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February 23, 2003 Columns No Comments

The Morning Dish – Sunday, February 23rd, 2003

by Phil Kasiecki

It was a day mid-major fans awaited for a while, but the top story involves a recent national champion from the Big East.

Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun had prostate surgery on February 6, and was expected to be back by the Big East Tournament. The Huskies were 3-2 in his absence, aided in part by the absence of point guard Taliek Brown due to a broken index finger in the last three. In their first game without Calhoun, the Huskies played very poorly as a struggling Virginia Tech team blew out Connecticut, 95-74, just four days after Boston College came into Gampel Pavilion and blew out the Huskies by a similar score, 95-71.

Calhoun returned to the sidelines before the Big East Tournament — on Saturday, against St. John’s. He got a warm welcome from the sold out crowd at Gampel Pavilion, and was also greeted with handshakes from some St. John’s players and head coach Mike Jarvis. With their head coach running the show again, the Huskies, ranked 25th in the Hoopville Top 25, came up with a big 77-69 win over visiting St. John’s.

They had an 18-point lead at one point in the second half, but St. John’s battled back to eventually get within 7, then later pulled within 72-69 with 1:09 left. The Huskies then scored the game’s last five points.

Calhoun was reportedly a little fatigued after the game, and likely will make some adjustments with regard to practices in the early days of his return. But his return ahead of schedule is news, though it is not surprising to those who know Calhoun and his determination.

Another note from the game is that sophomore center Emeka Okafor became the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots, as he had nine more in this game. He now has 248 career rejections, surpassing the 245 by Donyell Marshall from 1992-94.

Connecticut’s win was all part of the Big East getting a little tighter on the day. With Providence (13-11, 6-7 Big East) scoring a 70-60 win over Villanova (14-10, 7-4), Connecticut is back in the lead by a half game in the East Division, and Boston College is just another half game behind Villanova. Making things more interesting is that Providence is now just another game and a half behind the Eagles.

The West Division now has a three-way tie at the top, as No. 8 Pittsburgh (19-4, 9-3 Big East) easily handled Rutgers, 86-65, and No. 12 Notre Dame (21-5, 9-3 Big East) blew out visiting Virginia Tech, 98-76. They are tied at the top with No. 15 Syracuse.

Side Dishes

Bracket Or Bust: For Fresno State (19-6), it was bust, as No. 16 Creighton (24-3) got 27 points from Kyle Korver and came from behind for a 67-66 win. Southern Illinois (19-5) got a big win, as a tip-in just before time expired gave the Salukis a 66-64 home win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee (21-6). Gonzaga (20-7) came back to beat Tulsa (15-9), 69-60, after shooting under 30% from the field in the first half. Western Kentucky (19-8) kept its slim at-large hopes alive with an 84-79 win over Ball State despite 33 points by Chris Williams. Illinois-Chicago (18-7) had five players score in double figures in their 83-72 win over Bowling Green. Hawaii (15-8) got 22 points from Carl English to lead five double-digit scorers as they won at Kent State (18-6), 79-78, despite 30 points and 7 rebounds from Antonio Gates.

Big Win in Cincinnati: The slumping Cincinnati Bearcats needed to pull off an upset when No. 4 Louisville came to town on Saturday. The Bearcats certainly did that, blowing out the Cardinals 101-80. The Bearcats broke the game open late in the first half, then picked it up early in the second half. Rick Pitino was ejected from the game for picking up two technical fouls. Cincinnati (15-8, 7-5 C-USA) got 31 points from Leonard Stokes and 25 from Tony Bobbitt. Louisville (19-4, 9-3) lost for the third time in four games after winning 17 straight.

Score Another For The Home Team: No. 17 Oklahoma State came up with a big win in Stillwater, knocking off No. 3 Texas 82-77 despite a career-high 32 points from T.J. Ford. Three Cowboy frontcourt players fouled out, but they made their free throws in the closing minute to seal the win. Oklahoma State is now 20-5 and 9-3 in Big 12 play, while Texas falls to 18-5 and 9-3, putting the teams in a third place tie.

Atlantic Ten Showdown: No. 11 Xavier came up with a big road win, beating Dayton by a score of 73-72 in an Atlantic Ten showdown. Dave West, who exploded for 47 points the last time the two teams met, had “just” 27 this time around, but the Musketeers needed a put-back by Lionel Chalmers with 26 seconds left to win it. Xavier is now 20-4 and 11-1 in the Atlantic Ten, while Dayton falls to 19-5 and 11-2.

No Contest: No. 14 Maryland annihilated North Carolina, 96-56, matching the most lopsided ACC victory in school history. The Terrapins broke it open in the second half, holding North Carolina to just 16 points. Maryland (17-7, 9-4 ACC) shot 58% from the field and held North Carolina (14-12, 4-8 ACC) under 33% from the field.

Keeping Pace: No. 9 Duke won its 27th straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium behind a great defensive effort, 79-68 over North Carolina State. The Blue Devils forced 24 turnovers, a season high for the Wolfpack, and got several easy baskets from them. With the win, Duke (19-4, 9-4) remains tied for third with Maryland in the ACC. North Carolina State falls to 14-9 overall and 7-5 in ACC play.

Unable to Hang: No. 23 Purdue made into the Hoopville Top 25 this week, and it appears to have been a curse. On Saturday, the Boilermakers were upset victims of host Ohio State, as Brent Darby had 16 points to lead a 52-44 win. In scoring 31 points below their average, the Boilermakers drop to 16-8 and 8-5 in Big Ten play, and have fallen out of a tie for first place in the conference. Meanwhile, No. 20 Illinois (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten) beat Northwestern 83-71 behind 20 points from Roger Powell and 17 from Brian Cook.

On The Road in the Pac Ten: The visiting teams had some success in Pac Ten play on Saturday. No. 1 Arizona (21-2, 13-1 Pac Ten) got double-doubles from Luke Walton, Channing Frye and Rick Anderson in their 92-72 win at Arizona State (17-8, 9-5). No. 19 California (19-5, 12-3 Pac Ten) got 29 points from Joe Shipp in their 94-82 win at USC. No. 21 Stanford won a defense-optional 93-84 matchup with UCLA behind 27 points from Julius Barnes. The teams combined to shoot over 54% from the field, with Stanford (21-6, 12-3 Pac Ten) shooting 64%.

Favorites Hold Serve in the SEC: No. 7 Florida (22-4, 10-2 SEC) needed overtime to knock off host Vanderbilt, 77-74, while No. 24 Georgia (16-7, 8-4 SEC) got 26 points from Jarvis Hayes in a 79-66 win over visiting South Carolina.

Tonight’s Menu:

• The Big 12 has the headline game today, as No. 5 Kansas visits No. 6 Oklahoma in a first place showdown.

• The SEC has a prime matchup of its own, as No. 18 Mississippi State visits No. 2 Kentucky.

• No. 13 Wake Forest welcomes Virginia, as the Demon Deacons try to stay atop the ACC.

• No. 15 Syracuse heads to East Lansing for a good non-conference game with Michigan State. The Spartans are on the bubble, and a win here would be a big one for them.

That’s it for this Sunday. Enjoy!

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