UConn thrashes No. 16 Chattanooga
PHILADELPHIA (AP)—His postgame speech to Connecticut was over a speaker phone instead of in a locker room, though the message was still clear.
Coach Jim Calhoun, hospitalized earlier in the day, wanted the Huskies to know he was proud of how they went out and dominated in the third-largest victory in the NCAA tournament.
A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet won this for their ailing coach, scoring 20 points apiece to lead top-seeded Connecticut to a 103-47 rout over Chattanooga on Thursday for its first postseason win in three years.
Calhoun missed the game because he wasn’t feeling well and was hospitalized for tests. He will be kept overnight for observation.
“He was upbeat about everything,” Price said. “He told us he couldn’t wait to join us again. We can’t wait to have him back.”
UConn will meet Texas A&M in Saturday’s second-round game of the West Regional.
Associate head coach George Blaney coached the Huskies (28-4) in Calhoun’s absence. When Calhoun asked for stats, Blaney joked he knew Calhoun, “must be doing well.”
Stanley Robinson topped the stat sheet and the Huskies with 24 points.
The 56-point difference was the third-largest margin of victory in the NCAA tournament. The scary part? The Huskies believe it could have been worse.
“We would’ve been more fired up if Coach was here,” Price said. “Chattanooga got off easy without Coach here.”
The Southern Conference champion Mocs (18-17) were pumped for their shot at becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in the tournament. They had a nice start, but were simply overmatched by one of the best teams in basketball.
“They didn’t get our best shot,” Chattanooga coach John Shulman said. “I’m not saying our best shot was good enough. But if I don’t sell our team on (winning), then I’m not a very good coach. We dreamed it. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Price, Thabeet, Robinson and the rest of the Huskies are determined to put the 4-3 finish to the season, which included a six-overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament, behind them and make a serious run at Calhoun’s third national title.
“We wanted to win for Coach,” Thabeet said. “I was thinking about him.”
While the Huskies surely missed the Hall of Famer on the sideline, they perhaps could take comfort in this: This is the third NCAA tournament game Calhoun has missed. In the two previous instances, UConn went on to win the national title.
Price, his rocky run at UConn marked by a brain hemorrhage and suspension, took care of any early thoughts Chattanooga had of pulling off the greatest upset in tournament history.
He hit 3 straight 3-pointers in a 14-0 run that squashed the Mocs and took care of UConn’s five-game postseason losing streak dating back to the 2006 regional final.
Price could have shot three airballs in that span and the Mocs still would have been thumped.
“It seems to happen like that for us,” Price said. “Once we get rolling, we seem to feed off each other’s energy.”
Chattanooga went the final 7:39 of the first half without a field goal, and didn’t score a point in the second half until Kevin Goffney made two free throws 4:18 into the half.
At that point, UConn’s lead was 63-22. The game resembled one of those early November thrashings that lightweight teams are usually paid to take at Gampel Pavilion.
Goffney led the Mocs with 15 points. The Mocs shot a woeful 26 percent from the floor.
“The offense didn’t go like we wanted,” Goffney said. “It’s a bad night for that to happen.”
The Huskies, one of three No. 1 seeds out of the Big East, were loose in pregame warmups and that easygoing attitude carried over into one of their easiest victories of the season.
Blaney, who coached Holy Cross in three NCAA tournaments, was introduced as UConn’s head coach during introductions and he shook hands with Chattanooga coach John Shulman. That was about the last time Shulman had reason to smile.
The Mocs had a brief, competitive glimpse of what it was like to go head-to-head with the Huskies. Goffney sank a 3-pointer and Jeremy Saffore hit a nice hook shot to pull them within two going into a timeout.
Oh, how the good times didn’t last.
Price made his first 3, and then another after Chattanooga missed some easy looks under the basket. Goffney shot an airball, and Price added one more for a 28-15 lead.
Thabeet seemed to wrap up every Mocs miss in the first half, and there were plenty—they missed 26 of 33 attempts.
“We didn’t have Coach around. We always play hard when he is around,” Thabeet said. “When he isn’t around, we’re still prepared and we play hard.”
Price missed his freshman season after suffering a brain hemorrhage, then sat out another full season for his role in the theft of four laptop computers from a campus dormitory. And when he was poised to make an impact in last year’s tournament, he suffered a torn ACL in the first half of Connecticut’s overtime loss against San Diego.
That made it two straight NCAA defeats for the Huskies, who didn’t make the tournament in 2007, to go along with three straight first-game exits in the Big East tournament. The fifth straight postseason defeat was the classic 127-117 six-overtime thriller against the Orange in a Big East quarterfinal that stretched nearly four hours.
The Huskies were determined to put all the distractions—including Jerome Dyson’s season-ending knee injury—behind them and focus on returning to their old dominating form.
“I think we answered a lot of questions today about whether we should be a No. 1 seed or not,” Price said.
Now they have to wonder when they’ll have Calhoun back. The 66-year-old Calhoun has missed 21 games in his career and he didn’t miss much in this lopsided effort.
Robinson slammed home a fantastic alley-oop pass for a 54-20 lead that got the loudest cheers of the game. He ran around the court, waving his arms and encouraged the noise while his teammates mobbed him going into the huddle.