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January 22, 2008The Bearcats continue to make believers out of the rest of the Big East. After yet another impressive win - this time over Pittsburgh - the 'Cats welcome another traditional Big East power into Fifth Third Arena in the Connecticut Huskies (12-5, 3-3).
Like the Bearcats, the Huskies are trying to get their program back to where they're accustomed. But like all road games, it'll be tough for them to win in Fifth Third, especially with the groove the 'Cats are in.
Jim Calhoun's Huskies didn't make the postseason last year for the first time since the 1986-1987 season. Between that time and now, UConn won two National Championships, appeared in five Elite Eights, four Sweet Sixteens, had three other NCAA appearances, and five NIT trips. To say last year's team was a disappointment would be an understatement. However, they are putting that behind them this year and appear to be on the right track again.
Unlike past years, there is no All-American candidate on the Connecticut roster. They aren't as flashy and supremely talented. There aren't any seniors on the roster. But, they, like the Bearcats, are slowly getting "it" and are leaps and bounds better than last year's team.
6-7 junior forward Jeff Adrien is having another solid season. After averaging 13.1 points and 9.7 rebounds last year, Adrien is a model of consistency scoring 14.5 points while grabbing 9.2 rebounds this year (both figures are team-leading). The tough and aggressive Adrien tied for the conference lead with 15 double-doubles last year and has eight so far this season. He's truly a force on the glass and don't be surprised to see a 15 rebound game - he's done it twice, and had 14 rebounds three other times. With 123 free throw attempts, Adrien is far and away the team leader.
A familiar name to UC recruiting gurus is the man in the middle for Connecticut. 7-3 sophomore center Hasheem Thabeet has really come into his own this year after struggling his freshman season. Last year, he only scored 6.2 points. This year, he's up to 10.5 while upping his rebounds to 7.6 per night. But, Thabeet's true value isn't scoring points; it's preventing them with his huge wingspan and tremendous shot-blocking prowess. Last year he averaged 3.8 blocks per game. This year, he's up to 4.1 and while adding a little bulk to his frame has become a force for the Huskies down low. If Biggie McClain gets in to face Thabeet, it'll certainly provide a tutorial for the Bearcat freshman, and it'll show McClain what he can eventually become
6-9 sophomore forward Stanley Robinson has doubled his production this year. From just over five points per game last year to 10.5 this year, Robinson has become much more aggressive after suffering from lapses of passive play in his freshman year. He will occasionally step behind the three-point arc and fire, and with a .375 accuracy, the Bearcats will need to watch him.
Gavin Edwards and Curtis Kelly are used sparingly to spell Thabeet, Robinson, and Adrien down low. Neither of the two will do much on the offensive end-Edwards scores 3.4 per game and Kelly just 3.1.
Jerome Dyson suffered through some growing pains early in his freshman campaign, but really came on in the end, scoring double-figures in 11 of his final 12 games and finished with a 13.8 scoring average. This year, he's carried it over, averaging 14 points per game. He isn't a great shooter from three-point range as his .314 percentage shows, but to his credit, he doesn't stay behind the line. The majority of his 189 shot attempts have come inside the line as he utilizes his ability to get to the goal.
One of the Huskies' biggest question marks coming into this season was A.J. Price, who despite averaging 9.4 points per game last year only shot 27 percent on his attempts. So far this season, Price has passed all tests with flying colors. He's averaging 14.1 points on 47 percent shooting. In addition, Price is running the offense with precision. He's averaging 6.3 assists while only turning the ball over twice per game. If the Bearcats decide to press UConn, Price will likely make them pay.
Two guards, Doug Wiggins and Craig Austrie, round out the guard rotation for UConn. Wiggins, a 6-1 sophomore, is scoring 6.7 points and is quick to fire up a three - he has 56 attempts on the year. Austrie, a 6-3 junior, averages 4.3 points but, like Wiggins, is deadly from the free throw line. Combined, the two are 33-of-36 from the foul line.
This game will certainly be a battle of styles-Connecticut likes to run and get the game up into the 80s while the Bearcats like to slow it down and control tempo keeping the game in the 60s. Connecticut shoots .465 from the field which is fifth in the Big East, while the Bearcats' .420 ranks 15th. For the Bearcats to be successful, they'll have to clamp down the defense and slow the pace.
This will be the first meeting since January 9, 2006 when they Huskies beat the Bearcats in Connecticut 70-59. If you recall, that was the game Armein Kirkland looked like a future NBA player only to tear his ACL in the same game. This time, UC has the Huskies in their sights and look to get the school's first ever win against UConn (0-2). As usual, it will take a monumental effort on the glass and on the defensive end for the 'Cats to pull this one out. But, after what we've all witnessed from this team over the last few weeks, don't be surprised if they do.
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