UConn-Arizona; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

On the strength of a 14-1 second half run, the UConn Huskies scored a 79-70 win over #8 Arizona in their second round matchup at the Maui Invitational. Denham Brown led the Huskies with 17 points while Craig Austrie and Hilton Armstrong added 15 and 14.

The Good

 

Denham BrownUConn's most consistent and perhaps most important player right now. Aside from being the most reliable player when it comes to putting the ball into the basket, he's carrying the ball handling load with the freshmen points. He's averaging 18.5 points per game and is hitting 92.3% of his free throws. This is the Denham Brown we've been expecting – kid looks like a man among boys at times.

 

Free Throws – The difference in the game – UConn converted 30 of 35 free throws while Arizona managed to hit just 12 of 22. While the guards struggled to get them the ball at times, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong were aggressive when they had the opportunity – the two totaled just six shots on the game but were a combined 14-18 from the line.

 

The Freshman Guards – Robert Garrison was very shaky at times and he took a couple of three point shots that would have gotten him the hook if there were anyone on the bench able to replace him. However, Garrison was on the floor when extended the first half lead out to ten points. If nothing else, he didn't wilt when Austrie had to leave with two fouls in the first half.

 

Austrie is still struggling with the speed of the game at times, but he is simply unflappable. While Rashad Anderson's three to bring UConn back to one point down may have been the shot of the game, Austrie's personal 5-0 run late in the second half was the punch that put Arizona down.

 

Austrie scored 11 of his 15 points in the final five minutes of the game – the entire Arizona team only scored 13 over that same period.

 

Rashad Anderson – With the exception of the blocked three at the end of the first half, even Rashad's misses looked like they were going in. He took a definite step forward tonight and a more experienced point guard might have noticed that Anderson was "on"; it looked like he would have been capable of one his eruptions had he gotten the opportunity.

 

The shot of the game was Anderson's three to bring UConn back to within one at 56-55; that shot was the beginning of a 14-1 run that decided the game.

 

Defense – The defense was strong when it had to be late in the second half. There were some startling lapses at times, but UConn's speed seemed to discourage Arizona's guards from penetrating and they settled for jumpshots. Ivan Radenovich was a bright spot for Arizona – for some reason, UConn had trouble keeping track of Radenovich despite the fact that he was the only 6'10" guy with a bandage on his head drilling threes. Perhaps only I picked up on the visual clues there because he seemed to find himself alone on the arc time and time again.

 

Hilton Armstrong – Basically, a career game for Armstrong. He was aggressive inside and was sent to the line for nine free throws – he converted eight. Fourteen-points, eight rebounds and, most importantly, he avoided foul trouble in an inconsistently-called game. UConn is in trouble if Armstrong runs into foul trouble against Arizona.

 

Jim Calhoun – Take the guy out of the suit and tie and put him in a golf shirt and he nearly goes to sleep out there. Where's the stomping? Where's the staring? No yelling? What's happening? There are two Jim Calhouns; the one who rages during the early season into the conference schedule and the one who shows up at the end of the season to take UConn through the post-season tournaments.

 

Either the latter has shown up early or the weather in Maui has mellowed him. I suspect it's the former; his team is in a tournament setting and the younger kids need tournament Calhoun to keep them settled. When Marcus Johnson pushed the ball late in the game and was bailed out by an athletic catch and finish/foul by Josh Boone, he got nothing more than advice when he got back to the bench.

 

If that happens against Army next week, Johnson will meet preseason Calhoun and probably get to see the inside of the doghouse for the first time.

 

The Bad

 

Marcus Johnson – Marcus is still trying to cram 30 minutes of playing time into the five he's getting. Was way too anxious pushing the ball upcourt late when UConn was trying to run clock. Needs to settle down. One positive note…this kid is going to be a fine off the ball defender. I don't know if it was Adams or Rogers, but whoever it was, they could not get separation from Johnson during a possession as the game wound down.

 

The Maui Floor – For years, players have been slipping and sliding all over this court. They supposedly had the problem solved with air conditioning was installed, but it looks to still be an issue. How many players have slipped on one spot on the floor – on your TV, the left side of the court, top of the three-point arc.

 

Lute Olson – Olson got a little fiery towards the end of the second half.  It looked like Grumpy Old Men III when he got tangled with Calhoun for a bit there.

 

One thing – I expected Arizona to pressure UConn's young guards more than they did in the second half. I figured that Olson had gone zone in the first half to protect some of his players in foul trouble and that he would unleash the dogs in the second half – never really happened though.

 

Former UConn Targets – UConn recruited both Marcus Williams and Isaiah Fox. Williams has potential; like Marcus Johnson, he tends to press and he is wild as a result, but the kid has talent. He'll be a prolific scorer before he's done at Arizona.

 

Isaiah Fox just has not improved. He was injured most of last season, but he clearly is not the player some expected he would be coming out of California.

 

From Beyond the Arc – Basically, this breaks down to three good efforts and two awful efforts in the 5-17 total. Brown, Anderson and Austrie were 5-10 on threes, while the Garrison and Gay combo was 0-7.

 

If Rudy Gay goes 0-4 on threes, you have to accept it – he has to shoot. Robert Garrison does not need to take three three-point shots, however, and I suspect Preseason Jim Calhoun might have raced out on the court and tackled Garrison as he squared for that last three. If he takes three against Army on Tuesday, the Cadets may get to take home a freshman point guard as a parting gift.

 

The Big East – Not a great night for the conference. Some cupcakes were snacked on, but there were two resounding losses – Kentucky manhandled West Virginia and Bucknell beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

 

Kentucky is a tough match-up for the slower, less athletic Mountaineers so a loss is not entirely a surprise. I realize that Bucknell has been a nice little ride since last year, but Syracuse needs to be any Patriot League team that wanders into the Dome.

 

They're a little dysfunctional right now and I suspect the answer to Boeheim's problems might be on the bench – Wright and Onuaku need more time. Oh, and it might not be a bad idea to tap McNamara and tell him that not every shot is a good shot.

 

The Ugly

 

Rudy Gay – Superman got stuck in the phone booth tonight. Gay seems to be thinking a ½ second ahead of where he is at the moment – as a result, he tends to lose track of the basketball. He might put too much air on a pass, he might let a pass go through his fingers or he might forget that you can't wrap your arm around the rib cage of the man you're guarding.

 

It might be part of the progression of a naturally passive player trying to become more aggressive. It's somewhat reminiscent of Caron Butler's sophomore year; he was maddeningly inconsistent early in the season, but improved to the point where he was virtually unstoppable later in the year. If that's the road Gay is on, the early struggles will soon be distant memories.

 

The Zone Offense – Zones have a tendency to trip teams up early in the season – most of the practice to date is against man to man defenses. For stretches early in the second half, UConn looked like the Great Wall of China was between themselves and the basket. Lots of ball pounding 25' out - they had trouble even looking for seams in the zone and the interior players seemed to go long stretches without receiving an entry pass. Fortunately, when they did get the ball, they were aggressive and got to the line.


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