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December 10, 2002 Columns No Comments

The Morning Dish – Wednesday, December 11th, 2002

by Dan Hauptman

There is a reason that I have voted this team No. 2 in every Hoopville poll this season. They have a never-say-die attitude and have the talent to overcome a half played so poorly that it would cost most schools a chance at even competing in a game like the one witnessed tonight in Hartford. I’m writing about Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut Huskies. After scoring just 9 points in the first half, while New England-rival Massachusetts scored 30, the Huskies put a 50 spot on the scoreboard in the second stanza, en route to beating the Minutemen 59-48.

UConn, now 6-0 and ranked 9th in the latest Hoopville Top 25, played a game of two amazingly different halves last night. The Huskies made only 4 of 26 shots in the first half, but hit 12 of 22 Field Goals attempted in the last 20 minutes. Also, after failing behind by as many as 25 points (34-9) a couple of minutes into the second half, UConn came out firing from 3-point range, hitting six bombs in the first 10 minutes of the half. This pinpoint shooting propelled the Huskies to a 29-2 run, and the team from Storrs took the lead for good with 6:30 remaining in the game.

The bulk of this onslaught of points was scored by Mount Vernon (NY) native Ben Gordon, who tallied 16 of his 18 points in the second half. He had to pick up the slack because the other go-to-guy for UConn, center Emeka Okafor, was in foul trouble for much of the evening and finished the contest with just 4 points, while contributing 13 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.

Coach Calhoun’s squad won its 12th straight game against UMass in this series known as the “U-game” and the win tied the biggest comeback win that the Huskies have had under Calhoun, equaling the 25-point comeback that the Huskies overcame to beat Pittsburgh in 1995. The inner fortitude exhibited by this relatively young group of dogs will surely show itself more and more as the calendar changes to 2003 and March approaches shortly after.

Side Dishes

Fake Gold:
It has been a tough few days for the team straight outta the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Golden Gophers have seen their ranking plummet from 17th to 23rd to probably out of the next Hoopville poll if they keep playing this meekly. This comes after getting walloped at Nebraska by 20 points on Sunday and escaping with a game that Dan Monson’s team basically tried to give away at home to the basketball powerhouse of Arkansas-Little Rock. The Trojans took the Gophers to overtime but could not take advantage of four inexcusable missed free throws by Minnesota’s Moe Hargrow and Kevin Burleson in the final 25 seconds of the extra frame. This may be a down year for the Big Ten, but if Minnesota is struggling this badly early in December, then who knows how far the Gophers can fall once conference play begins next month.

Big Apple Return:
The bright lights of the Big Apple will be shining on Saturday afternoon, but on an unlikely subject. An already odd neutral site game, No. 25 Mississippi State vs. 10th ranked Xavier at Madison Square Garden, will now became even more intriguing, as it will be the first game of the 2002-2003 season for Mississippi State junior forward Mario Austin. Yesterday, Austin was cleared by the NCAA to resume his collegiate career. This comes after the Bulldogs kept him out of the first six games of this season while the NCAA investigated whether core classes taken by Austin during his freshman and sophomore years of high school should have counted when he was initially cleared to play as a freshman at Mississippi State. All is settled now, and Austin returns to a squad that should challenge Alabama, Florida and Kentucky in staking a claim to being the class of the SEC.

Tonight’s Menu:

• There is one top 25 game on the slate tonight, as the 19th best Hoopville team, Tulsa, battles the 18th ranked team, Kansas. The Jayhawks have already lost to three good teams (Florida, North Carolina and Oregon) and will have another tough game when they visit Tulsa. Roy Williams will not be happy if Kansas returns home with a 3-4 record after tonight’s contest.

• Can Michigan get off the snide? Tommy Amaker’s Wolverines are 0-6 so far this season, with a home game against Bowling Green on tap for this evening. I was about to write that Michigan is playing for a good draft pick, but then I remembered that despite booster Ed Martin’s actions, the Wolverines still play for the love of the game, not for the money.

Best wishes for a Winning Wednesday!

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