Saturday, January 14, 2012
UConn weathers storm, snaps Irish's streak
By Matt Fortuna
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was odd enough that Connecticut would have an 8:45 a.m. shootaround and an 11 a.m. tip for its get-together with Notre Dame on Saturday.
"I don't remember the last time I got a 6:50 wake-up call for basketball," Jim Calhoun quipped.
But the curveball thrown UConn's way close to 7 p.m. Friday was the one that would really test Calhoun's club.
That's when the 40th-year head coach broke the news to Ryan Boatright that he would not be playing against Notre Dame -- located less than three hours from his hometown of Aurora, Ill. -- because of additional information provided by the NCAA regarding his pre-UConn days.
"He was in my arms when I told him," Calhoun said, recalling pulling Boatright out of the team meal Friday. "He was in my arms. That's all I can tell you."
Roughly 400 friends and family members expected to make the trip here would have to watch the Huskies' 67-53 win over the Irish without Boatright, who is sitting for an indefinite period for the second time this season as the NCAA investigates his eligibility.
Making matters worse for the Huskies was the combined shooting effort of their starting backcourt, particularly Jeremy Lamb, who made just three of 11 shots.
"If you had told me coming into this game we could get both guards, what is that, 8-for-22?" Calhoun said. "Wasn't gonna happen."
Fortunately for UConn, Notre Dame didn't fare much better on the offensive end. The Huskies had plenty to do with that.
Following a 5-for-11 showing from beyond the arc as they went into halftime with a surprising 25-24 lead, the Irish connected on just one of 15 shots from beyond the arc, which would have been their only safe haven after getting pounded inside by the Huskies' front line.
UConn's Andre Drummond had 10 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame shot just 32 percent for the game.
A Jack Cooley three-point play and ensuing fast-break layup by Eric Atkins cut the Irish deficit to 42-38 with 9:23 to go, the Joyce Center as loud as it's been all season with assistant Rod Balanis urging the fans on following a UConn timeout.
"We all got together and we said we were gonna stop them from scoring, and that's what we did," forward Roscoe Smith said. "We had seven straight stops. We kind of allowed our defense to create our offense."
Andre Drummond answered the next possession with an alley-oop layin from Lamb, starting a 9-0 run that took the emotion out of the building with seven straight scoreless possessions for the Irish, a stretch that ended with UConn up 51-38 with less than five minutes to go.
Drummond had three offensive rebounds, five of his game-high 13 boards and four points during that stretch, finishing as one of four Huskies in double-figures, with 10 points.
The Irish actually had three more offensive rebounds than the Huskies but were outrebounded in the game by a 43-33 margin. Alex Oriakhi (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Smith (10, 6) made life difficult inside for Cooley (7, 6) and the Irish, who were led by co-captains Atkins (20 points) and Scott Martin (12 points, nine boards and three charges to add to what has to be his unofficial conference lead).
Notre Dame's 29-game home winning streak was not talked about beforehand, nor was the fact that the Irish's last long home streak, of 45 games, was ended by the Huskies three years ago.
"I'm proud that we broke a 29-game win streak," Calhoun said. "I'm proud we did it against Notre Dame, one of the great universities in America, both academically and athletically. I'm proud because we beat Mike Brey, who has probably evolved into what I think is as good of a coach as there is. I thought this year with the loss of [Tim] Abromaitis, that was it. They just weren't gonna recover. And watching them recover has astounded me, and really make that into a good team."
Afterward, dozens of Boatright's friends and family members waited outside the visiting locker room, a picture of uncertainty for a team and player who don't know when their next hurdle will be cleared.
Calhoun wouldn't go into details when asked whether he thought this chapter of the Boatright saga -- which cost him the season's first six games for an infraction involving a plane ticket during AAU basketball -- was over.
"I'm not gonna do anything that's gonna injure or hurt Ryan Boatright, so therefore I have nothing to say about it," Calhoun said. "I feel a lot about it, but I have nothing to say about it."
Players said afterward they were playing for the sidelined freshman.
"It's kind of unfortunate that the NCAA would do that to him, especially a game where it's close to home for him and he had a lot of people coming up to see him play," Oriakhi said. "But we were able to get the win, and Coach said guys were gonna have to step up without Ryan, and guys did that."