have sneaked up and stolen a game. These are the type of games they need to win and they did it in convincing fashion, something this team hasn't done in awhile.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Out of this League

Wow. Is it the hot weather that is able to unfreeze what has been a lethargic frontcourt? They were dominate in the paint and the defense was much better. Even though they gave up a ton of points, they didn’t allow anything five feet and in. The referees let the two teams play physical but at times it seemed a bit lopsided on the touch fouls. This team was resilient and played through Kemba’s offensive drought, tough calls, and Texas making jumpers and continued to play hard. They clawed their way to the lead late, hung on, and had a bit of Walker magic to pull off the victory.

Kemba tends to take a step or two more then what he needs to and he struggled early, missing his first five shots before sinking a lay-up. He battled hard on the boards and looked to distribute early, which seems to be the game plan. The Big East referees didn’t want to send Walker to the line to make them seem like homers and let Texas body him on every drive. He was getting frustrated but didn’t let it effect his aggressiveness and continued to probe the defense. The legend of Kemba Walker continues to grow as his late game heroics with an amazing on handed three point shot in the closing seconds that brings back memories of Taliek Brown’s deep three.

Oriakhi reemerged as a monster in the paint. He was effective in the post hitting two shots early but they didn’t go back to him there again until late in the ballgame. This is the type of game that he should be getting on a daily basis. It is amazing that he plays so well out of conference and then he is a different player at home or on the road in conference. Hopefully this is a confidence builder for him and he can carry this momentum into the next game.

Napier had another fantastic game. He isn’t shy about shooting the rock and this team needs someone to take pressure off of Walker. He hasn’t found a way to curb his aggressiveness and it has hurt this team at times. He had a horrible foul with only seconds left in the first half, gifting Texas two points, and then he had back-to-back ugly passes which sent him to the bench. These are all things that Calhoun can live with when he is banking in threes and being disruptive on the defensive end.

Smith had a play that will live in YouTube infamy, throwing up a three quarter court shot with ten seconds left and nearly cost UConn the game. It will overshadow his otherwise good game. He blocked shots, battled on the boards, had a nice dunk, and found his outside shot again, which he hadn’t hit since the Harvard game. Coombs-McDaniel didn’t have the impact that he had in the previous games other then two early free throws. Giffey barely played and wasn’t a factor. He just isn’t getting the minutes in the rotation anymore.

Olander missed every jumper he threw up there and had a bad pass but he battled on the boards and had a lay-up. He plays with energy and goes after the ball, but needs a bit more size to compete on the boards more. Okwandu showed some consistency with his post moves, sinking in a couple of hook shots and made his free throw on an and-one. He is still having problems defending and not fouling but he is giving this team what they need, presence in the paint and on the block.

Beverly had nice game, getting to the line, snagging boards, and distributing the ball. This was his best game of the year so far and found a way to put his stamp on the game without forcing the issue. Lamb struggled mightily and had a turnover, horrible miss and clanked a three-ball then didn’t do a thing after that.

It is amazing how UConn is a totally different team when they play out of their league. The frontcourt is dominate, the freshmen find ways to contribute, and Kemba carries this team on his back over the hump and to a victory. This could be a turning point in their season if they can carry this effort into the next performance. This victory has given them a little leeway in terms of building a solid resume. Losses at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are not glaring but the way they are playing is. They were in the same boat as the last couple of games, trailing for most of the game, giving up seventy or more points, and Walker forcing shots. They just found some magic toward the end of the game and luckily stole it, but there is still work to do. Too bad they don't play out of their league more.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


What more can you ask for? UConn played horrible defense all game and Walker was off for most of the night and they still had two shots at tying the game up in the closing minutes. The freshmen’s shots were finally falling but they just couldn’t keep Notre Dame in front of them defensively and let them get lay-up after lay-up down the stretch. UConn knew it was going to be a tough road in the Big East, but they have barely led in any of the first three games, just squeaking out a victory late in the South Florida game and it all has to do with the defense. Maybe the zone would’ve helped, but they need to do something. This team has to stay above water and can’t fall to 1 and 3 in the conference.

Walker struggled mightily throughout the game. He couldn’t buy a basket but he was still effective in finding his teammates and playing solid defense. He also did a good job of not picking up that second foul in the first half. He had his looks but they just weren’t dropping and that was the reason why they couldn’t match Notre Dame.

Oriakhi did a better job of rebounding and was very aggressive with the ball in his hands. Calhoun shouldn’t be mad that he had three offensive fouls because this team needs him to be in attack mode in the post. The more he takes it to the basket the better this team will become. Olander had a tough game and was getting out hustled in the paint. This team needs him to contribute more. Right now he is creating more negative plays then positive. Okwandu played well with his minutes, hitting a nice hook, getting a board, and blocking a shot.

Napier was impressive. His outside shot was on and he was a pest defensively. It is too bad that he had that freshman moment in the closing seconds of the ballgame. He was the best player on the floor for UConn and hopefully he can keep up this kind of productivity. Lamb had a solid game, hitting the outside shot and attacking the boards. He is still struggling defensively and his man is getting a step on him. Beverly played sparingly and wasn’t much of a factor.

Smith had a good first half, blocking shots, dunking the ball, and finally hitting a jumper, but he needs to block out and rebound better. He is also trailing his man on most possessions. Coombs-McDaniel had back-to-back solid games. His outside shot was working and was taking the ball to the rim too. Hopefully this is a confidence builder for him. Giffey finally hit a three, but he continues to create tougher shots by dribbling the ball. It was great to see him take the open shots without hesitation though.

All you can ask for your team on the road against a solid squad like Notre Dame is to be in the game at the end and this team did that. The freshmen finally contributed but the defense is still struggling. They need to figure it out and fast because these next couple of conference games will determine which direction this team will be headed. Will they dig themselves a hole to big to climb out or will they battle back into contention for a conference title? If this defensive effort continues though, it could spell trouble.

Monday, January 3, 2011

December 2010

UConn headed into December playing at a high level. They took a significant layoff for exams and it caused some rust to form on their game. Luckily they played UVMB, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Coppin State, and Harvard but in each game they struggled to get that November magic back. They then fell flat in their first road game in Pittsburgh and followed that up with a sluggish performance against Southern Florida. The freshmen found it hard to get any offense going and they couldn’t get jumpers to fall. Rebounding, which looked to be cured in November, appeared to be a question mark again. But the most despairing part of December was at the defensive end. Teams were able to get open jumpers at any time in half court sets.

Walker continued to play at a high level. Teams were focusing on bottling him up, but he still found ways to score. He has hit a three pointer in every game in December and has turned his jumper into a major weapon. His only weakness is his over aggressiveness which leads to off-balanced shots and turnovers in traffic. Defensively he has been solid and not fouling as much, but he is also getting beat backdoor. These are small knocks against an otherwise superb game, especially since he is about seventy percent of the entire offense.

Oriakhi remains inconsistent in December, having one solid rebounding performance in the month that being against Fairleigh Dickinson. This team will go as far as his game will take it. Without him being a force in the paint then UConn has no one to control there. He dominated in Maui but struggled against Pittsburgh and there is no telling which direction his game is going. He has improved his free throw shooting and has shown some post moves, but this team needs double digit boards each and every night from him and he didn't do it in December.

Napier has been the most consistent player behind Walker and Oriakhi. He hit a three pointer in every game but one in December. His ability to take over the point and move Walker to the two-guard has allowed Walker more touches and has opened up the offense. He is still overly aggressive on the defensive end, takes too many jumpers, and needs to dribble the ball without carrying it, but he is a major piece to UConn’s early success.

Lamb has shown a versatile game. While he is in a bit of a slump from deep, he has shown the ability to hit from there and has a nice mid-ranged game. He is having some problems defending and fighting through screens, leaving his man wide open jumpers.

Smith is in a major offensive rut. Nothing is dropping for him. He has all the tools to become a legit wing player, but he isn’t playing with a ton of confidence. This team just needs him to rebound, play solid defense, and take open jumpers in the flow of the offense, but he seems to be thinking too much.

Olander had an up and down month. He plays with a ton of energy, but sometimes does too much. He’ll foul a three point shooter, not block out on a free throw, create turnovers on bad passes and be out of position defensively. He still has a ton of upside and will be a solid player for UConn for the next several years, but for now he is searching for consistency.

Giffey struggled mightily. He last hit a three pointer five games ago. He has a nice stroke and just needs to keep shooting good shots and not dribble the ball. He also needs to help out on the glass. He has the length to make a difference in the paint.

Okwandu had a good month. He found ways to get involved on both ends of the court. He isn’t going to have double digits in any statistic but his hustle and energy on the court has led to positive plays. He is finishing plays off around the rim and is rebounding better.

Beverly has lost most of his minutes to Napier and Lamb. He isn’t making plays when he is on the court and is turning the ball over which is what this team doesn’t need. Coombs-McDaniel had a rough December, hitting three jumpers in the entire month. He did have a solid performance in the closing minutes of the USF game which helped seal the game, but his confidence is shaky. Wolf got some minutes and showed that he belongs, but he is a month behind everyone else and needs some practice time to get on the same page as everyone else.

While anyone would take UConn’s record at this time of year if they were asked two months ago, but this team has a chance to be special. All the talent is there and they just need to harness it. There are two major questions for this team to answer if they are going to improve. Will they compete better around the paint? Teams are feasting on mid-ranged jumpers and offensive boards. The other question is will jumpers begin to fall for anyone beside Walker and Napier? These are the same questions that needed to be answered entering this month and they have done nothing to answer them yet. With entering the meat of their schedule, they’ll have them answered for them. Hopefully they've been studying.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, Old Team

UConn got off to a fast start in the first half, jumping to an eight to nothing lead on the back of a force fed post game, but that soon evaporated with a sputtering offense. Other then Walker and Oriakhi, this team is too dependant on jumpers and they are just not falling in their two Big East games. USF was knocking down some off-balanced jumpers and deep threes early, but the offense sputtered to keep up, which was reminiscent of the Pittsburgh game. In the second half, Calhoun relented and went zone, which helped combat the easy plays Gilchrist was getting around the rim, but it effected their rebounding, giving multiple opportunities at scoring. Luckily Walker took over down the stretch and stole a victory which against any other opponent would have been a defeat.

It took Walker a bit to get going, taking and hitting his first field goal ten minutes into the ballgame. He was determined to get others involved and passed the ball into the post on most sets. His jumper wasn’t falling, but he didn’t rely on it and took it to the rim on most occasions, getting fouled eight times. He did force things too much and wound up taking more difficult shots or turning the ball over, but without his determined effort, the offense would be the definition of stagnant.

Oriakhi had a much better outing. He wasn’t the beast on the boards like he was in Maui but showed some skilled post moves with a nice step through and soft hook. He should be able to make those type of shots in every game with the attention paid on Walker. He had a tough time blocking out while in the zone, but they aren’t comfortable in that style. He also has been shooting the ball much better at the line and should be a seventy percent shooter from there by the end of the season. If he can carve up more space in position rebounding then he should become the double-double machine that everyone expects him to be.

Napier continues to have his see-saw year. He started out with a bad pass, turnover, and was beat backdoor, then sank his free throws, stole the ball and hit a three. When he makes plays, this team is dangerous, but if he struggles it puts too much pressure on Walker to do everything. No one can blame Lamb for being passive. He was all over the court, but he can’t find his stroke. He did a good job of helping out in rebounding and was aggressive with the ball. He is still struggling defensively, biting on pump fakes and trailing his defender.

Smith is in some kind of offensive rut. He did hit a pretty reverse but his outside shot is dismal and he isn’t getting to the line other then once in overtime. Calhoun scolded him for not getting back in transition and he didn’t rebound a lick. He needs to find his rhythm and soon. Coombs-McDaniel was hesitant in the first half and deferred an open shot which he rarely does, but in the closing minutes there he was sinking two very important free throws. Then in overtime, he had a great put-back and rebound which sent him to the line where he sank both. This could be the turnaround performance that he needed.

Okwandu had a nice turnaround shot in the post but didn’t play much after that. Olander showed some range but again didn’t block out on a free throw rebound and is getting bodied pretty good underneath the basket. He plays with a ton of effort but he tends to be overly aggressive defending and isn’t strong enough yet to body his man.

This outcome was disconcerting. They played exactly the same as they did against Pittsburgh and luckily USF isn’t of the same caliber. Without jumpers falling for the freshmen, the offense struggled to keep up. Defensively USF hit jumpers galore and won the battle in the paint. Luckily the zone worked and kept USF from getting easy baskets, but against a team with a legit point guard, UConn would be down two games in the Big East. This team is still a work in progress and needs to find people who can hit jumpers. While Walker is carrying this team, without help it won’t be to elite status but to mediocrity and a bubble team. It might be a new year but it is the same team so far.