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March 2, 2007

So the Penguins won in an overtime/shootout thriller last night. Whatta great game. Sorry, that’s honestly the last time I’ll ever mention the Pens on this blog.

On the other hand, the last time Antonio Bryant was mentioned on this blog was after his little reckless/drunken driving ordeal when he was clocking at over 100 on a freeway in his Lamborghini.

Now, he’s been cut by the Niners.

The 49ers hoped they achieved addition by subtraction Thursday with the release of troubled wide receiver Antonio Bryant.

Bryant was waived after a meeting last weekend in Indianapolis with 49ers coach Mike Nolan. Bryant, according to his financial adviser Chuck Sanders, asked for a larger role in the offense next season. Nolan said that because Bryant is in the middle of a four-game suspension and possibly faces jail time stemming from his Nov. 20 arrest on reckless driving and resisting arrest charges, that he couldn’t depend on Bryant.

I guess he still won’t be able to afford a belt.

I don’t know. A big game tomorrow night. At least a share of the Big East Regular Season Championship on the line, and yet there’s a disjointed and odd feel to the coverage and attention.

The first thing I thought of when I read this:

Pitt starting forward Levon Kendall did not go through a full practice yesterday because of a nagging turf toe injury…

was, “He should have hurt it sooner.” Kendall’s shooting has been pretty good the last week or so. Still, with Sam Young’s tendonitis in the knees flaring again, this is troubling. It means serious minutes for Tyrell Biggs is a possibility. Biggs keeps showing flashes, especially in the last game, on offense. It’s inconsistent, though. He’s still not much of a rebounder or defensive presence — and has often been quite foul-prone. It’s good that he’s got a positive attitude.

“I know it’s going to happen,” Biggs said of his improvement. “All I have to do is step up.”

Senior guard Antonio Graves said Biggs’ mental outlook is his most important trait.

“The key thing is that he kept cheering (in the WVU game),” Graves said. “His spirit was up. That kept him in a positive spirit, so when his chance came, he was ready and he wasn’t down on himself.”

Biggs doesn’t know any other way.

“You just got to hold your head high,” Biggs said. “Sometimes we find ourselves slouching on the bench. I’m going to try to do whatever I can do to get us going.”

Marquette’s had a week to stew over their road loss to ND. They raced out to a big lead, but by halfway through the first half ND was taking over and just ran away with the game.

The ND game, again exposed their poor post and inside play. Add in their guards having a horrible night, and you’ve got the simple answer for how Marquette lost that game by 12.

Pitt’s free throw issues have been frustrating, but they have paled compared to UConn’s. I just have to go to this as Calhoun essentially lost it after the Villanova game when the team went 24-44.

“It is inexcusable that we can’t make foul shots,” Calhoun said. “Thank God those glass backboards are pretty sturdy because otherwise we would have broken them. … Deplorable.”

Calhoun went on to criticize his team unlike he has all season. He said they were embarrassed on national television. He questioned their work ethic. Asked what he told players, he said, “That I’m not going to accept it and maybe you don’t belong here, a couple of you, if you can’t step up and make a foul shot.”

“He just wants everybody who is missing free throws to take extra shots,” Jeff Adrien said.

Asked what he thinks Calhoun means when he says a few players might not belong at UConn, Adrien said, “I don’t really know.”

UConn is the worst free-throw shooting team in the Big East at 62.9 percent (498-for-792). In conference play, the Huskies are also last and even worse (61.3 percent). It has baffled Calhoun since the Huskies began to struggle in January.

“We are not a bad basketball team,” Calhoun said. “We’re a bad foul shooting team, for sure.”

The Huskies, who close the regular season Saturday at Georgetown and could be the 12th seed in the conference tournament next week, have shown small signs of growth lately. They have scored at least 63 points in each of the last five games. Dyson has become a go-to player. A.J. Price is showing signs of life at point guard (seven assists Wednesday). In general, ball movement has improved and prolonged scoring droughts are not as much a signature.

Missed free throws are negating progress. UConn achieves desirable offensive position and does not cash in when fouled. The numbers suggest the Huskies are inaccurate throughout, not just down the stretch. With the score differential in single digits, UConn is shooting 65.3 percent in the final five minutes of games, 68.8 percent in the final two minutes.

UConn players shoot free throws every day and sometimes are forced to stay long after practice until they make 10 in a row. So is there an answer?

“I really don’t know,” said Price, 2-for-5 Wednesday and 69.5 percent on the season. “Guys who are missing free throws are not bad shooters at all because we see them make them in practice every day. That’s the most difficult part.”

Sounds familiar only without the openly caustic coach.

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