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BC Downs UConn

February 3, 2003 Columns No Comments

Live from Storrs – BC Upsets UConn

by Phil Kasiecki

Have the Boston College Eagles finally turned it around this time?

If Saturday’s 95-71 thumping of Connecticut is any indication, the answer is a strong affirmative. The Eagles led from start to finish, and the game was never in doubt. They started on an 11-1 run before a Connecticut timeout, then led by as many as 31 in the first half. In the second half, the Eagles coasted as the Huskies got no closer than 22. The 95 points is the most the Huskies have allowed all season, and the 31-point deficit is the largest they have faced.

The game featured the top two scoring teams in the Big East, but two teams that had been slow starters of late. Connecticut faced a double-digit deficit in the first half of each of the first six games in January, while the Eagles’ slow starts are well-documented. Starting fast in this one made a big difference, and it was not lost on BC head coach Al Skinner.

“Even when we were losing, and we got off to a slow start, we had played 30 minutes of good basketball”, Skinner said. “We had outplayed a lot of teams for 30 minutes. The key was to play for 40 minutes, which we’ve been able to do the last couple of games.”

The Eagles entered the game fresh off a big road win at Virginia Tech by the same score on Wednesday night. Last season, they suffered a crushing defeat in Blacksburg when they lost a lead late in the game, so winning this one is a welcome change from last season. Skinner said that Wednesday’s game made a big difference entering the matchup with the Huskies, against whom BC won for just the second time in the last 28 meetings.

“It allowed us to come in here with a clear conscience”, Skinner said of the victory on Wednesday. “No baggage, we didn’t have to overcome anything. All we had to do was focus in on UConn.”

Ryan Sidney thinks the Virginia Tech game is the team’s springboard, and Saturday followed right from it.

“The Virginia Tech game was actually the catalyst for this game”, he said. “If you watch the two tapes and the two games, the way we played is the exact same.”

Against Connecticut, Boston College did just about everything right offensively. One key to winning has been shooting over 50% from the field, as the Eagles entered the game 5-1 when they shoot 50% or better from the field. In this game, they shot just under 51% from the field, the first time all season a Connecticut opponent has done that this season. They also continued to distribute the ball well with 19 assists against 10 turnovers. Defensively, they kept the Huskies from getting the ball to star center Emeka Okafor and shut down the Huskies’ three-point attack as they made just 1 of 15 attempts from behind the arc.

“They owned us today”, Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun said. “We looked like we hadn’t done a scouting report. They’re on top of their game, we aren’t.”

Okafor was also a non-factor at the defensive end despite no foul trouble (he never committed a foul in the game). Craig Smith (20 points) went right at him most of the game and the Eagles did a good job of going around him on drives to the basket, limiting Okafor to 1 block. Calhoun was disappointed, knowing his super sophomore is a better player than he showed today. “He didn’t look for the ball, we didn’t get him the ball”, he said.

The Eagles allowed the Husky guards to penetrate at will most of the day, but they were content to allow that and snuff out the drives as opposed to dealing with Okafor in the post or letting them have a field day from behind the arc. They also got several fast break baskets even off Husky field goals, and stayed poised every time the Huskies looked to make a run to get back in it. Sidney talked about this defensive game plan as one of the keys. “Make shooters dribble the ball”, he said. “Don’t give them what they always get, give them a little bit less, make them think about their game.”

Boston College has had more success on the road than at home this season, which would seem like a mystery with most teams. But Conte Forum has at times not had the kind of crowd presence a home team would like to have, while opposing arenas have had lively crowds with energy to feed off of. Gampel Pavilion certainly provided the Eagles with a suitable setting in that respect, as one could hardly see an empty seat as the game tipped off and it has long been a hostile arena for opponents as evidenced by Connecticut’s 82-13 record (46-9 in Big East play) all-time in Gampel.

Bell and Sidney feed off of the energy from the crowd, so this was just what the doctor ordered.

“I talk to the fans”, Bell said. “Someone puts up a sign, I want to talk about the sign. I have fun with all of it.” Sidney heard the Connecticut fans entering the arena, and was all set. “That’s all I need to hear”, Sidney said. “I love the negative energy, especially from the opponent.”

While the Eagles are hot right now, and have played well in most of their games since the new calendar year, it’s too early to pencil them in as a team surging to the NCAA Tournament. At the moment, they look like an interesting bubble team, as despite their struggles they still have a respectable RPI rating that would improve if they make a run in February.

“We think we’re a better club than we had showed earlier in the season”, Skinner said.

Sidney gives a lot of credit to the coaches for keeping the Eagles in the right frame of mind despite their struggles, as the season may have looked lost at times to some.

“Our coaches stay positive with us, so therefore we stay positive with each other”, he said. “When you stay positive inside the people and the family in which you have, and the people you play with every day, it doesn’t really matter what everybody else says.”

The Eagles have not been able to sustain momentum from big wins. After a big road win at North Carolina State a few weeks back, the Eagles were fighting for their lives against West Virginia in a comeback victory at Conte Forum. A few days after that, they lost at Villanova and then dropped an overtime game against Notre Dame.

Bell thinks things will be different after these two wins. “We didn’t have an identity back then, and now we know we want to press and run, and get out and get easy baskets”, he said. “We press, we run, we got a great inside presence. Nobody’s stopping Craig (Smith), Ryan’s calming down a little bit.”

The Eagles have five home games left among their final nine in the regular season, so they will need to start winning at home again. “We’ve played well on the road”, Skinner said. “The key for us is to be able to play well at home.”


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