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Washington, D.C. notebook: A soar spot

Washington, D.C. notebook: A soar spot
By Greg Abel, Special to Yahoo! Sports
March 20, 2006

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PHILADELPHIA – Long, lean and undeniably gifted, Connecticut sophomore Rudy Gay showcased why he has NBA scouts salivating. After a tentative game Friday against Albany in which he took only five shots and scored eight points, Gay asserted himself and then some Sunday in the Huskies' 87-83 win over Kentucky.

Against Kentucky, Gay scored 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from the foul line, including two clutch free throws in the final seconds to seal the win. His field goals included one (extremely) high-flying dunk and a finger roll where the Baltimore native literally dropped the ball in the hoop from way above the rim.

A little pep talk from his coach may have made a difference.

"I told him to go out and be much more assertive," Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun said of Gay. "He was magnificent. He's an incredibly talented kid but he's a young kid. I think at times he is unstoppable. I am incredibly proud of him."

Asked if he directed Gay to shoot more, Calhoun said that's not how he operates.

"I told him he had to be more assertive or I was going to play Denham Brown or Rashad (Anderson) a lot more. That's how I ask people to do things."

Calhoun has mentioned several times this weekend that Gay would benefit greatly from another year of seasoning at the college level, but he has all but conceded that his star forward won't be back. Gay, who won't turn 20 until this summer, is projected to be an NBA lottery pick.

BEST FOR LAST

Senior guard Patrick Sparks, a native of the Bluegrass State, played perhaps the game of his life in what turned out to be his last game for Kentucky. Averaging just 9.2 points coming into the game, Sparks led the Wildcats with 28, tying a career high, including 19 in the second half.

A combination guard perhaps generously listed at 6-foot, Sparks burned the Huskies from inside and out. When Connecticut's guards came out to deny Sparks from the three-point line, he drove the lane and threw in a few nifty scoops and runners. Sparks also played aggressive and opportunistic defense with a game-high five steals, including one play where he swiped an inbounds pass from Gay after a made basket and quickly converted a layup.

"When he gets it going, I think everybody else steps up and starts playing better," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

In the last two minutes, Sparks nailed a three-pointer to narrow the Connecticut lead to four. On the next possession, Sparks drove and dished to Sheray Thomas for a score that cut the lead to 81-79. But unfortunately for the Wildcats, they could get no closer.

"We've been fighting from behind a lot this year," Sparks said. "It was no different this game. It shows what kind of character and toughness this team's got. Any time you play a team like Connecticut, you know they're capable of doing a lot of things. But I give us credit for not giving in to them and just fighting the whole way."

POINT(S) TAKEN

Connecticut point guard Marcus Williams, who Calhoun calls "the best passing point guard in America," showed his scoring touch this weekend, dropping 21 on Albany and 20 on Kentucky. Albany coach Will Brown employed a strategy to make Williams beat the Great Danes and beat them he did, making five three-pointers to bring the Huskies back from 12 down Friday night.

Against Kentucky, Williams showcased a little more offensive versatility, going to the basket late in the game for driving scores while also making eight of nine free throws.

"Marcus was phenomenal as a floor guard. He's leading us right now," fellow guard Rashad Anderson said.

The season hasn't exactly been without controversy for Williams, a Los Angeles native. He was arrested for his part in the theft and attempt to sell stolen laptop computers last year, an offense for which he received probation and 400 hours of community service. Calhoun suspended him for the first half of the season but welcomed him back in January.

Throughout the weekend, fans of opposing teams chanted "Where's my laptop?" but Williams appeared, and played, unfazed.

Anderson had a big game Sunday coming off the bench for the Huskies with 14 points in just 15 minutes. Held scoreless Friday night against Albany, Anderson made four three-pointers in the first 10 minutes against Kentucky.

Another big contributor from the Connecticut bench was Ed Nelson, the beefy 6-8 transfer from Georgia Tech. Nelson grabbed three offensive rebounds in the first half and threw his body all over the court.

Said Brown, who contributed 14 points: "Coach has been telling us that we're the deepest team in the country and today it showed."

RETURN ENGAGEMENT

On Feb. 18, George Mason traveled to Wichita State for a made-for-TV "Bracket Buster" game meant to showcase potential NCAA tournament teams from mid-major conferences.

Turned out to be a good call.

This weekend, the Patriots and Shockers stunned their opponents from major conferences – North Carolina and Tennessee respectively – to earn the right to meet for a rematch in the Sweet 16. The game will take place at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., which will amount to a home game for Mason, whose Fairfax, Va., campus is only about 20 minutes away. George Mason won the first meeting 70-67.

Wichita State was thought by many experts to be a dangerous tournament team. The Shockers won the regular-season title in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Patriots, meanwhile, have become the true Cinderella of this year's brackets. Many questioned their credentials and wondered if they deserved an at-large bid from the heretofore lightly regarded Colonial Athletic Association rather than teams like Cincinnati and Florida State from the ACC and Big East.

Heading into Sweet 16 week, one thing is certain – one of the teams will get to play for a trip to the Final Four.


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Updated on Monday, Mar 20, 2006 3:04 am, EST

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