Hartford, Conn. - Hartford Civic Center
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS (Verne Lundquist, Billy Packer)
"I watched [UNC] play Duke as everybody else did (Wednesday) night. They're a great basketball team, maybe as good as there is in America. Along with Illinois, those are the two best teams that at least I've seen. I'd give a slight edge to North Carolina." -- UConn head coach Jim Calhoun
"I've always thought when you lose a player for a game everyone else elevates their game to make up for that. It's going to be a challenge for us to go up and play UConn at UConn regardless of who plays." -- Roy Williams
"They are more inside oriented -- if you look at stats, rebound margin they're No. 1 in the country, blocked shots they're No. 1 in the country, defensive field goal percentage I'd bet they're in the top 5 in the country. The things that I think that are extremely important to your success as a basketball team, they do as well as or better than anyone else in the country." -- Roy Williams
Last Year Vs. UNC: For the second year in a row, the Tar Heels beat UConn in the Smith Center. A Rashad McCants three-pointer with 6.2 seconds remaining gave UNC an 86-83 upset of the No. 1 Huskies. McCants had 27 points, while Emeka Okafor had a dominant 29 points, 13 boards and 6 blocks. The two defensive stories of the night were Jackie Manuel holding Ben Gordon to 3-of-14 shooting, while Okafor held Sean May to the same 3-of-14 line.
Season To Date: Even with Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon entering the NBA, there were still preseason Top 10 expectations for UConn. An early season slip-up at UMass was a setback, and the Huskies have lost four games to solid opponents this year (BC, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame). "We're young and have paid that price during the season," head coach Jim Calhoun said. But in February they are once again looking like a Top 10 team. They picked up their biggest win of the season Monday at Syracuse, 74-66, getting 21 points (9-13 FG) and 10 boards from Charlie Villanueva.
Injury Report: Leading scorer Rashad Anderson (13.8 ppg) is not expected to play against UNC, after having a skin abscess removed from his right leg this week and he has been hospitalized since for treatment. "There's no way possible he'll play Sunday," Calhoun said. Anderson hasn't had the same three-point accuracy that he displayed in UConn's title run, but was still the go-to outside threat (shooting nearly half of the Huskies' three-point shots) and had broken out of a slump the last six games -- scoring 19 or more points four times and shooting 47% from 3-point range. Denham Brown (9.6 ppg) starts in his place and will fill his role on the wing. Calhoun said Brown has begun to assume more of a leadership role. "You ask why would they listen to him?" Calhoun said. "Well, he normally doesn't say that much and all of a sudden he's outspoken. And he's 220 pounds of muscle and looks like he's going to fight for the heavyweight championship. He's a tough kid who doesn't back down from anybody." The other injury to report is freshman point guard A.J. Price, who has been sidelined all season after suffering a brain hemorrhage in October. Price was expected to compete for the starting point guard spot.
Frontcourt Dominance: It can be argued that UConn has the best frontcourt in the country -- even having lost Emeka Okafor to the NBA. The size and depth along the Huskies' frontline is unmatched. They start three players 6-9 or over and have two power forwards come off the bench. Just how deep is UConn? Junior Ed Nelson (6-8, 260), the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2001-02, has gotten only 7.6 minutes per game in conference play. And the team statistics speak volumes, such as a +12.6 rebounding margin and an average of 9.7 blocks per game. Center Josh Boone (13.3 ppg, 60% FG, 8.9 rpg, 3.3 bpg) anchors the lineup, while Charlie Villanueva (11.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and freshman phenom Rudy Gay (11.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) both play more of a combo forward role. With such a post presence, opponents have been forced to stay on the perimeter, shooting about 21 threes per game, but only at 28.8%. The absence of Rashad Anderson Sunday will only further the Huskies' focus on post scoring, so expect them to pass the ball into the paint early and often -- and they are averaging 11 more free throws per game than opponents.
PG Play: As was the case last year, the Huskies just need steady play at the point guard spot in order to win. Starting floor leader Marcus Williams doesn't look for his own shot too often (7.3 ppg), but doesn't need to with so many other weapons on the court (7.7 apg). His turnovers are up the last few games, but Huskies fans are still buzzing from the 16-assist, two-turnover performance against Chris Thomas and Notre Dame in a loss two weeks ago. His backup, freshman Antonio Kellogg, is suffering through a mid-season slump. "(Kellogg) is going downhill," Calhoun said. "He's a young kid going through a tough time right now. We have to get him back. North Carolina is going to be a tough game to do that in, but we can't have Marcus playing 36, 37 minutes every night." Kellogg played a season-low three minutes in the win over Syracuse.
Series History: The Tar Heels are 4-1 all-time against UConn. Three wins have come at the Smith Center ('90, '03, '04) and another was in the 1998 NCAA Tournament in Greensboro. The sole loss was an 86-54 rout in Storrs during the 8-20 season of 2001-02.
Projected Starters: 5 Marcus Williams (6-3, 205, G, So.) - 7.3 ppg, 7.7 apg 33 Denham Brown (6-6, 220, F, Jr.) – 9.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg 22 Rudy Gay (6-9, 220, F, Fr.) – 11.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg 3 Charlie Villanueva (6-11, 240, F, So.) – 11.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg 21 Josh Boone (6-10, 237, C, So.) - 13.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg Key Reserves: 11 Hilton Armstrong (6-11, 235, F, Jr.) – 4.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg 20 Antonio Kellogg (6-3, 190, G, Fr.) – 3.5 ppg, 2.6 apg 32 Ed Nelson (6-8, 260, F, Jr.) – 2.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg
Josh Boone ... Charlie Villanueva
Rudy Gay ... Denham Brown
Antonio Kellogg ... Marcus Williams