While star forward Rudy Gay tends to dominate the headlines, the real story of this UConn team is found in its depth. Gay (So, 6-9, 220 lbs.) leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and certainly deserves praise for his all around play, as he also tops the team in steals and third in rebounding and blocked shots. However, he doesn't do it alone. On the front line, underrated Josh Boone is a handful, scoring 10.1 points while snaring 6.8 rebounds per game. Boone (Jr., 6-10, 240 lbs.) has blocked 55 shots, and also protects the ball well for a big man, suffering just 28 turnovers in 24 games. Hilton Armstrong (Sr., 6-11, 235 lbs.) completes the well-rounded front line by dominating inside. His 7.0 rebounds per game, coupled with 74 blocks, makes him an outstanding player even before his 9.8 points per game are factored in.
The backcourt picture has been steadied since the return of guard Marcus Williams, who was suspended for the first semester of the season due to his involvement in the theft of laptop computers. Williams (Jr. ,6-3, 205 lbs.) has shaken off the distractions caused by that incident, and is one of four Huskies in double figures, averaging 10.2 points per game. He hasn't ignored his guard duties either, as he has dished almost two assists for each turnover he has suffered. Steady Craig Austrie (Fr., 6-3, 185 lbs.), while scoring just 4.2 points per game, distributes the ball even more effectively, with 78 assists against just 30 turnovers.
Swingman Rashad Anderson is the best player off the bench in the league. The career three-point record holder at UConn is second on the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, largely due to his 43% success rate from beyond the arc. Anderson (Sr., 6-5, 215 lbs.) is the rare player who upgrades the team in all phases when he enters the game, and the matchup problems he causes against bench personnel of UConn's foes is a huge advantage for head coach Jim Calhoun, as is his ability to play at either guard or forward. Denham Brown (Sr., 6-6, 220 lbs.) is another outstanding contributor off the bench who could start for many teams in the league. He averages 8.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and is a solid defender as well.
While many people look at UConn's varied scoring options first, it's actually their defense that makes the number one-ranked Huskies so difficult to play against.
|Sat Feb 18|
WVU 18-6, 9-2
UC 22-2, 9-2
WVU - 21
UC - 4
To have a chance against this awesome array of talent, West Virginia must shorten the game. It must lengthen each possession, and also keep the UConn running game from getting untracked. These are areas in which the Mountaineers excel, but they will have to play their best game of the year in order to have a chance to win. WVU will also have to shoot well, because it will be forced to get back on defense quickly to keep the UConn transition game in check, and to achieve that, it won't be able to send players to the offensive boards for second chances. While West Virginia should be able to achieve that goal, it also means that the first shot of each WVU possession is likely to be the only one – thus making good shooting an even more critical factor in this contest.
UConn has played 41 games as the top-ranked team in the nation, and has compiled a sterling 35-6 record in that position. West Virginia could become the only team to hang a second-consecutive loss on a number one-rated Husky squad, owing to UConn's 69-64 loss to Villanova last Monday.
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Joe Herber is ten points away from becoming WVU's 43rd 1,000-point scorer.
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A measure of the strength of the UConn program can be found in the fact that ten Husky alums began the 2005-06 NBA season on active rosters. Ray Allen (Seattle), Caron Butler (Washington), Ben Gordon (Chicago), Richard Hamilton (Detroit), Donyell Marshall (Cleveland), Kevin Ollie (Philadelphia), Emeka Okafor (Charlotte), Clifford Robinson (New Jersey), Charlie Villanueva (Toronto) and Jake Voskuhl (Charlotte) all played for current head coach Jim Calhoun at UConn. That number is second only Duke, which started the season with 11 acrive players.
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West Virginia's big advantage in three-pointers over its foes is slipping away. The Mountaineers' percentage from beyond the arc is down to 34.6% -- just 1.2 percentage points better than its foes' 33.4%. Coupled with the fact that opponents have made 14 more two-point shots than West Virginia has this year, it is remarkable that WVU has been able to fashion a 9-2 conference mark.