Sunday, February 1, 2009

UConn Drubs Providence, Climbs To No.1

As the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team retreated to the weight room to field a barrage of questions from the media, Hasheem Thabeet jokingly gave A.J. Price a stare down.

“You took my seat again. Why do you always have to take my seat, son?”

Price was quick with a humorous retort.

“Man, this is my seat. You see ‘Hash’ written anywhere on this seat? You’re crazy.”

It was all jokes, laughs and smiles for the Huskies, whose national ranking stock upped to No.1 following a wild 94-61 drubbing of Providence. Thabeet made history, surfacing as the seventh UConn player (all-time) to record a triple-double. The 7-foot-3 gargantuan registered 15 points, 11 boards (seven coming on the offensive end) and 10 blocks in 28 minutes.

Price poured in a game-high 19 points, and Stanley “Sticks” Robinson snapped out of a four-week funk with 18 points—two of which came on an earth-shattering two-handed alley-oop—and seven boards.

“As a team, collectively, we know how good we are, how good we can be. Number 1 hasn’t worked out so well for teams this year. We haven’t been there yet. We haven’t had our chance, so hopefully we’ll get that. But we have a tough game (Louisville) coming up Monday, so not too much time to celebrate,” said coach Jim Calhoun.

There had been a Providence ghost in UConn territory the past couple seasons. The previous four meetings between the Route 6 rivals, Providence has had UConn’s number. The Friars defeated the Huskies, handily, last year in Hartford. They scorched the nets with 14 threes and talked trash at a relentless pace.

There were no ghosts this time. No ghastly goblins or spirits of any type. None. Just a dominant UConn team who realized they owe the Friars for the last two games.

“This was probably one of the biggest games that we’ve won, not for the rankings,” said Gavin Edwards, who popped off the bench to score eight points and snare nine boards in 16 minutes.

“Just because of the rivalry between us. They (Providence) always talk trash, they always disrespect us, so it felt really good to go out there and smack them.”

“It was a game we felt we should have won,” said Price. “I think we did a great job of just putting pressure on them, keeping pressure on them the whole game.”

That pressure seemed to overwhelm the Friars in the second half. UConn’s slim four-point halftime edge ballooned to 37-point bulge with 3:06 remaining. UConn had too much manpower inside, causing the Friars to suffer arguably their worst second half power outage of the season.

Providence’s Geoff McDermott caught his second foul and was yanked from the game midway through the first half.

UConn rattled off a 9-2 surge capped by A.J. Price’s three. His second trey of the game, this shot had some extra, beyond-the-game value to UConn basketball history. The shot catapulted Price into an elite society known as the 1,000 point club. Price is the second Husky in as many games to reach the century mark, following junior wing Jerome Dyson.

Price followed this up with a stop-and-gun three, giving UConn a 28-23 edge with 8:27 remaining. The Huskies jumped into the second half on 10-0 burst, forming a 47-34 cushion just three minutes in. The Friars (14-7, 6-3) never recovered, as UConn’s lead became insurmountable.

The Friars’ exasperation compounded in the second half, with McDermott being slapped with a technical for jawing at the referees. It got out of hand. UConn continued to surge ahead, and a dunk fest ensued.

“McDermott had a tough time dealing with our two horses inside,” said Price, obviously referencing larger-than-life Thabeet and Jeff Adrien (14 points, six boards).

“They kept attacking, kept going to the rim. We got them in foul trouble and I think we sensed a little letdown from them. They stopped coming as hard as we know they can, and we just put the pedal to the floor after that.”

UConn Block Party: Behind Thabeet’s 10 swats, the Huskies blocked 17 total shots. Everyone got into the act, Robinson, Dyson, Adrien, even pint-sized point guard Kemba Walker. During one eye-popping block in the second half, 5-foot-10 point guard Sharaud Curry tried to take it to the rack on Thabeet. Thabeet threw Curry’s off-balance shot attempt out of the gym, and Curry went sprawling to the floor. Thabeet shook his head at Curry, adding a few choice words. The two teams have never had much of an affinity for each other.

Class-less: The UConn faithful, never held to a high-class standard or candidates for the sportsmanship award, were quick to get rowdy. During the singing of national anthem, one hammerhead UConn fan shouted “YOUR BROTHER’S IN JAIL!” The crude comment was directed at Providence guard Jeff Xavier. Xavier’s older brother Jonathon, he of the checkered past, was arrested following his on the court antics against Marquette earlier this month.

No. 1 in the Country, No.3 in the Big East: You know the Big East is dripping with talent and is probably the NCAA’s most competitive conference when the nation’s top-ranked team in the country isn’t even the first-place team. No.1 UConn is third in the Big East, sitting behind Marquette and Louisville. Both teams are undefeated in Big East play this season.