Bump in the Road

STORRS, Conn. – They shuffled into Gampel Pavilion Sunday morning, eyes half open, and their spirits deflated by consecutive road losses in the Big East Conference. The noon practice was not punishment. It had been planned long before the 67-60 loss at Rutgers Saturday night.

But returning to practice with a disappointed and peeved coach Jim Calhoun, just hours after that late-night bus trip from Piscataway, N.J., is a far cry from returning to a national championship parade. It's more like an extremely persistent wakeup call featuring an R-rated message and no snooze button.

The Huskies rolled out of bed and into a 90-minute endurance test with their demanding Hall of Fame coach. And this was a practice for mature audiences only.

"He was really fired up," freshman guard Ryan Boatright said after practice. "I've seen him fired up – after the loss (to Central Florida) in the Bahamas. But I think coming off these two games – it ain't even that we lost, it's the way we lost those two games – he was really pissed. We need to get back on track."

Indeed, the 69-year-old coach had not rolled out his roughest practice vocabulary in quite a while – at least not in front of the beat reporters who are allowed in midway through workouts.

Most of what he said can't be repeated. But at one point he reminded his team they had committed "20 [bleeping] turnovers" against Rutgers and "You're trying for 50 today."

Calhoun explained his tactics.

"Why would I come out dead-ass if I expect them to respond," he said. "Life is all about getting up in the morning. Sometimes it's a good morning and everything is smooth sailing. Other times you get knocked on your ass. It's not how you get knocked on your ass, it's how you get up and what you do after that.

"We got knocked on our ass the last couple of games and knocked off our kilter a little bit. We've got to get back on."

Calhoun is concerned about the way the Huskies are shooting the ball. He is upset with the number of turnovers. In practice, he had the Huskies working on getting the ball inside, something their impatience on offense doesn't facilitate. And with no inside game, UConn's outside game has faltered. That shouldn't happen with talented guards such as Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

Those are X's and O's. On top of all that, this UConn team lacks a true leader. And the lack of that element is magnified in Season One AKW.

(That's After Kemba Walker, if you were wondering.)

A leader would be an extension of Calhoun on the floor. And, in Calhoun's system, that leader would get the Huskies to tighten up on defense when they too, he would urge his teammates to punch back after they've taken a punch, and he would never allow the opponent to demonstrate a higher threshold for physical play.

"Historically, right about this time of year, we've had about the same kind of bumps [in the road]," Calhoun said. "Why it happens? I don't know. But this is a completely different team and I just hope it's the fact we're going through a bump."

The Huskies had not adjusted well to the start of Big East play. Conference play is more physical and the game is officiated in a different way. Complaining about the lack of calls doesn't help. The Huskies agree they have to adjust, but they aren't – even thought the intentions of the opponents are obvious.

One thing for certain is that West Virginia will be one of the most physical teams UConn faces all year. That a characteristic of playing against a team coached by Bob Huggins.

Rutgers freshman Myles Mack told reporters Saturday nightstressed being physical with Jeremy Lamb, UConn leading scorer.

"He's not really like a physical guy," Mack said of Lamb in an Associated. "He's really nonchalant. He doesn't like it when someone bumps him or whatever, so we just bumped him a little bit and threw him off."

Lamb fouled out with eight points Saturday night at Rutgers, a real indication he isn't responding to that type of treatment.

"There's nothing we can do about that but play through it," Calhoun said. "The Big East has always allowed for a lot of physical play. [Lamb] is going to have to adjust to that, because I can guarantee you one thing: the officials aren't going to adjust to us.

"[Lamb has to] stand up to it and get through it."

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