Coach searching for answers to UConn's inconsistency

Matt Stout

Jim Calhoun sat in the conference room inside Gampel Pavilion on Thursday surrounded by questions. At times, he only added to them.

“Down the stretch of the game, watching all of sudden Jeff (Adrien) make good inside power moves, and my question will be, ‘Where are those in the first 34 minutes?’” Calhoun said following the UConn men’s basketball team’s 69-60 win over Northeastern.

“And my question was to Hasheem (Thabeet), who made that power dunk, why don’t we see that three or four times a game?” the coach continued. “Those are the things I’m more concerned about, not the rest of the season.”

It’s a situation Calhoun probably didn’t expect, standing at 6-2 entering the Huskies’ 10-day break for finals but having far fewer answers than he likes to why, how or where this team is exactly heading.

At times, the offense has been good, better than 80-points-per-game good entering Thursday. Then against the (other) Huskies, it regressed to the point that Calhoun, in several instances, called it “inept,” giving his team a failing grade for the night.

The defense, on the other hand, had been suspect, first at times against an inferior Florida A&M squad and then in cruntch time against a less-than-whole Gonzaga team. Thursday, it was back to normal, with UConn collapsing on the middle and holding Northeastern’s Matt Janning (29 points) scoreless in the final 5 minutes, 38 seconds of the game.

“I think we’re not at the point where we could be but with a couple practices that are coming up, I think we can get to that point,” said Gavin Edwards, a consistent presence off the bench for the Huskies and the owner of perhaps the team’s best hustle play this season. Six minutes into the second half Thursday, he dove onto press row to save a loose ball and threw it back in play with one hand, sparking a momentum-turning fastbreak that A.J. Price finished with a hoop-and-foul.

“I think it’s (about) bringing offense and defense together,” Edwards continued, “by getting a lot of stops and then going down and getting baskets at the same time.”

Silver lining

But Calhoun’s frustration with the team isn’t pointed at each individual. Thursday, he lauded players like freshman Donnell Beverly, sophomore Jerome Dyson — “I think we gotta get Jerome more shots” — and Stanley Robinson, who came off the bench for the first time this season.

“I thought the greatest thing is he was really down on the bench, he comes in, he dunked, made a 3 and made a couple real energy plays,” Calhoun said. “One of them, the alley-oop, I think the one thrown by Craig (Austrie) was an awful pass, and only Rudy Gay, him, (and) a very few guys could have made that play.”

Curtis Kelly didn’t play much (eight minutes) but his eight points and three rebounds were a step in the right direction as well. Calhoun inserted him less than seven minutes into the game, and the sophomore responded with a lay-up and a dunk within two and a half minutes.

“He put me in do something so I went out and did something,” Kelly said. “I’m trying to mentally get myself together and trust in Coach and I know when he says it’s my time, I’ll go out there and respond to what he’s giving me.”

Calhoun did not directly name Adrien, but the junior forward didn’t get nearly the same vote of confidence. During his press conference, the coach said, “there are a couple guys on our team who just are not going to get over the top of screens and one of those guys I took out for long periods of the first half.” Adrien was the only frontcourt player who fit that description.

“We need him in the second half to score points but he, quite frankly, is very hard to play with on defense because he just won’t help,” Calhoun said. “If you get screened, he just hides behind the screen. As a big man, he continues to kill us every single game.”

So now, with his players focusing on finals, Calhoun looks to the future of this team with three non-conference games remaining between the Huskies and Big East play. He just isn’t looking past the near future.

“We’re at the stage of getting through tomorrow,” he said. “We shouldn’t be where we are in certain areas of the game that I think we’re much better than and for whatever reason, which I honestly don’t truly have an explanation for, guys that I think, and continue to think, are better than what they’re playing.

“Right now I don’t care about Quinnipiac, I don’t care about Maine, I don’t care about Central Florida,” Calhoun continued, listing off UConn’s next three opponents. “All I really care about is getting this team to the point that we look much better offensively than we did tonight.”

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