RTC Aftermath: #2 UConn 72, Notre Dame 65Posted by nvr1983 on March 1st, 2009
I’m assuming that most of you got a chance to see this game unlike the last RTC Live when Providence knocked off #1 Pittsburgh. As a result this RTC Aftermath will not be quite as extensive as our first edition, but what we lack in length we will make up for in quality.
This was my first trip to Storrs, Connecticut and I have to say that I was surprised at how small the town is. I’m not sure if I missed the town center coming off of I-84, but it’s easily the smallest town for any state school that I have visited. The campus itself is pretty nice even if it lacks the uniqueness of some other campuses I have visited on this year’s RTC Live tour. Gampel Pavilion is a relatively nondescript building much like the other places we have visited this year with the except of UNC with the Dean Smith Center. Interestingly, the Huskies split their home games between Gampel and the XL Center in Hartford. While the XL Center seats more fans (16,294 compared to 10,167 in Gampel), the students seemed almost unanimous in agreement that they prefer the atmosphere when the games are held at Gampel. The one complaint they did have about Gampel was the lack of student seating. From what we were told (and my eyes seemed to confirm it), students are confined to a small section behind one basket and in the upper level behind another basket. Most of the students would have preferred to have been situated along the sidelines to make the atmosphere more imposing for visiting teams similar to Cameron Indoor at Duke as much as the students hated to say it. I’m not sure how the boosters seated along the sidelines would react to the proposition, but it is an interesting idea.
Pre-Game: For the second game in a row, we were there for a team’s Senior Night. Or was it Senior Day this time since the opening tip was at 2 PM? While the Huskies did not have as many seniors as Providence did, the scene was no less emotional as the fans were particularly excited for two players: A.J. Price, who has battled personal problems (he was the other guy in the Marcus Williams computer theft case) as well as medical problems (radiosurgery for an arteriovenous malformation and ACL surgery), and Jeff Adrien, the team’s physical inside presence and fan favorite for his interaction with the student section before and after games. As an added bonus, Jim Calhoun was honored for winning his 800th game (on Wednesday at Marquette). The student section was given cardboard Calhoun faces (think PTI’s Role Play) and they unveiled a banner celebrating the fact his 800th win although there were some technical difficulties when they tried to unveil the banner.
1st Half: UConn seemed to be in control of the game early on with the crowd feeding off the emotion of the ceremony for Calhoun and the seniors. Adrien had a quick start as he had 13 points (6/6 FG), 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks going into intermission. Hasheem Thabeet was his usual dominant self on the inside as he had 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 blocks (along with numerous other times when he altered shots). I had heard a lot about Thabeet’s influence on the game, but it’s hard to explain how much he affects the other team’s interior game particularly at the college level where there aren’t as many great athletes (I’m looking forward to the first time he meets Nate Robinson much less LeBron James). Behind Adrien and Thabeet, UConn seemed to control the first half and there were several times when the Huskies seemed poised to break the game open (particularly when they had a 9-point lead with 7:04 remaining), but they were unable to as the Irish hit some timely 3s (6/15 from beyond the arc in the first half). Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney (both had 8 points) were the primary reason that Notre Dame was able to go into half down by just 2 points at 32-30.
2nd Half: Despite it being a single possession game at intermission, there didn’t seem to be much fear in Gampel as the fans seemed supremely confident that their team would come out of the locker room and blow the game open. The nonchalance quickly disappeared as the Irish grabbed a 3-point lead just three minutes into the 2nd half off of a hot start by Luke Harangody who had just 4 points at the half. However, the Huskies were able to take back the lead just over a minute later when Scottie Haralson hit a 3 to give UConn a 41-39 lead. The Irish were able to stay in the game despite UConn shooting 53.7% from the field (compared to Notre Dame’s 38.9%), UConn’s 13 blocks (8 by Thabeet), and an inability to hit from beyond the arc in the 2nd half (2/12 from 3) because of a brilliant performance by Tory Jackson (17 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds) along with UConn’s continued inability to hit free throws against the Irish (12/23 today and 15/30 when they played in South Bend). The Irish kept it close the rest of the way as UConn was never able to stretch the lead to more than 4 during after the 10-minute mark going into the final minute of the game. When Harangody’s lay-up with 59 seconds left cut it to 66-65, you could sense the anxiety in the atmosphere, which grew exponentially when Thabeet was fouled with 41 seconds and lay underneath the basket for what must have seemed like an eternity for the Husky fans. When he finally was able to get up, he walked around for about a minute, went to mid-court to try to reorient himself, and finally decided that he wasn’t able to shoot the 2 huge free throws. As a result, Jim Calhoun was able to pick Craig Austrie (76% FT) to replace Thabeet (63% FT) at the line. [Note: In the NBA the opposing coach gets to pick who shoots the free throws in this situation, but in college the coach of the injured player gets his pick. Both coaches addressed this in the post-game press conferences, which are below.] Austrie hit both free throws and UConn was able to seal the victory down the stretch at the free throw line as the Irish were unable to hit any of their shots after that. Kemba Walker also made a huge play down the stretch getting a timeout on a loose ball, but appeared to suffer a relatively minor injury on the play that he got treatment for after the game.
- As I noted during RTC Live, I saw Jerome Dyson walking around the arena. He seemed to be in good spirits, but he was limping. It looked like he was wearing a knee brace, but he was wearing a suit so I can’t say definitively.
- There were only a handful of Notre Dame fans in Gampel (at least ones that were willing to wear anything with a Notre Dame logo). Judging from the taunts of the UConn student section behind me, Kyle McAlarney’s mother must have been at the game. They didn’t taunt him about his arrest for somewhat obvious reasons (see Price, A.J.).
- There were a ton of NBA scouts at the game, but unfortunately I was sitting on the opposite end of the court from them so I wasn’t able to hear what they were saying.
- There was a lot of talk in the media room about the fact that UConn does not have many outside shooters. Price is the only guy on the team that you would really have to worry about guarding the 3-point line against. Maybe the way to beat them is to go to a zone although they managed to beat a good Syracuse team earlier this season at Gampel, 63-49, but I’m not sure how much Jim Boeheim employed his famous 2-3 zone because of his decision to go more man-to-man this year.
Mike Brey talked about the following topics:
- When he says that they made “enough of their free throws”, I am not sure if he hadn’t looked at the stat sheet (12/23 or 52.2%) or was making a subtle comment about the free throw disparity between the teams (23-5 edge to UConn).
- Says Jerome Dyson is a great player, but he hasn’t noticed a big drop-off for the Huskies because of how good the other players are.
- UConn is unique in what they do defensively because of the presence of Thabeet on the inside.
- He thought Harangody did an excellent job despite his relatively pedestrian stat line.
- The team missed Zach Hillesland, but he though Tyrone Nash played well. The injury was related to a “blow to the chest”. Brey isn’t sure about Hillesland’s status for upcoming games.
- He feels like his team needs to get a signature win and in the 9-9 range to have a good shot at getting in the NCAA tournament. Jeff Goodman wrote about this issue after the game.
- He joked about Thabeet’s “injury” that let Austrie shoot the free throws. He acknowledged that the situation had helped him in the past so he couldn’t get too upset with it.
Note: I was a little late to this press conference because I didn’t know where the room was (on the opposite end of Gampel Pavilion from the media room).
Jim Calhoun talked about the following topics:
- Most constant thing was Thabeet’s defense as usual. He complimented his effort against Harangody and his ability to respond to Harangody’s inside/outside game.
- The emotion of Senior Night and how his team gutted out the win even though they never really played that well.
- Jeff Adrien ‘s offensive contributions and how the team changes when Price isn’t at the top of his game offensively.
- The team’s strange schedule with a week off before they play Pittsburgh next Friday. He also addressed the Big East tournament and the double-bye.
- Thabeet’s tendency to stay outside and joked about how his little guys like to try and play in the post.
- Notre Dame’s man-to-man defense.
- Jeff Adrien’s future and compared him to Kevin Freeman.
- Critical of his team’s perimeter defense and their rotations on defense.
- Issues that his team needs to focus on for the NCAA tournament.
- Joked about the Austrie for Thabeet substitution on the free throws with 41 seconds left in the game and the Huskies only up by 1.
Note: Towards the end when he doesn’t say anything and the reporters are laughing after talking about Thabeet’s “strategy” to get Austrie to the line, he was giving a thumbs-up for Thabeet’s thinking.
Jeff Adrien talked about the following topics:
- His emotions on Senior Night.
- Potentially playing in Boston (essentially his hometown since he is from Brookline, MA) if UConn made it to the East Regional.
Note: For a guy who is so emotional and demonstrative on the court particularly with the student section, he is very quiet in person.
A.J. Price talked about the following topics:
- His legacy at UConn as well as his emotions on Senior Night.
- Facing a box-and-one.
Kemba Walker talked about the following topics:
- The loss of Jerome Dyson and how it affect the team particularly on defense.
- Having Thabeet as a last line of defense
Hasheem Thabeet talked about the following topics:
- Facing DeJuan Blair in the past and his future meetings, but he downplayed the meeting next Saturday
- Notre Dame and their bubble status in relation to the Big East
- His frequently discussed perimeter game and the reason he goes out there.
- The unique challenges of facing Harangody.
- The foul and his injury in the last minute where he came out and Craig Austrie came in to shoot free throws
- Jeff Adrien’s performance
- The status of his left shoulder
- The possibility that this might have been his last game at Gampel Pavilion