UConn-Iowa St. Preview
Connecticut isn’t defending anything.
Oh, coach Jim Calhoun knows everyone will call the Huskies the
defending champions when they open the NCAA tournament against Iowa
State (22-10) on Thursday night. And, by definition, that’s
To defend means something can be taken away, however, and that
title UConn won last year isn’t going anywhere.
”It’s locked away, put away,” Calhoun said Wednesday. ”I
always felt this team pushed too hard, too much, to try to be
something it wasn’t yet. And that’s somewhat of why we had an
up-and-down season for us. … I think they’re not chasing
something now. They’re playing basketball.”
Iowa State (22-10) might not have Connecticut’s tradition, its
only Final Four appearance coming way back in 1944. The Cyclones
can’t match the Huskies (20-13) for consistency, either, this being
their first NCAA appearance since 2005, when coach Fred Hoiberg was
still dropping 3-pointers in the NBA.
But the Cyclones are not exactly slouches, as their No. 8 seed
indicates, having knocked off Big 12 behemoths Kansas, Baylor and
Kansas State this year.
”We’ve been trying to talk about that a lot the last few
days,” Hoiberg said. ”It’s such a tough, grueling schedule. But
at the same time, you understand how well prepared you’ll be once
you play on the stage we’re about to play on.”
As UConn (20-13) has shown repeatedly, however, it’s never more
dangerous than when it’s going for broke.
Last year the Huskies won five games in five days to clinch the
Big East title, then steamrolled through the NCAA tournament to win
their third title. After slumping through the latter part of this
season – coinciding with Calhoun’s monthlong absence with back
problems – Connecticut ripped off three straight wins before losing
to No. 1 Syracuse in the Big East tournament.
”We’re starting over, fresh chance, and we have an
opportunity,” Calhoun said. ”We earned that opportunity.”
While UConn still has two of the country’s best guards in Jeremy
Lamb and Shabazz Napier, this Huskies team is very different than
the one that bulldozed its way through the month of March last
Freshman center Andre Drummond is ”maybe the biggest guy any of
our players ever see,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said,
averaging almost eight rebounds and three blocks per game. Throw
6-foot-9 ”forward” Alex Oriakhi in there, and the paint may as
well be the Bermuda Triangle for opposing offenses.
Oh, Drummond can score, too, averaging 10.2 points on 54 percent
”Not only is he big, he’s one of those bigs that gets up and
down the floor,” Hoiberg said. ”You don’t see that a lot with the
guys that size. They throw him alley-oops, he beats his man to the
rim. It doesn’t look like he ever gets tired, either. He poses a
But the Cyclones will give as good as they’re going to get with
At 6-8 and 270 pounds, White is listed as a forward. But he’s
really more of a hybrid of every position on the floor. Not only
does he lead Iowa State in rebounding (9.2) and blocks (0.9), he’s
their top scorer (13.1 points), and also leads the Cyclones in
assists (5.1) and steals (1.2). He’s in the top five in the Big 12
in both rebounding and assists.
”You can’t simulate him,” Calhoun said. ”We’ve seen the kids
who can shoot. We’ve seen the kids that can post up. But he’s a
unique basketball player and hard to simulate in practice. He’s a
handful, without a question.”
He also could make Drummond less of a threat.
White has no problem passing the ball – when Oklahoma limited
him to one shot, he simply dished out seven assists as the Cyclones
won 77-70 – and his unselfishness has helped make Iowa State one of
the most dangerous teams from beyond the arc. They have four –
count `em, four – players with 50 or more 3-pointers, and rank
seventh in the country with 8.9 3s per game.
”If you put the right plays in, put the right action, if you
get out in transition and run and get the shots up before the
defense gets set … you’re going to create some looks,” Hoiberg
And yes, the Cyclones have noticed that UConn ranks 179th in the
country in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 34.3
percent from beyond the arc.
”You’re right, they’re attacking two things that, during the
year, have reared its ugly head for us,” Calhoun said. ”We block
shots down low very well but we haven’t taken away the kind of
penetration I’d like to see. And, at a particular point in seven or
eight games, we were just awful from (3-point range). We’ve worked
hard and gotten better at it, but we’re going to be put to the
And if they fail, well, so be it. They’ll always have that title
from last year.
Follow Nancy Armour at http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour