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February 16, 2004

Media Recap — UConn’s Turn

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 11:55 pm

A bit late, but the kid has a cold.

Let’s start with the personal POV. Over at the Courtside Seats, Mike is frustrated. Mike has been totally stand-up in calling the Huskies as he sees ’em, and was gracious in the defeat of his team. Obviously, I haven’t heard his radio broadcasts, but if he is even half that professional in his broadcasts, then I expect I will hear him in the future.

The Hartford Courant probably has the most and best overall coverage. They even provide a recap of the 5 biggest games over the last 6 years. There was no common theme to the reporters coverage, which is nice. Each had their own take. For one, it was the fact that Pitt just manhandled UConn.

There is nothing subtle about the Pittsburgh experience.

Especially at the Petersen Events Center.

The Panthers climb inside your brain with their talk. Then they climb inside your uniform to make it stick.

Not the greatest mental image to have, but you get the point. For the column piece it was all about poise. UConn is lacking it. Plenty of compliments for Pitt, but ultimately the column is a critique about the soft play of UConn.

UConn’s biggest rival in this season of grand expectation is Poise State.

The Huskies’ toughest opponent is Patience A&M and patience in the p.m., too.

Their most dreaded competitor is mental toughness.

Until they find – what is it the French call it? – that certain sang-froid, UConn isn’t going to win the national championship.

UConn’s 75-68 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday was merely further proof.

Make no mistake, Pitt is the best thing to happen to UConn athletics in recent years and the Petersen Events Center is one of the best things to happen to Big East basketball in a long time.

St. John’s and Georgetown may prompt tales of romance in our neck of the woods, but the hard fact is Pittsburgh, with its long football history and hardscrabble, non-negotiable basketball team, is where the future action is for our state.

Then there’s the issue of Okafor’s second half disappearing act. It seems, that Pitt has his number.

Okafor, UConn’s national player of the year candidate, has had his struggles in the past with the Panthers’ physical style. They have found ways to rattle him throughout his career, whether riding him out of the post so he doesn’t get good position to score, or surrounding him with multiple players down low.

For the record, I don’t disagree that Okafor got hosed on that call for his 4th foul. It was clearly a block, but if you believe Pitt won because of that, you’re just too far gone. Even Calhoun has conceded that wasn’t the reason UConn lost.

The toughness and ability of Pitt to finish was admired.

The Huskies weren’t exactly out-toughed as they held a 38-31 rebounding advantage — led by Josh Boone’s 13, nine of which came on the offensive end — but every time UConn needed a big basket, it failed to convert.

Pitt led 36-28 at the half, but the Huskies got the deficit down to four points on a Gordon 3-pointer with 13 minutes, 11 seconds remaining. After two Brown free throws for Pitt, Boone tipped in a miss to get it back to four points at 47-43 with 11:41 left.

But that’s when Pitt took over on separation Sunday in the Big East.

The Panthers scored the next 11 points, the first seven coming on free throws, to take a commanding 58-44 lead. The run was capped on a Chris Taft dunk with 7:41 remaining

“That run was about it for us,” Boone said. “But no matter if they’re up seven or down seven, they’re still going to run their stuff and keep taking time off the clock.”

The reporters covering the Huskies have to be commended for their fairness. There wasn’t whining about Pitt bullying or bad calls in the coverage I have read. There was, in fact, admiration for how well Pitt did what it had to against UConn.

Other Coverage

Number 4 vs. #5 gets attention, having one of the teams being UConn means the NYC papers will pay a little more attention. The New York Times write-up, came courtesy of one of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnists (Chuck Finder). Guess their guys were all in LA for the NBA all-star game.

NY Daily News columnist Dick Weiss, definitely felt Pitt is just the tougher team.

The Panthers were just too physical for Connecticut in a 75-68 victory, leaving Calhoun to lament his team’s lack of toughness afterward.

“This team doesn’t show any emotion,” he said. “I’m trying to remember the last time our kids came into the locker room and just went crazy … maybe two years ago against Arizona. We beat Oklahoma by 40 points and it’s, ‘Oh, well. Ho-hum.’ We have a bunch of nice kids on this team, kids you’d like to take home with you. What I’d like to have is a couple kids I wouldn’t want to take home.”

Calhoun was like that as a player and is like that as a coach. But aside from senior point guard Taliek Brown or defensive specialist Shamon Tooles, no one on this talented Connecticut roster falls into that category.

No one on the Huskies (19-5, 7-3 Big East), especially 6-10 All-America center Emeka Okafor, wanted to address the subject of country club living right now. “They beat us, so I can’t say anything,” he said.

But that’s what separates these two teams right now. And it is why Pitt (23-2, 9-2) has emerged as the team to beat in this conference.

This is a team that plays with a chip on its shoulder.

Fun With Personal Biases

A couple articles caught my eye, because the bias is so blatant.

Take this from the Philadelphia Inquirer writer, who has clearly decided that local St. Joe’s has the player of the year in Jameer Nelson.

One nationally televised opportunity for Connecticut center Emeka Okafor to show that he – not that point guard from the little Philly school – is college basketball’s player of the year is gone now, lost in the frenzied Petersen Events Center.

Pitt fans can only shake their heads. This was the sort of thing that was written after the loss to Miami regarding Fitzgerald and the Heisman. That, “see, I knew it,” line of crap.

Sadly, the Altoona Mirror only offers a tease of Lee’s favorite columnist. I hope Lee will provide a full, frontal Fisking of this.

The collapse of the Big East has created a dark cloud over the Pitt football program.

But the basketball team has given the Panther faithful plenty to cheer about, and even with the 2005-2006 additions of powers Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East, it’s clear the road to future conference prominence will continue to run through here.

Finally, for those UConn fans who seem to wonder why Pitt still seemed pissed about Calhoun’s talent vs. team comment from last year, I’ll try a quick explanation. When Pitt won last year, Calhoun made it in a very backhanded compliment sort of way along with a lot of complaints about how Pitt wasn’t getting called for fouls like UConn was. In the context of the stories, Calhoun seemed almost dismissive of Pitt. Coach Howland played up the talent comments in part to stick up for his players, but also to keep them fired up about UConn, considering the Big East Tournament was only a week or so away. Considering what Pitt did against UConn in the Big East championship, I’d say it worked.

ESPN’s late-night coverage…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Shawn @ 1:33 pm

While the local media are tittering like schoolgirls who’ve just met their crush in person, the national media are perhaps a tad more agnostic about us. Last night’s Sports Center covered our victory in a very perfunctory manner. Granted, it was on a weekend during which a blockbuster baseball trade was being mulled but Dale Jr. and N.C. State also got much, much more airtime as well. Again, I will grant that it was the weekend of the Daytona 500, the ‘Super Bowl’ of the left-turn crowd (I guess I’m un-American for not getting into this ‘sport.’) and that the Wolfpack pulled off a huge upset but the tone of our coverage was still tepid. And it was the ho-hum tone that grabbed me. Yes, these are worthy and exciting stories, but Pitt vs. Uconn was as well. I mean, this was #4 vs. #5, a battle for first place in one of the country’s premier basketball leagues, a possible preview of the Big East’s tournament, and a possible NCAA tournament preview as well. Something doesn’t add up here…

Media Recap — Just Pitt

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 1:58 am

Seems to be a veritable avalanche of stories now. Big Wins will do that. Expect some follow through for a couple days.

The Horse’s Mouth

Pitt put out a list of key quotes from interviews following the game. Jamie Dixon is totally boring coachspeak. Compare it to Calhoun, and you can get part of why the Husky fans love him. He is blunt and direct. He actually says things that are worth quoting.

Opening Remarks:
“Congratulations to Pittsburgh on their win today, they played great defensively as a team. They wore us
down because of how physical they were. Pittsburgh deserved to win this game.”

Comments on the Built up to the Game:
“I was really excited about this game, but the team wasn’t at least they didn’t show it. This team really
doesn’t show emotion, but I wish they did, I’m a very emotional person.”

Comments on Pittsburgh offense:
“No matter how good we played defense, Pittsburgh still executed offensively. This is because Pittsburgh
has great basketball I.Q. and believes in the system that Coach Jamie Dixon has brought to the team.”

Expect the lack of emotion from the UConn team to be a continuing theme. Especially up in Storrs.

Coverage

The game itself — payback or roughhousing. The payback article, is practically giddy about Pitt.

It might be premature to make reservations to San Antonio, site of the Final Four, but Pitt sent a statement heard around the nation Sunday afternoon with a resounding 75-68 victory over Connecticut at Petersen Events Center.

Given the disappointments of the past in Pitt sports, there is a part of me that cringes at seeing things like this.

Looks like the desperation from UConn, and their inability to keep it together was seen by more than just me.

Every time the Huskies made a run, the Panthers did not panic, but rather responded with a run of their own and never relinquished the lead. In almost every crucial situation down the stretch, according to Gordon, the Huskies crumbled under the pressure.

“You have to be poised out there and we weren’t,” Gordon said. “I think if there is one weakness in our game it is being poised in certain game situations. If we look back on this game, there were a number of times we had a chance to make something happened and didn’t. We got out of our game a little bit at times.

“Pitt seemed to take one possession at a time and they were consistent at it. A combination of their defense and us just not being mentally focused enough to stay with what we do, even if a shot wasn’t there, hurt us. We have to be more patient and use the whole shot clock if that is what it takes to get a basket.”

Boone said the Huskies never got into a rhythm and every time they made a mistake, Pitt would make them pay for it.

“It is heartbreaking when we get within four points there in a critical possession and something happens like we turn the ball over,” Boone said. “Then they come down and score to make it a four-point swing. Moments like that have really killed us. It is a matter of us keeping our heads together, keeping our composure. We need to settle down, run our offense, run our fast break and play good defense.

“We got rattled but we’re going to have a lot of tough games in the Big East tournament and the NCAAs and so we need to learn how to play through that.”

Well, at least they recognize there is a problem.

UConn believes there will be a Round 3 in less than a month. There’s a good chance.

One focus article on McCarroll’s game. Apparently he had a good practice on Saturday.

Then there was the atmosphere leading up to the game. Tickets were at a premium

It was the hottest ticket in town, with sets of tickets on eBay listed anywhere from $50 to $600 the weekend before the game. Ticket scalpers were out in full force, wearing their “I Need Tickets” signs and cutting deals in the shadow of the Pete.

“Wouldn’t you rather sell them to students?” said Megan Kelley, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a ticket scalper as they both leaned into the open window of a car in which two men were trying to sell two game tickets.

In the end, the men didn’t care for Kelley’s $200 offer or even the scalper’s bid at $250. Her boyfriend, Mark Esterheld, 26, of the South Side, was somewhat dismayed because he recognized one of the men in the car as a former high school basketball coach of his. But his old coach showed no favoritism for him on that day.

“It all comes down to money,” said Kelley, 26, of the South Side, now an elementary school teacher.

Undaunted, they continued their quest.

“Anybody want to sell tickets? $200,” she said.

Ticket scalpers reported business was “going good, REAL GOOD!”

A man who identified himself only as Scalper Dan said ticket scalpers were working every corner within a quarter-mile radius of the Pete and getting upwards of $100 a ticket.

Opinions

Speaking of giddy, Ron Cook is so far on the bandwagon it’s hilarious.

It’s all there for Pitt with five regular-season games left. The inside track to a Big East championship. The top seed for the conference tournament next month. And, if things go well in New York, a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

A team needs that high seed and so much more to have a real chance. It needs strong guard play. Great team defense. Depth. Toughness. Senior leadership. Big-game experience. Poise.

Pitt looks like it has it all.

Two weeks ago, the guy was calling for a little perspective. So much for that.

Here, the win means the glass is half full.

Technically speaking, Pitt and UConn have split a pair of basketball games this season, just as the Penguins technically ended a losing streak by losing in overtime the other night.

These are the situations that scream for a “Yeah, but … ”

In the case of Pitt and UConn, despite how hard both sides were trying to sell the split angle after the Panthers’ 75-68 win Sunday afternoon, this felt much better than a split for Pitt, much worse than a split for UConn.

Yeah, they’ve split, but the teams have played four halves of basketball this season, and Pitt has been the better team in three of them.

Still comes down to the final score, though.

Finally, a little mean-spiritedness to the losing team.

And the Huskies, the nation’s No. 1 team in the preseason, are in damage-control mode when they ought to be peaking.

“We split with them,” Calhoun said, citing UConn’s 68-65 win over Pitt on Jan. 19, when the subject of psychological fallout was broached. “I’ll sell it that way.

“I can lie with the best of them.”

He’ll have to if the Huskies are to rebound from the drubbing they absorbed at the Petersen Events Center.

Calhoun will have to lie like a rug to shake the malaise from his current collection of underachievers in time to save Connecticut’s season (given the talent and expectations, only a trip to the Final Four can accomplish that).

Like I said, Calhoun’s a great quote. Not many other coaches would take shots at his own team. That shows a little bit of their own toughness, in being able to take the public criticisms from their coach.

Final thoughts

Pitt has some tough games ahead. The season isn’t over.

The let down game isn’t until Saturday at West Virginia. A week of lionization of the team, before going to face a desperate bunch of Mountaineers.

At Georgetown after that. Then Syracuse and at Providence in the space of 3 days. Then ending the season with Villanova — who always seems to give Pitt trouble.

Plenty of possible slip-ups.

40-0 At The Pete

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 12:49 am

Recapping. Game notes, Only a couple box scores and some game logs to keep the facts straight.

Only a couple minutes of pregame, since they were showing important speedskating action earlier. Dick Vitale in a goldish jacket to blend with all the “Oakland Zoo” t-shirts behind him. Subtle.

Pitt controls the tip. No rushing. Miss a shot, UConn can’t push it up court. Pitt scores first when Taft slams home a missed shot. UConn ties it, but then a technical is called on UConn coach Jim Calhoun. What? Later in the game, Vitale said he thought the call was premeditated by the officials. Sadly that makes sense. Calhoun is a screamer at the refs for an entire game. As I recall from the last time Pitt and UConn played, both coaches kept coming out of the box, screaming at the refs. Looks like the refs are trying to keep the coaches from pushing it today.

Krauser sinks both the shots, and then Page nails a big 3 pointer. Pitt takes a 7-2 lead.

At about 17 minutes, Pitt lets the pace pick up, and UConn looks like it is ready to break out. Chevy Troutman picks up his second foul in under a minute. Not good. Troutman has to come out, McCarroll in. At least he fouled Okafor, who can’t make a FT to save his life.

Pitt still keeps the lead, 11-6 in a slow game, but at 13:57 Taft picks up a foul and comes out of the game for Torree Morris. Troutman and Taft out? There is no reason for Okafor not to dominate, or at least get a lot of shots from the FT line. Sure enough, Okafor grabs an offensive rebound and puts it in for an easy 2.

Page, though, buries another 3. Okafor doesn’t seem comfortable. He misses a couple close shots. UConn looks completely out of sorts. No reason, they are not comfortable being forced to play half-court. Pitt actually builds a 21-11 lead without Troutman and Taft by 10:32. McCarroll has 3 boards and 9 points, shooting very well. Morris is doing his job of committing a couple fouls and standing around.

The thing about McCarroll that keeps him from getting more playing time, though, is his defense. It isn’t there. He doesn’t get in good position, and he isn’t fast enough to get away with that. He ends up getting blown past to the basket too often.

Okay, who the hell is the big slow white guy for Pitt that just scored on the nice pass from Brown? Looking at the box score, it’s a 7′ freshman named Aaron Gray from outside of Allentown. This was the 13th game he’s made an appearance in, but the first one I’ve seen.

UConn has been shooting horribly from the FT line and the field. Pitt better keep a good lead, because I can’t believe UConn will shoot that bad in the second half.

At about the 5 minute mark, there is a Yuri Demetrius sighting. Hey, he gets a rebound and gets to the FT line. Sinks them both. Statistical relevance today. 27-20 Pitt.

As the half winds down, UConn is pressing to get close and get above 30 points. Villanueva tries to drive quickly and commits the offensive charge. An easy call. Pitt gets the last shot. Sunk by McCarroll for a 36-28 lead at the half. McCarroll was huge in the first half with 11 points on 5-6 shooting. Okafor led the Huskies with 12, but only sank 2-7 FT, missing two front-ends of a 1-and-1. UConn went only 5-13 from the line. I worry about Pitt losing a game because of FT, but UConn is worse statistically, and definitely today.

After the half, UConn seems to have picked up the pressure. They have stepped out to stop giving Pitt so much of the perimeter to pass and set up. Pitt travels twice and a blocked shot on their first 3 possessions. Dixon calls a smart timeout at 17:40. UConn’s within 4, 36-32.

The timeout seems to have helped Pitt. At 16:08, the lead is back to 8, 42-34. UConn has just not been able to make the adjustments against Pitt to play half court, slow, physical play. They desperately want to run a fast break, press and push, but can’t. Pitt keeps pushing them back, every time they start to get closer.

Denham Brown of UConn, who has been slumping terribly, still can’t find his shot and it is wearing on him. He commits 2 fouls halfway through the second half and misses a shot in between, forcing Calhoun to pull him with 4 fouls.

Pitt suddenly is up 52-43 with 9:50 left. You can see the whole UConn team start to press. Instead, Pitt keeps going, and Okafor gets whistled for a cheap foul trying to block Krauser, his 4th. I think Vitale and Musberger were sure that would send Calhoun into the fit needed to get his second technical and ejection. Nope. Considering Calhoun had complained about the lack of emotion from his team earlier in the week, maybe he should have, just to try and fire them up.

At 7:44 Pitt has expanded to a 58-43 lead. It just seems that Pitt wants it more, everytime.

At 4:17, Troutman scores in what basically shows how much the game is just going Pitt’s way. He put the ball up, and it bounced on the rim a couple times, then for a split second that seemed longer, balanced there perfectly, before falling into the hoop. 62-51.

The final 2 minutes take the longest. 66-57 at that point. UConn commits 8 fouls in the final 2 minutes. Up to this point, Pitt was having the best FT shooting game of the season. One of the stories of the game should have been the fact that Pitt had gone 15-17 from the free throw line. But, Pitt went 9-16 down the stretch. Jamie Dixon remarked after one game that Pitt made the FT when they had to. In this case, making them early, meant there wasn’t the same pressure to make them later. Funny about that.

During the final 2 minutes, they looked to foul Pitt’s worst FT shooter, Jaron Brown. Amazingly, it didn’t work. Brown was an astounding 6-6 from the line, he finished with 17 points to lead Pitt. That said, I didn’t notice his scoring until looking at the box score.

Final Score 75-68 Pitt.

Pitt never trailed in the game. It was only tied twice: 0-0 and 2-2.

Looking at the box score, this was an amazing game for Pitt. 4 players in double digits (Brown (17), McCarroll (15), Krauser (13) and Page (11)). Just a pure team effort by Pitt. UConn actually outrebounded Pitt 33-28, primarily because Josh Boone was a monster on the offensive glass — 9 offensive boards.

Ben Gordon kept putting the ball up for UConn, he just couldn’t sink enough — 8-21 for 23 points. Okafor had a respectable 16 points, but it’s surprising he only got 13 shots. For UConn, it seemed they were too willing to settle for the outside shot, if they couldn’t run the floor with their big guys.

Look forward to reading the media stories.

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