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Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Marquette's Novak outshines all of UConn's stars

By Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- How good was Steve Novak in Marquette's shocking 94-79 victory over second-ranked and previously unbeaten Connecticut? The only guy in the building better than Novak was the guy sitting in the first row behind the Huskies' bench, some dude named LeBron James.

Playing a UConn team that has, as Marquette coach Tom Crean phrased it, a lot of guys who are going to make a lot of money in the NBA, Novak, a 6-foot-10 forward who can shoot the lights out, was the clear star. Making 12 of 20 field goals and six of 13 three-pointers, Novak finished with a career-high 41 points and 16 rebounds. It was an incredibly complete game for a guy who has worked hard to break free of the only-a-shooter stereotype.

With Marquette freshman guards Dominic James and Jerel McNeal penetrating through a soft Huskies defense with ease, Novak had open look after open look.

"My job was easy," Novak said. "Just sit out there and cast away.

"I don't get the open looks without them."

Novak was running off screens, making jumpers, scrapping for loose balls, grabbing every rebound in sight. To put his performance in perspective, consider these two items:

• Novak's 41 points put him in a tie for fifth all-time on the Marquette single-game scoring list. Among the guys who never scored more than 40 points in a game in their Marquette careers: Dwyane Wade, Doc Rivers, Bo Ellis, Travis Diener and Butch Lee.

• In addition, Novak's 41 points are the most by a player playing in his first Big East game. The previous record of 30 was shared by a couple of guys you've heard of: Allen Iverson and Troy Murphy. And while you can say those guys were freshmen, Novak pretty much shattered the mark.

"He hit fallaways, he hit a 38-footer, you name it," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "He was wonderful.

"It was one of the better performances I've seen in quite a while."

If you've heard Novak's name before, there's a reason: In 2003, Novak was a freshman on Marquette's Final Four team. That March, Novak made 14 of 25 3-point attempts as the Wade-led Golden Eagles reached the Final Four for the first time since Marquette won the 1977 title.

While Wade and Diener received most of the credit, Marquette probably wouldn't have reached the tournament's second weekend without Novak. That's because Novak was the guy who made three overtime 3-pointers in Marquette's second-round victory over Missouri.

And now the Huskies have to wonder how Novak -- a guy who scored six points against Deleware State and eight points against Valparaiso -- made them look silly.

Silly probably is the right word. Because after a good first five minutes, Connecticut was the inferior team in this game for the next 35 minutes. The Huskies didn't defend, didn't hustle, didn't work the ball inside and didn't do anything against the Golden Eagles. The only reason the final margin was a mere 15 points was because Rashad Anderson made four 3-pointers in the final three minutes.

Rudy Gay played 29 minutes, went 3-for-12 from the floor, scored eight points and fouled out. Josh Boone was 3-for-8 from the free throw line and even had an airball. Denham Brown was 2-for-11 from the floor.

"We came out and took a 15-8 lead and then never played an ounce of basketball," said Calhoun, whose team trailed by as many as 24 points in the second half. "It was a good old-fashioned one team dominating the other team easily in every aspect of the game. We're not very proud of ourselves.

"I'm just stunned with the way we didn't play."

To say the Huskies coach was furious would be an understatement. Calhoun was just getting going.

"For the first time, I'm wondering if a couple of our kids aren't as good as good as they're supposed to be," he said. "They were [good] in Maui, but they aren't now."

Gay certainly was one of Calhoun's targets. Calhoun, who said the Huskies might have a different starting lineup when they face LSU on Saturday, went as far as to describe Gay's play as "lousy."

"Rudy Gay took himself completely out of the game, Rudy Gay was just another player," Calhoun said.

"I don't think Rudy Gay did anything except take himself to the starting lineup."

Calhoun couldn't answer why, but he knows his team has lost what he calls its edge. The Huskies don't have the same will and gumption they did when they defeated Arkansas, Arizona and Gonzaga on consecutive days to capture the Maui Invitational title.

"We had an edge because we were scared to hell to start the season without an experienced point guard. ... We were scared so we played tough; we played physical," Calhoun said.

"We weren't prepared. We were living on an 11-0 season that meant absolutely nothing because you have to play the next one."

Where do the Huskies go from here? A good guess is that practice the rest of this week probably isn't going to be a lot of fun.

"I think we're a better basketball team than this. We better be, otherwise it's going to be LSU on Saturday, Cincinnati on Monday," Calhoun said.

"We didn't show up."

Not like Novak did.

Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.