Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The production from the post has become a continous theme. Tonight, Geno Auriemma was unhappy with how Tina Charles, Charde Houston, Kaili McLaren and Brittany Hunter played.

The expectations for Charles -- who at times looks like the best center in the country -- may be too much for her. The idea that she should be able to go out and dominate a game no matter the opponent and her ability to focus/dedicate/accomplish that task is holding her back.

No, I don't think she's affraid of success; she wouldn't have gotte this far if she was. But sometimes you have to punch the other guy in the mouth to let him know you mean business. I don't think Charles can do that. While I'm not being literal, if Tina did hit someone, she'd appologize and grab the girl an ice pack. What the Huskies need is a center who will knock down the playing guarding her and stand over her so she has to wait another second of two to get back up.

Auriemma said the difference between Charles and Moore is that Moore wants to be great and will work toward that goal. Charles expects a fairy to come down and sprinkle greatness on her.

We can say that Hunter, McLaren and Houston are as important and should be critiqued as throughly as Charles. In principle, that's correct. But here's the rub: Hunter is limited due to injury. Anything she gives is a bonus. Houston's train is just about out of town. Four years of failure and lost potential. And then there's McLaren. She cae in with Charles, was a McDonald's All-American with Charles and is her best friend. But McLaren simply doesn't have the ability to dominate a game from start to finish the way Charles can.

Something has to change or when it comes time for the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies will be going home earlier than they imagined.
An oldie, but a goodie...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It was a great bonus today to see Maya Moore and Tina Charles put on a dunk contest after practice today.

Assistant Tonya Cardoza walked by Geno Auriemma and said, “Tina just did it without travelling,”

Auriemma's not worried if they dunk in a game. He even thought they lowered teh rim. But sure enough, it was regulation height.

Moore just appreciated having the ability.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “We’re not going to be 18 or 19 forever. I want to try and do it as much as I can until it stops.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another down for the Huskies, who are proving they can win away from home. That's two straight road wins, something that after losing two key players seemed questionable to occur.

Even though Maya Moore didn't have her best game, she did do something very important. Her fast start allowed UConn to go stride for stride with Notre Dame. In that early spurt, Moore's effort gave Tina Charles and Brittany Hunter time to warm up and take advantage of their opportunities in the paint.

And it was good to see Hunter on the floor. This is a special season for her and I really have gotten the sense that she felt a bit under seige last season when her right knee was a bigger issue than it has been this year. Maybe it's because of it being her senior season -- keep in mind she could have not come back this year -- or because she has some hopes of playing professionally, or maybe she just wants to prove something and in the process win a national championship. Whatever the case, and it may be all of teh above, Hunter is important to the team.

We saw once again how unreliable Charde Houston is. Kaili McLaren comes and goes ,and it appears that Charles is developing a not-as-nice-as-usual streak. Coach Geno Aurriemma has wanted to see a mean streak, so I guess a partial transformation is better than nothing.

Maybe when Charles sees the green and gold of South Florida Wednesday night it will serve as a flashback to the game she had in Florida last year when she single-handedly delievered the conference title.

I remember that the USF fans were rowdy. At times, they crossed the line into rude and obnoxious with comments made towards some of the Huskies. None of that seemed to make a difference because even with scoring machine Jessica Dickson, the Bulls were helpless.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Huskies are gearing up for another big road game, this time at Notre Dame in a nationally televised game Sunday night. It's also a sell out, if you hadn't heard already.

Notre Dame is scoring a bunches, but are also struggling on defense.

Looking at the Huskies road schedule, it is no laughing matter. Consider:
At Notre Dame
At Seton Hall
At Rutgers
At Pitt
At DePaul

All but Seton Hall is ranked. That says a lot about the quality of play in the Big East (except for LSU) and about how tough the Huskies' schedule is.

You hear all the Big East coaches shouting from mountain tops about how good the Big East is this year. They said as much a year ago, but you know what? This year has proven to me much better.

Consider the four worst teams a year ago, Villanova, Providence, Georgetown and Syracuse. Syracuse is ranked, Syracuse and 'Nova have already exceeded last season's win totals and Providence, well, the Friars are still bad.

Elsewhere, UConn, Pitt, DePaul, Notre Dame, West Virginia and St. John's (barely) are improved. Rutgers is not as good but still a top-5 team, Marquette, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville have slipped.

Of the bunch, all seven of the currently tanked teams (UConn, Rutgers, West Virginia, Pitt, Notre Dame, Syracuse and DePaul) should make the tournament, as should Louisville and you may see two more teams sneak in if they can get on a roll.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sunday's game at Notre Dame is sold out, and like Monday's game, will be seen on ESPN2.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I now believe the McDonald's All-America Game is a crock. And no, that's not a play on the founder of the burger franchise.

This is the list of Connecticut's girls nominees for this year's game:

Richelle Anderson (Bulkeley High School, Hartford)
Katie Ciarleglio (Holy Cross High School, Waterbury)
Calli Coffee (Old Lyme High School, Old Lyme)
Brittany Demers (East Windsor High School, East Windsor)
Desiree Pina (Plainville High School, Plainville)
Ilicia Mathis, Gabrielle Oglesby (Hill Regional Career Magnet
H.S., New Haven)
Michelle White
(James Hillhouse High School, New Haven)

Anything stand out? How about the state's top player, Heather Buck. Can someone please explain to me how the Gatorade Player of the Year for Connecticut is NOT a candidate for the showcase game? Buck is widely viewed as one of the top 30 high school players on the country but gets no love.

Website ranks Buck as the 21st best recruit of this graduating class. De'Shena Stevens of Stamford's Trinity Catholic is ranked 34th. None of the nominees are listed among the top 249 seniors in the country.

Who is on McDonald's selection committee? They need to re-evaluate the selection process because they got this wrong.

Monday, January 21, 2008

It's been an ugly half for the Huskies. No one has really been reliable after Renee Montgomery's hot start. It seemed like the Heels were all over the boards, but the Huskies hold a two rebound edge. North Carolina had an 8-0 run to start the game and have an 18-10 lead in second-chance points.

The biggest problem has been the shooting for UConn. To UNC's credit, they double and triple every ball handler, they contest every in-bound pass.

If something doesn't change, the Huskies will suffer their first loss.
Maya Moore was named Big East Freshman of the Week for the fifth time this season. More is having a fantastic season, one less than Tina Charles a year ago.
In case you were straggling behind and wanted to attend the game, don't bother. It's sold out. Watch it on ESPN2.
Brittany Hunter is out. Charde Houston, Kaili McLaren and Tina Charles need to step it up tonight or it could be 17-1 by 10 p.m.
When I arrived at Gampel Pavilion around 4:45, there seemed to be a lot more people present than usual. Granted students were moving back onto campus, but the parking lot was filled with families, mothers and daughters decked out in UConn gear.

No question about it, this is a big game. The biggest game of the year. As the Huskies took the court for warm ups, they looked relaxed, which is a big positive. A year ago, they looked tentative at Chapel Hill.

Just over 60 minutes till game time....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let's talk about Kaili McLaren's game against Cincy.

Her 10 points and 10 rebounds wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome, but I do think it should be worth watching what she does against UNC tomorrow. She's played well in her last two games and maybe she's gotten some fire lit under her. The Huskies could use another post presence, being that Brittany Hunter doesn't know when she'll play again, Charde Houston has stunk for three months and Tina Charles lacks aggression. If you watched Saturday's game and didn't know the players' histories, you would think Kaili was starting and was more likely to have been the high school player of the year two years ago, not Charles.

Before someone says Charles had eight and eight, keep in mind that almost all of it came in the final four or five minutes against a tired Bearcats team that has no depth and the game was already decided.

Against North Carolina, UConn will need everyone to stave off a loss. The Tar Heels are about as deep a team as there is and Erlana Larkins is a beats in the paint.

I asked McLaren after the game if she was trying to send a message or if she was disappointed in not being named starter over Houston and she said she wasn't. The only message was that everyone needed to step up and she wanted coach Geno Auriemma and her teammates to know they can count on her.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

An amzing response to Mel Thomas today. The senior guard, who is out for the rest of the season and underwent surgery yesterday, attended the game this afternoon.

As Thomas made her way out to her place behind the bench with Kalana Greene, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered. It was unsual because on the press row side of the court, it was difficult to see what the commotion was about. That was because of the large hat men carrying the american flag for the national athem. I think the woman who was preparing to sing the anthem thought her entire family showed up at the XL Center.

Instead it was Thomas, who will be honored before Monday's game against North Carolina.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Geno Auriemma announced today that Lorin Dixon will step into the starting lineup beginning tomorrow against Cincinnati. The general consensus is one of shock, including that of Dixon. She'll play more of a point role while Renee Montgomery will serve as an alternate point guard and as a two-guard.

Meanwhile, more injury news as Thomas underwent surgery this morning.Brittany Hunter dind't practice and shouldn't be expected to play against the Bearcats. Replacing her in the starting lineup will be Charde Houston.

This is what Auriemma had to say about Houston:
“You know what, Charde’s been floundering all year long,” he said. “And a few years ago up until last year, we were counting on Charde so much that it got to the point at the end Charde goes, by her actions, ‘I don’t think you can count on me.’ I don’t care what anybody says, that’s what she was saying.
“So this year, she’s kind of been floundering around like ‘Well, they don’t need me.’ So, now she’s come full circle and, Charde, we really, really need you right now.”

Her response:
“It wasn’t that I felt like I wasn’t needed,” she said. “You get so used to him yelling at me night-in and night-out, and as you get older that stops because I am a senior and he has to work out our freshmen and try to get them ready. Regardless of if he needed me or didn’t need me, that’s not the point, it’s about me putting myself in position just in case I have to play a much bigger role, and in fact, that’s come up.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

As many of you know, Mel Thomas sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in Tuesday's win at Syracuse, ending not only her season but her career with the Huskies.

This is as severe of a blow to UConn as the loss of Kalana Greene roughly a month ago. Thomas' heart, hustle and leadership will be missed. She can't be replaced, but the Huskies will have to try to fill the void without her.

Either Charde Houston or Kaili McLaren will move into the starting lineup, keeping Ketia Swanier in her valuable reserve role. I suspect that Maya Moore will move to the off guard position, giving more athleticism and size to the position. Plus, she has the ability to drive to the hoop and score from behind the line.

But back to Thomas, from my end, she will be missed. She's well-spoken and willing to answer questions. On the court, the team will miss her leadership but she will still be with them, much like Greene is.

Now, the Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma are going to fins out what they are made of. Personally, I think the losses of Greene and Thomas will be too much for them to overcome in the quest to win a national championship.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I wasn't in Syracuse last night for the near defeat, instead I had the chance to watch Heather Buck play.

She spent most of the night looking as if she was being swarmed by gnats. Despite that, she managed 34 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and a block in a two-point loss for her Stonington Bears. She seems stronger since I last saw her about a year ago. She could use some work on her free throws (she'll fit in at UConn just fine in that regard) but had a good night at the line, and at times became flustered with the physicality of the Norwich Free Academy defense. In college, she'll face stronger and better defenders, so she's going to have to learn to make adjustments.

On the positive side, she has a nose for the ball. She has a couple of different moves that she makes to finish plays, which should keep her from becoming predictable.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's one more on the road for the Huskies, who will play their fourth road contest in its last five games when it plays at Syracuse tonight.

These four games (Villanova, Purdue, Louisville and Syracuse) serve as good tests for UConn. Nat in the sense that they are expected to be close games, but games that present different challenges that have to be confronted away from Storrs or Hartford.

The Orange, who even if they lose every remaining game, will have one of its better seasons, have begun to make some strides in the highly competitive Big East. They made a jump this season and with a young team and a highly regarded recruiting class.

Tonight, they will start three players who score better than 10 points a game and their top reserve happens to be their second-leading scorer. Should this worry UConn? Of course, but so should have West Virginia's four players scoring in double-figures and we all saw what happened there.

Meg Bulger had an awful game, Tina Charles dominated in the paint and the Mountaineers had no answer to Maya Moore. In reality, those nights from Charles and Moore are typical and most teams lack the talent to respond.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Maybe its a bit of an overreaction on my part, but I thought the game against Louisville was a lot closer than the score reflected. And you know what impressed me? Angel McCoughtry's ability to focus after she picked up her third foul late in the first half.

That is a great sign of things to come for her. She has so much talent and I look forward to next season's matchup between her and Maya Moore. Of course, there will be plenty more to come when they are both in the WNBA in a few years.

So what does the win say about UConn? First, they can win when they aren't at their best. But I think teams with similar players to the Cardinals will try to mimick what Louisville did. Can most teams actually do that? No.

Second, the experience and leadership of Renee Montgomery and Ketia Swanier made all the difference.

What interests me now is how do the Huskies come out on Tuesday against a much-improved Syracuse team. Are the Huskies mad the game was as close as it was? We'll see in a couple days.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Once again the Huskies have made it look too easy.

There were thoughts a road game at Purdue would provide a test. Wrong. UConn went into Mackey Arena on Sunday and toyed with Purdue. It was so bad in the 100-50 win, that the Boilermakers' fans were upset at UConn for running up the score late in the game, so Geno Auriemma had to remove Meghan Gardler. Gardler had 14 points (a career-high) in 11 minutes.

Last night, the Huskies came right out and attacked the Mountaineers of West Virginia. It started with a 13-0 run to start the game. From that point, the Mountaineers looked like a team drowning. Meg Bulger, arguably West Virginia's best player, was a non-factor.

What UConn did -- besides play spectacular defense -- was get scoring from all parts of the floor. Tina Charles did it inside, Mel Thomas outside, Maya Moore in and out; Renee Montgomery and Ketia Swanier distributed the ball and the Huskies crashed the glass against a team that should have been more of an equal.

When will the Huskies actually face a team that will make them break a sweat?
Duke and Stanford didn't, so finding a team that can is tough.

It's unlikely that the next two games, both on the road, will do the trick. Louisville has the conference's best player and Syracuse is much improved, but neither of those does the trick. Then Cincinnati comes to Gampel, and the Bearcats are not very good. It's the next game to look forward to: North Carolina. I'm not going to jump into that breakdown just yet, but there aren't many teams that can stay on the court with the Huskies, as the repeated 30-point-plus wins attest.

Friday, January 04, 2008

In a little over 24 hours, the Huskies will take the court at Purdue, where the Boilermakers have sold over 10,000 tickets for the Sunday afternoon game.This will be a great test forUConn despite the fact the Boilermakers aren't as good as expected or as good as recent years.

With a losing record, a win over the top-ranked Huskies would do wonders for the Boilermakers and whatever postseason hopes they may have left. A win and Purdue probably needs 17 wins to get a tournament bid. A loss, and they'll need to win the Big 10. If you really think about it, that's a big margin of error.

The problem for UConn is that a loss, even to an underachieving Purdue squad, looks bad and would guarantee losing their top ranking in both the AP and USA Today polls. A win is what would be expected. Considering it is on the road at a tough locale, don't hand this win toUConn just yet. No, I'm not saying they'll lose, but I am saying this game could prove much closer than anyone suspects.

Another factor is the national television factor.

This isn't an ESPN game. This is on CBS. If my memory serves me correctly,
the only game that fell into that category last season was thenail biter at LSU. What if Brittany Hunter can't play? What if Charde Houston is more of a ghost than someone who scares the Boilermakers? What if Maya Moore gets stage fright? All these things are possible and they could happen intandem, which would be a nightmare.

That said, I don't expect any of those events to happen. I don't suspectthat Renee Montgomery is going to care who is around her, she might will the Huskies to victory. And if Tina Charles can carry over what she did to Villanova into West Lafayette, then Purdue might find itself on the wrong end of a 40-point loss.
A few of you have told me how great my job is. I know, I know, working for the Bulletin is about as good as it gets. But to cover sports is a treat. Not many people get paid to watch and report on something they love. That, my friends, makes me lucky.

Now that the travel-heavy portion of the schedule is upon us, I figured a little insight into what a sports writer experiences while covering the Huskies would be fun.

One of my favorite aspects of my job is the travel. Whether I see new places, meet new people or have the opportunity to experience something exclusive to a location, I find it highly interesting.

I've been to Philadelphia before Thursday and it was significantly different. For starters, my two previous visits included local guides. Then again, attending Phillies games shouldn't be seen as a visit.

I boarded a train in New London, and after reaching New Haven, I didn't have anyone sitting next to me. "Great," I thought. "More leg room." I fell asleep and by the time I reached New York's Penn Station, a conductor woke me up with her screams alerting me to the need for the seat beside me and how I shouldn't be using two seats. Yes. I'm that guy.

No sooner do I move my bag does the train depart, and to no one's surprise, the seat next to me remained empty. Maybe this was too good to be true. It was.

A conductor led a lady to the seat next to me shortly before stopping in Trenton, N.J. She had numerous bags, a big blue hat with a flower on the front and a neck brace, which was quickly discarded. These are the moments when my iPod comes in handy. The lady began swinging elbows into my chest and left arm as she fought with her bags. At one point, she tried to feed a straw into a pill bottle. Don't ask me why because I don't know.

She chats up the lady directly in front of me, who surrenders too much information. She's a paralegal and my seat neighbor begins to tell her the best way to make herself more efficient is to wake up an hour early every day and spend time telling herself how good she is. Great. IPod back on.

We cross into Philadelphia and she started leaning over me to look out the window as if she were on Meerkat Manor. Sorry, but I could only wish I had a meerkat next to me. Besides, meerkats don't begin to tell you the story of how they sustained a psuedo neck injury that comes with a stylish, yet completely unneccessary brace.

I was thankful when I de-trained. At the cab stand, I found a friendly driver, who because he took his time reaching the stand, had the customer take the cab behind him. Insulted, the driver stepped out and began cursing and screaming at the guy, who now couldn't hear or see the driver. This cab driver didn't lose a fare and couldn't be heard or seen by his target. But the elderly women getting into his car must have been excited to have a driver with so much vigor.

The rest of the trip was normal except for the pimp who drove me back to the train station and managed to get the gas station attendant in Villanova to re-open for a quick transaction. I don't know if it was the 1970s style Kangol hat or the three-quarter length leather jacket or the gold chain going across his neck on the outside of his suit, but something made me think of Huggy Bear.

Oh, and the lady behind me on the train home, who was in the midst of the Amtrak All-You-Can-eat buffett at midnight. All I heard was crumple, crumple, smash, crunch, chew, slack, slurp. Until she began moaning while eating her chicken salad, roast beef and whatever else was there. It was like when Harry met Sally, but it was just Sally meeting Chicken Salad.

So when you think life as a sports writer is glamorous, consider yourself right on the money. What other occupation allows you to interact with dumb luck, meerkats, jovial cabbies pimps and food enthusiasts?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

During his postgame press conference, Geno Auriemma said he told Renee Montgomery he was considering starting Meghan Gardler tonight. Montgomery told him that was a cool idea because she is from the Philadelphia area. Auriemma said, "No. She looks like their players. Maybe we can get some early turnovers."
With 12 seconds left, Tina Charles has 17 points and 9 rebounds. The Huskies hold a 41-9 edge on the glass.
The Huskies are on a 13-2 run since my last entry, a period of 3:40.
The first 8:45 of the game has been ugly. The Huskies have just a six-point lead and had it not been for some off-the-mark shooting by the Wildcats, UConn wuld be trailing.
Villanova has been able to stretch the UConn defense with some good passing and as a result has found the open shooter.
Charde Houston has been left open twice just inside the three-point line and both times she's drained the jumper.
Brittany Hunter is in tonight's starting lineup despite not practicing yesterday.
Purdue has sold over 10,000 tickets for this weekend's game at West Lafayette, IN. Even though the Boilermakers have struggled this season, Sunday's game is a prime opportunity to get back on track before the season slips away from them.
Keeping close eye on the Huskies tonight are two of next season's highly regarded recruits, Ellena DelleDonne and Caroline Doty.

Now that their arrival in Storrs is in writing, these standouts will certainly be imagining themselves on the court with their future teammates tonight.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Don't look for Brittany Hunter tomorrow at Villanova. She sat out of practice, wearing her warm-ups the whole time.

This isn't one of those games where UConn fans should say, "We need her." That said, let her use this time to get healthier. Keep in mind that despite her health through the first nine games, she was bound to have bumps in the road. Better now than in February when the Huskies close out with LSU, DePaul and Rutgers.