FIVE THOUGHTS ON THE CONNECTICUT REMATCH
Connecticut (17-6, 9-3 Big East) demolished Rutgers (8-15, 2-11 Big East) 85-63 Saturday night in a game that was mercifully moved from ESPN to ESPN Classic. The Huskies broke open the game with a 26-5 run to take a commanding 37-13 lead with four minutes remaining in the 1st Half. Rutgers responded with 12 consecutive points but Connecticut scored the final 7 points of the half to lead 44-25 at halftime. The Huskies erased any doubts with a 15-4 run early in the 2nd Half. The lead eventually grew to 32 points during extended garbage time. I was spared the aggravation of another addition to the Gary Waters' Greatest Hits collection. Thanks to my wife, I spent the weekend in Mendocino on the California coast in a near total media blackout. A blurb and boxscore in the San Francisco Chronicle was sufficiently brief to spare me the misery that a sellout crowd endured. At least for a half. Here are five thoughts on the Connecticut rematch.
1. Shitburger. As he typically does after a bad road loss, Head Coach Gary Waters swore revenge would be his in the rematch at the RAC after Connecticut blasted Rutgers 78-64 in Hartford in mid-January. The pregame articles pervasively revisited Waters' bold proclamation. So did Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun, who had his team ready for a 1st round knockout. Connecticut turned Waters' guarantee into must more false bravado.
2. A-RAC-naphobia. The RAC has been a snakepit under Waters. The Scarlet Knights have beaten seven Top 25 teams in Waters' four seasons. However, the RAC has also been a lambs den under the same coach. For the second time in three years, the Scarlet Knights have struggled on their homecourt. Many Rutgers fans expected a 15-win season on the basis or the Scarlet Knights near-invicibility at the RAC, conventiently forgetting that Rutgers was not invincible during the 2002-2003 season. This year, the RAC is again just another arena as opponents have their way with the demoralized Scarlet Knights. Fans poured from the arena at halftime rather than subject themselves to another 20 minutes of bad basketball. The loss to Connecticut, while not unexpected, dropped Rutgers home court record to 6-7. A loss to #3 ranked Boston College will result in the a losing homecourt record for the first time since 1988 – the depth of the Craig Littlepage error.
3. Shields and Douby. Douby started. Shields again came off the bench. Neither produced in their respective roles. Douby scored 5 points on 2 of 10 FGAs and 0 of 3 3PAs. He collected only one rebound in only 20 minutes of playing time. Waters pulled Douby minutes into the 2nd Half and Quincy did not return to the game. Shields scored only 3 points (1 of 7 FGAs and 1 of 5 3PAs) and grabbed only one rebound in 27 minutes. Asked to carry the Scarlet Knights with negligible contributions from their supporting cast, Shields and Douby have been easily contained by opposing defenses that focus on them and force the supporting cast to beat them. It has been a very effective strategy. One dating back to the NIT final against Michigan.
4. Marquis Webb. Where have you been all season, Marquis? With Douby and Shields struggling, Webb finally stepped forward to pick up the slack. Marquis scored a team-high 15 points on 5 of 11 FGAs, 3 of 6 3PAs, and 2 of 2 FTAs. Webb had a similar breakout performance in the Big East Tournament loss to Virginia Tech last year. When, with his teammates struggling, he asserted himself. He will never be a 15 ppg scorer. But he has to be a viable offensive option on the floor. Great defense doesn't mean much when you force your team to play offense short-handed.
5. "Fire Waters". The chant rang from the student section during the 1st Half. It's about time the fans voiced their displeasure with the sad state of affairs in Year Four. That is, besides targeting those who dare to criticism the program. It seems that each week, Waters sets a new low. Worst home defeat at the RAC. Worst Big East record. Worst RAC home record. This isn't progress. It's an implosion. Richard McCormick, the Rutgers President, needs to get the message that the Contracts-R-Us mentality pervading the Athletic Department is standing in the way of progress. Does a coach need time to turn around a struggling program? Absolutely. But the need for patience does not justify tolerance of a coach who is failing miserably. McCormick needs to hear this message because his Athletic Director, Bob Mulcahy, is deaf to it. Mulcahy, who lectures the fans about their lack of qualifications to judge the progress of the athletic programs, has a ignominious history of giving contract extensions to coaches who have yet to show progress towards a turnaround. Thus delaying by several years the time at which the coach's dismissals would be economically viable. Bob won't get the message. Let the President hear it.
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