UConn: While the Women Prevail, the Men Fail
This was predictable: The UConn ladies, led by head coach Geno Auriemma, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, and others (including Kalana Greene and Tiffany Hayes), trounced their latest victim West Virginia, 60-32, to win their 16th overall Big East Conference tournament title (and extended their NCAA women's record-setting winning streak to 72 games) on Tuesday.
A little bit of a shocker: Seeing the male Huskies get mauled earlier in the day by St. John's, 73-51, in the first round of the 2010 Big East tournament.
UConn head coach Jim Calhoun looked as stunned and appalled as I did, remaining seated and motionless for most of the late second half of the game, as his star players Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker couldn't pull out of the Red Storm's traps, spread offense, and fast-break opportunities.
It seemed as if the Huskies could never get past the lackluster first half, when St. John's had their way, with a 35-22 lead at halftime.
It's like UConn stepped off the bus and was playing in a wicked, Broadway version of "Punk'd" for those first 20 minutes.
The second half was not any better, as UConn kept the game close for about five minutes, only to see the game slipping and slipping and slipping, even with six minutes left. They lost in the second half just as badly, 38-29.
Dyson, the star/leader of the team, was an absolute non-factor in the game, with four points and nine turnovers.
His teammate Walker, arguably one of the better and more recognized point guards in the game, landed in a thud, too, with 12 points, five rebounds, three steals, and four fouls.
As St. John players like Paris Horne, J. R. Kennedy, and Sean Evans had their way with UConn at Madison Square Garden yesterday, dunking, slapping away loose balls, and shooting threes as if we were watching a Harlem Globetrotters game, I still couldn't believe it.
I couldn't believe that this was the same school, UConn, that fought Syracuse (and yes, lost) in last year's Big East tourney quarterfinals in an epic, six-overtime battle.
Schools, including the big-name athletic ones, go through changes every generation or so. In fact, UCLA, has not been the same since The Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, stepped down in the 1970s.
Which leads me to the UConn men.
They were the laughingstock of the Big East, not making a name for themselves and Calhoun until the late 1980s, winning little by little—first in the NIT and then later on with more talented recruits, including Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler, Emeka Okafor, and Ben Gordon (who are all still playing in the NBA)—along the way.
Calhoun and his staff are still looking for players to wipe away the stain that stung the program a few years back when Cinderella and mid-major darling George Mason knocked them out of the Elite Eight.
Hasheem Thabeet, a 7'3" giant from Tanzania, seemed to offer some hope recently, with his great shot-blocking skills during his time at UConn. But Thabeet, like so many other players with height, got big-headed when pro scouts convinced him to forgo his senior year and jump to the NBA.
(Well, let's just say that even if he thought playing for the Memphis Grizzlies was purgatory, Thabeet must be pining to be back in Storrs, CT, instead of now playing NBA D-League ball.)
The men's program is a far cry from when Okafor shared the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2005 with Diana Taurasi, when both UConn stars led their teams to respective, season-ending titles.
What makes matters worse is that Calhoun, 67, who has coached at Storrs for 24 years, with two national and six Big East tourney titles under his belt, has been chugging along lately without a clean bill of health.
He took a leave of absence from the team in late January into early February. Also, he has dealt with (and has been treated for) both skin and prostate cancer, broken some ribs after falling off a bike at a charity event once, and heart ailments.
Heading for a second possible year out of the NCAA Tournament (looks like the National Invitational Tournament is calling again), and the controversy behind the shady recruiting of Nate Miles, surely haven't been easy for Calhoun and the program to digest either.
Despite all of the hardships, the revival of a great UConn team in the future remains solely in Calhoun's hands: This season is the last of a six-year contract, which was reportedly extended by school officials in December and agreed to in principle by the gruff ole cuss of a coach.
Yet Calhoun has not signed the extension. Unlike the UConn women, who have a great chance of winning it all in late March/early April, the UConn men will no longer be considered a threat if the man who brought the team to prominence steps down really soon.
Let's hope that he doesn't.
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