UConn Looking for Two More Wins

STORRS, Conn. – For the past seven games, George Blaney has been in charge of the Connecticut basketball team. Tuesday will be Day 26 (and game number eight) in the process that began when the Huskies returned from their 58-44 loss at Georgetown and coach Jim Calhoun couldn't get out of bed the next morning because of back pain.

UConn (17-11, 7-9 Big East) plays at Providence Tuesday night and it may be the last time this season that Blaney is needed to fill in for Calhoun. Before the Huskies boarded their bus for Providence Monday afternoon, Calhoun had successful back surgery in New York City.

Calhoun's coaching status remains a day-to-day decision based on his recovery after he returns home. But there is a possibility the Hall of Fame coach could return for the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

For now, Blaney is trying to get the Huskies where they want to go. Victories in the final two regular season games would leave UConn 9-9 in the Big East, possibly playing last-place DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament in New York on Tuesday.

Sound familiar? That's the exact position UConn was in last season. No one is predicting 11 straight victories and repeat national championship. But two wins should assure the Huskies an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Three more wins would virtually guarantee it.

Providence and Pitt are below UConn in the Big East standings. Providence (14-15, 3-13) is next to last but dangerous at home. The Friars run the fastbreak and have four players averaging in double figures scoring. Providence has home wins against Louisville and Rutgers.

Blaney put the emphasis on defense in practice and says the Huskies must get stops. He even let a curse word slip out during Monday's practice.

"We've practiced really hard since the Syracuse [71-69] loss Saturday. I haven't let up on them," Blaney said. "I told them flat out that if we can play for 20 minutes with the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country as well as we did [against Syracuse] and have the ball with 13 seconds to go to tie it or win it, we should be good enough to play anybody at any time."

But inconsistency has been the trademark of this UConn team. It's easy to think these Huskies could win their next three games – and maybe more. But UConn has not won consecutive games since Jan. 9 and Jan. 14 against West Virginia and Notre Dame.

"I think every team learns at its own pace," Blaney said. "This team probably has taken a little bit longer than I would like to see it. They handle adversity pretty well. But they sometimes just let it go and don't play together for periods of time. That's been a problem."

It's time the Huskies outgrow that tendency. Teams don't win that way – even games they are supposed to win.

"I don't think there's anybody who doesn't know that we need to win games," Blaney said. "[Calhoun] was saying that before he left. I've been saying it since I've had the team. You have to win games at this level. You can't just play well. So we need these two games coming up."

GAME CAPSULE

UConn (17-11, 7-9 Big East) at Providence (14-15, 3-13)

Date: Feb. 28, 2012

Time: 7 p.m.

Site: Dunkin' Donuts Cemter, Providence, R.I.

TV: SNY (Eric Frede, Ron Perry)

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

Series: UConn leads, 42-27

Notes: The series started in 1928 with a 29-21 UConn victory. UConn holds a 35-22 advantage in Big East play. . . . UConn is 15-13 in Providence, 15-12 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center (the building formerly known as the Providence Civic Center). . . . UConn has won two of the last three. . . . Providence won three straight over UConn before that. . . . Coach Ed Colley, in his first year at PC, is 0-2 against UConn with both losses coming as head coach at Fairfield.

Last meeting: UConn 75, Providence 57 (Feb. 13, 2011)

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel scored 25 points and Kemba Walker added 22 in the win at Gampel Pavilion. Charles Okwankdu started and had 11 rebounds to go with six points. UConn hit seven three-pointers. Bryce Cotton had 10 points and Vincent Council added nine assists. The Friars were led by Marshon Brooks, who tallied 25 points.

PROVIDENCE PROBABLE STARTERS

G 11 Bryce Cotton So. 6-1 165 14.0 ppg

G 32 Vincent Council Jr. 6-2 180 16.4 ppg

G 1 Gerard Coleman So. 6-4 180 13.5 ppg

F 23 LaDontae Henton Fr. 6-6 220 14.0 ppg

F 34 Ron Giplaye So. 6-6 230 1.2 ppg

UCONN PROBABLE STARTERS

G 3 Jeremy Lamb So. 6-5 180 17.9 ppg

G 11 Ryan Boatright Fr. 6-0 160 10.4 ppg

C 12 Andre Drummond Fr. 6-10 270 10.1 ppg

F 34 Alex Oriakhi Jr. 6-9 240 6.9 ppg

F 22 Roscoe Smith So. 6-8 205 4.0 ppg

NOTABLE

NAPIER STARTING AGAIN?: Shabazz Napier was back with the first team in practice Monday but Blaney said he hasn't decided on a starting lineup against the Friars. Napier played 32 minutes and didn't score against Syracuse. He took only three shots from the field. "He and Jeremy have eight 20-point games [each] – and he had a zero," Blaney said. "That's hard to fathom. I know he didn't shoot the ball. At this level, with his talent, he should be scoring – and he will score. We just need him to do more."

FATHER AND SON: Blaney's son, Brian, is in his first season as an assistant coach at Providence. He followed Ed Cooley there from Fairfield, where he spent three seasons. Brian Blaney said in a radio interview Saturday that coaching against his father wouldn't be "any fun." Said George: "It's not going to be any fun for me either."

FRIAR FRESHMAN HONORED: Providence freshman forward LaDontae Henton was named to the Big East honor roll for last week. He had 24 points and 15 rebounds in Providence's 73-71 victory at DePaul.


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