Is this a production for ya?


UConn students set up tents near the entrance to Gampel Pavilion Friday to claim prime seats for Saturday's UConn-Syracuse game. (Neill Ostrout photo)

Apologies for the obscure movie quote in the headline above, but that’s what came to my mind walking around Gampel Pavilion Friday. There’s certainly a lot going on around the building in anticipation of Saturday’s festivities.

I’m talking, of course, about UConn-Syracuse and the College GameDay affair that will be in Storrs tomorrow. It’s quite a production

Here are a few quick notes on the Huskies and the hoopla:

— Associate head coach George Blaney expects a terrific atmosphere for the game.

“It’s going to be rocking and rolling. The kids know it, we know it,” Blaney said. “We’re going to show them some clips from other games and what it can be like here. We’re anxious to have that be part of the game plan.”

— PG Shabazz Napier (foot) is much more healthy, it seems.

“He’s fine,” Blaney said. “He’s still getting treatment for the knee and the foot every day but he’s pretty good.”

He won’t, however, likely rejoin the starting lineup.

“I don’t know. Probably not,” Blaney said.

— Can UConn take the momentum from its buzzer-beating win over Villanova into Saturday’s game:

“There’s a carry over if you’re playing Bates the next day,” Blaney said. “When you’re playing Syracuse, I’m not so sure.”

Blaney was then asked if the folks at Bates College might get mad at him for such a statement.

“They’re always mad at me. I’ve been using that line for 25 years,” Blaney said with a laugh, before adding with a straight face, “it’s a great, great school, by the way.”

— Blaney thinks this might be the best Syracuse team ever.

“I’ve been saying all week and I hope Jimmy (Boeheim) doesn’t get mad at me for saying this, I’m still saying that this possibly could be his best team. No other Syracuse team has ever been (28-1). If he wins out he’ll be only the third team in the history of the big East to only lose one game in the conference,” Blaney said.

Actually there have been five before, but Blaney is sort of correct. Three teams lost only one league game during the first season of Big East play in 1979-80. But those teams only went 5-1, so the two best records are obviously UConn’s 1995-96 mark of 17-1 and St. John’s only slightly less impressive 15-1 mark in 1984-85.

“Now it remains to be seen what they do in the tournament to actually say it’s his best team. To this point from what I’ve seen it’s his best team,” Blaney said. “It’s not one. It’s (Scoop) Jardine, (Kris) Joseph, (C.J.) Fair, (Dion) Waiters. Waiters at one point was the best player in the league and is capable of doing that at different times. Joseph has a chance of being the player of the year. They really have some excellent answers.”

— Blaney isn’t saying anything much about the when/if return of head coach Jim Calhoun.

“I continue to check the door every minute because I’m waiting for him to come back,” Blaney said. “I know the team is.”

“I hope more than anything he takes care of the pain,” Blaney added. “The pain has been really, really tough for him. He doesn’t acknowledge pain so I can imagine what the pain is for it to really keep him out.”

— Is the late (9 p.m.) start to the game an issue at all?

“The players want me to take a nap,” the 72-year-old Blaney said.

As for the players:

“It’s too exciting a game to worry about that,” Blaney said.

— UConn played Syracuse relatively tough in the first meeting before fading late. The Huskies played much better against the Syracuse zone than they had against any zone defense in quite some time that night.

“I think we were more patient. Zone has definitely been trouble for this team in the past,” Alex Oriakhi said. “But we’ve worked hard in practice. … I think the big guys are going to be the key. If the ball doesn’t get inside the zone, it isn’t going to work.”

— The ESPN talent came downstairs in Gampel to chat with the media for a few minutes. It’s always fun to chat with Jay Bilas; he’s got a good basketball mind and he’s one of the more even-handed observers in the game.

Bilas on the difference between this UConn team and the one that won the title last season? Kemba Walker, of course.

“He was Batman and he had a whole bunch of good Robins,” Bilas said. “Now they have a whole bunch of Robins running around.

Bilas was asked if UConn under-achieved this season (or at least so far this season).

“I thought the expectations were ridiculously high going into the regular season,” Bilas said. “Talent-wise, they’re very good. But when people were saying they’re one of the top four teams in the country…”

Bilas said it was unfair to rank the Huskies so high in the preseason.

“I think they should be better than they are now, and more consistent, and to finish possessions better. But it doesn’t shock me that they’re struggling a little bit because of how young they are,” Bilas said.

He compared the Big East to a playing a very tough golf course.

“You lose a couple games in the league and where are you going to get healthy? It’s like playing a really hard golf course and you make a couple of bogeys. How are you going to get healthy?”

“They’re at Oakmont right now and they’ve made a few bogeys in a row. It’s hard to find birdies.”

— Former UConn star Rudy Gay will become the 21st member of the Huskies of Honor from the men’s basketball team. He’ll be on hand Saturday to see his No. 22 put in the rafters at Gampel Pavilion.

Gay was a first team All-American and All-Big East performer in 2005-06. He’s now in his sixth season in the NBA, staring with the Memphis Grizzlies.



About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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