Tough Road Challenge

Everyone has to get up early for Connecticut's game Saturday at Notre Dame. Tipoff is 11 a.m. The reason? College basketball has to get those nationally televised games out of the way before the NFL playoff games air (New Orleans at San Francisco, 4:30 p.m.; Denver at New England, 8 p.m.).

The NFL holds all the power in the world of TV sports. So, if the snowy weather cooperates, coach Jim Calhoun should be back in his Connecticut home in time to watch Tebow vs. Brady on TV Saturday night.

Even so, Calhoun has never been thrilled with any starting time that messes with his game day routine.

"I'm not crazy about it," Calhoun said. "I continue to say it's a bad idea for everybody involved. Nine o'clock (p.m.) games are bad for people and I don't think 11 a.m. games are good. … It's the way things are, and I guess you've got to live with it."

Sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi says playing at Notre Dame means dealing with a "hard environment" no matter what time the games starts. "Their fans are crazy," Oriakhi said. "Usually you're not used to playing so early. But we practice pretty early too. It's really not an excuse. You've just got to get used to it."

And don't forget there are two teams involved in this. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey isn't worried. But with school still not back in session, Calhoun and Brey have been holding morning practices this week to acclimate the players to the timing. "I don't really think it's a factor," Brey said. "Before the season starts, your weekend practices are usually at 10 or 11. Plus, when you are on Christmas break, sometimes you are going back to some two-a-days and you are going in the mornings. I just don't think that should be a factor. So have some cereal and juice, keep the coffee pot warm and enjoy breakfast with the Huskies.


No. 17 UConn (13-3, 3-2 Big East) at Notre Dame (11-6, 3-1)

Date: Jan. 14, 2012

Time: 11 a.m.

Site: Purcel Pavilion at the Joyce Center, Notre Dame, Ind.

TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, Doris Burke)

Radio: UConn Radio Network/WTIC-AM 1080 (Joe D'Ambrosio, Wayne Norman)

Series: UConn leads, 16-9. Notes: The Huskies and Irish have become familiar foes in recent years, meeting twice during the regular season each of the last four years. And it will happen again this year. Notre Dame visits the XL Center on Jan. 29. Notre Dame has won the last three meetings. UConn is 4-7 at Notre Dame.

Last meeting: Notre Dame 70, UConn 67 (March 5, 2011)

This game, played at Gampel Pavilion, will always have a unique place in UConn history. Turns out it was the last time UConn would lose in 2010-11. The Huskies went on to win 11 straight, five to win the Big East tournament and six to win the NCAA national championship. The loss to Notre Dame gave the Huskies a chance to refocus and get their act together. UConn led by six in the first half. Notre Dame led by 10 with 10:44 left in the game. Kemba Walker had 34 points but missed a three-pointer with eight seconds left and the Huskies finished the Big East regular season with a 9-9 record.


G 0 Eric Atkins So. 6-1 182 12.7 ppg

G 12 Alex Dragicevich So. 6-7 221 8.4 ppg

G 14 Scott Martin Sr. 6-8 222 8.7 ppg

G 22 Jerian Grant So. 6-5 195 13.4 ppg

F 45 Jack Cooley Jr. 6-9 248 10.7 ppg


G 13 Shabazz Napier So. 6-1 171 13.8 ppg

G 3 Jeremy Lamb So. 6-5 180 18.6 ppg

C 34 Andre Drummond Fr. 6-10 270 10.3 ppg

F 2 DeAndre Daniels Fr. 6-8 195 4.6 ppg

F 34 Alex Oriakhi Jr. 6-9 240 6.7 ppg


CALHOUN'S KEYS TO THE GAME: Calhoun offered this quick analysis after practice on Thursday: "For us, if we can tighten up our controlling of the ball – because that's one thing Notre Dame does well – and if we can speed the game up a little bit, that would be very helpful to us. They don't hold the ball; they just make sure they get good shots. They're not as good a shooting team as they have been. But they are a good basketball team."

FRIDAY NEWS: UConn practiced at Gampel Pavilion Friday, then flew into snowy South Bend. Tyler Olander (right heel contusion) took part in about 70 percent of the practice and remains a game day decision. DeAndre Daniels still is expected to start at small forward. UConn flight had not delays, landing around 4 p.m. By early evening South Bend had 6-8 inches and it was still snowing.

MISSING ABRO: Five of Notre Dame's 10 scholarship players have missed time with illness or injury this season. The big loss, of course, has been fifth-year senior forward Tim Abromaitis, from Unionville, Conn. Abromaitis had played in two games (Missouri and Georgia) when he torn his ACL in his right knee in practice on Nov. 25. One of the most-liked players in college basketball, Abromaitis was averaging 14 points and seven rebounds when he was injured. Brey has been through this type of thing before at Notre Dame, especially with Luke Harangody (2007-10). "Some of these guys were on the roster when we had to adjust when Luke went down," Brey said. "I think we've done a really good job, probably making some decisions with our lineup going into the Indiana game (Dec. 17). We had started eight lineups in 12 games before that. I think that gave us direction and some of the inexperienced guys some confidence in more of a plan." Abromaitis, the son of former UConn star Jim Abromaitis, has adopted a role as an assistant coach. "He's been great," Brey said. "I think the team and the staff was more depressed than him. He kind of picks us up. He's been very good with talking to guys and pulling them aside at practice. And I use him as a resource. We really value him being around."

COOLEY IS HOT: Junior forward Jack Cooley has become a force in the absence of Abromaitis. Since missing the Dec. 4 game against Maryland due to illness, Cooley has averaged 16.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in eight games. He is shooting 65.8 percent from the field and 76.2 percent from the free throw line. "Cooley has become one of the better functional big guys in the league," Calhoun said. "You throw him the ball and he does good things with it. 16 and 10? We'd take that any time out of one of our post guys." Brey said Cooley followed some conditioning suggestions and has been able to play extended minutes. "He's one of the more underrated ball-handling big guys," Brey said. "Right now, I think he is playing as well as any big guy in the league."

AURORA FOR BOATRIGHT: UConn freshman Ryan Boatright is making something of a homecoming. Boatright is from Aurora, Ill., near Chicago. On Monday, he said UConn would have a lot of fan support on the road. Thursday he said, "My mom told me it's like over 400 [tickets]." Family and friends went online and called the Notre Dame ticket office to gobble up tickets. It just shows how much of a hero Boatright was – and still is – in Aurora.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Is it a good thing? It's not good for my blood pressure." - Calhoun when asked if it was a good thing UConn was able to beat West Virginia without Shabazz Napier scoring. Since the Farfield game, Napier has been on a scoring yo-yo string (24, 4, 17, 6, 23, 0). That could bode well for today.

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