UConn Men's Basketball: UConn's counting on Adrien, Austrie to step up

Matt Stout

“Slump?” senior forward Jeff Adrien asked earlier this week. “I don’t feel like I’m in a slump.”

Not by most people’s standards. But over the last three weeks, Adrien and classmate Craig Austrie — men whose legacies will be defined by their consistency after they leave Storrs — have struggled to maintain a regular presence for the UConn men’s basketball team.

Their timing could be better, too. As the only two Huskies with postseason victories to their credit, the pair will be counted on for leadership and production as top-seeded UConn preps for Thursday’s NCAA tournament opener in Philadelphia against No. 16 Chattanooga.

Slump or no slump.

“They haven’t played their best, and they’ve been maybe down to some point,” fellow senior A.J. Price said. “But they’re seniors. It’s that time of the year that they need to step up, and I’m sure both of them will come Thursday and the rest of the year.”

Adrien, for one, has brought it all season. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging a double-double of 13.6 points and 10.0 rebounds, and is coming off a 56-minute, 12-point, 14-rebound effort in the Big East quarterfinals where his offense came alive in the 30 minutes of extra time.

But outside of his career-high 25 points against Notre Dame on Senior Day, something has lacked in Adrien’s game. Before last Thursday, he went five games without a double-double, and included in that were rather quiet performances at Marquette (two points, four rebounds) and Pittsburgh (11, 8).

“I think he’s gone back to not playing, to (not) doing the small things that he did,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “We look at it as, is he setting screens? Is he getting involved? If that wasn’t a six-overtime game (last Thursday), Jeff would have had five or six points and four or five rebounds. That just can’t happen.

“The same with Craig.”

Austrie’s struggles are more apparent. In the seven games since Jerome Dyson was lost for the season, the 6-foot-3 guard has averaged 4.7 points and shot just 22 percent from the floor.

It forced Calhoun to replace him in the starting lineup with Kemba Walker for the Big East quarterfinals, a game in which Austrie played 46 of 70 minutes but shot 2-of-13, including eight missed 3-pointers.

“He’s got to keep shooting,” Calhoun said. “We don’t have a lot of other options, No. 1, and he’s a very good shooter. He just has to find his way back. It’s kind of simple.”

The one positive: Austrie’s 3s came at key times, a sign he’s willing to play through his recent deficiencies.

“I think he showed a little more assertiveness than he usually has,” Price said. “That’s a good thing. As long as he plays with that same fire and attitude, it definitely benefits this team and it benefits him as well.”

Calhoun, too, seems intent on helping his seniors along. Sunday, he didn’t commit to starting Walker against the Mocs (18-16), with the hopes Austrie could carry a good week of practice into this tournament.

And Adrien is one player in which the coach’s faith has rarely wavered. The forward hasn’t played fewer than 29 minutes since the start of December and he has led UConn in floor time (34.9 minutes per game) since day one.

“They’re two seniors,” Calhoun said. “It’s their responsibility to step up. And I’m very confident they will.”

Adrien, lauded for his growth as a leader this season, had a simple answer to any “slump” he and Austrie may be in.

“We just have to talk more,” he said. “We just have to be a lot more vocal. We have to just lead on the court, practice harder, go out there and step up. Guys are going to feed off that.”