Friars Fight the Good Fight

It may have been unreasonable to believe that a young and undermanned Providence team would upset the #1 ranked Connecticut Huskies, but with only 10:22 remaining in the 2nd half, the Friars were defying the odds and playing to win down only five points.

With a roster full of talent and the nation's deepest bench, it's easy to see why many think Jim Calhoun and the Huskies may win another NCAA championship this year. Uconn managed to slow down and wear out the young Providence Friars, who went to battle on Saturday with their thin bench and a hurting Geoff McDermott, who hadn't practiced since the Rutgers win Wednesday night.

Despite holding a leading for much of the first half, a couple of Rashad Anderson jumpshots put the Huskies on top going into the break. Donnie McGrath, who had a big 11 point first half, lead the Friar attack along with solid contributions from Randall Hanke and Sharaud Curry, who's father was in attendance to see his son play in the Big East against the nation's best. When the Friars were able to rebound and move the ball upcourt quickly, they were successful on offense.

However, with the Huskies grabbing 2nd and 3rd offensive rebounds against the Friar zone, PC's offense slowed against the taller Uconn team in the half court offense. Seeing that Marcus Williams was experiencing difficulty guarding Donnie McGrath, Calhoun switched Dedham Brown on the Friar senior and also increased attention on McGrath from the entire Uconn defense. Uconn did not shoot the ball particularly well, (35% 1st half) but played good defense and crashed the boards with an intensity that began to take its toll. Providence was down 37-29 at the half.

The second half created further troubles for the Friars in foul department. Connecticut was continuing to grab offensive rebounds which led to poor defensive positioning by the Friars and ultimately a steady diet of fouls and trip to the charity stripe. To their credit, Connecticut made the most of their foul shot opportunities and stayed ahead of the Friars. The Huskies also limited the Friar transition game, forcing them to execute against a tough man to man defense.

Despite the feeling that Connecticut might knock out the Friars in the 1st ten minutes of the 2nd half, Providence battled back with some timely baskets by both Hanke and Curry, who made a handful of improbable floaters against the imposing Uconn front line (15pts, 3asst., 6rbs) Geoff McDermott, while hobbled much of the game by foot pain and plagued by foul trouble, contributed mightily to the Friars effort on the court. While only scoring 4 points, McDermott still managed fill up the stat sheet with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocked shots, and a steal.

The difference down the stretch was really Uconn's offensive rebounding, a huge advantage at the foul line 22-29 (PC didn't help themselves by shooting 5-13), and the deep Connecticut bench which won a battle of attrition over the course of the game. The Huskies closed out the game with their largest lead, prevailing 74-62.

Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone carried the Huskies with their inside play, on a day that the Connecticut finesse players could not break the Friars. With a competitive and gritty performance against an excellent team, the Friars are proving that their youth is becoming less of an impediment and that their fortunes in the Big East appear to hold more future promise than futility.

Tim Welsh press comments:

"When you play a team like Connecticut that, head and shoulders should be #1 in the country… you've got to get a little help from them maybe where they don't have that eye of tiger like they did today…"

"Their bigs were the difference as well as the difference at the free throw line. We scored more field goals then them and when that happens it usually puts you right there but obviously the free throw line was a killer; not only us not getting to the line but also our missed free throws – 5 for 13 that just can't happen to win a game like this. That is part of the game you have to take care of…"

"In the second half, I thought we were more patient on offense and our offensive execution was better, we set more screens and we did a better job on their shooters than we did in the 1st half. I don't think they made a 3 pointer in the 2nd half, and the last thing was the rebound issue which remained a problem where they had 24 offensive rebounds which did us in."

"With our game, we've got to run the ball to score points against a team like them and if you don't rebound the ball, it's hard to run. In the early part of the game when we got out to a 6 or 7 point lead, we were rebounding the ball and got the ball in the open court. Playing a half court game against them on offense is not something we were looking to do, and in order to do that you've got to defend and get on the backboards that's where we had problems."

"Playing Connecticut is not like playing other top ten teams. They stand alone as far as depth… When you bring Rashad Anderson off the bench, you're pretty damn good.". He was only the leading scoring in the NCAA tournament 2 years ago. That in itself shows you what kind of depth they have over there…I think they defend better than they have the last couple of years.

"Our guys, to their credit, Sharaud and Donnie, they were up in them all day, and they battled and they fought, and I thought they played with Big East toughness."

"Could we have beaten another top 10 team how we played today? Well, that's a tough question because Connecticut makes you play a certain way. I think we're at the point where we can play at home with anybody but there's a difference between playing with and winning these games – it's a big gap. You have to make winning plays and be consistent. Could we have beaten Pitt today? I don't know. I know they played hard, they battled, they stuck to the game plan, and we didn't let them outrun us. Our guys made some mistakes, the rebounding was the major one today that came back to haunt us. Geoff's foot is hurting him, that's not an excuse, but he's really been hobbling around and hasn't practiced in a couple days…he's our leading rebounder and we've got to get him healthier and back up to speed."

"The players are growing up quickly. We've played 4 top 10 teams and the kiddies aren't kiddies anymore and they're in there thinking they should have won…I want them to have that attitude and with the talent they have, they're eventually going to beat a top 10 team."

Coach Jim Calhoun press comments:

"Providence gave us fits in the context that I think we played well, we didn't shoot well, but we played well and it took us 35 minutes to shake them. The three guys who really played well for us were seniors and that makes a big difference in college basketball."

"I thought Hilton Armstrong was the best player on the court… I think he changed everything in the middle, he had big baskets, 10-12 from the foul line, they say he had 3 blocked shots, I think most would agree he had four blocked shots, except for Jimmy Burr…"

"McGrath is an unheralded player in this league…works his ass off, he's not the quickest guy, but he's found ways, even though he struggled at times tonight, we would deny him the ball, did everything humanly possible to limit him but he was still very, very, good. He's giving Providence that good senior leadership and I told him that he's having a heck of a senior year and to keep it going…"

"Quite frankly, the difference between the two teams is that we were a little more athletic and we were more experienced. We played better today than we played against either Louisville or St. John's."

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