Saturday, January 31, 2009

Providence Faces UConn In Big Game Today

The surprising Providence College Friars have a big game today versus the #2 ranked UConn Huskies at 4 PM. PC has won the last 4 times they have played on the road against UConn. The question is can they make it 5 in a row today? I personally think UConn is the best team in the country this year, so it will be a difficult task for the Friars to win this game, but it's certainly not impossible. With all the animosity these two teams have for each other, this one could be a classic, so make sure you tune in.

Here's the scoop on the game, via ProJo Sports:

There are several key reasons why today’s Big East showdown between Providence College and the Connecticut Huskies can be called a big game.

First, UConn owes the Friars. Bigtime.

Secondly, a win would probably bring the Huskies a No. 1 national ranking on Monday.

And lastly, and maybe most important, coach Jim Calhoun says so.

“I tell our kids all the time that when you come to UConn, you’ll play in a lot of big games. This is a big game,” Calhoun said. “It takes two teams for a big game, and Providence has put themselves into a big game.”

Calhoun says this all without a trace of bravado. He has every reason to respect what the Friars and coach Keno Davis are doing. The Friars have beaten UConn the last three times the schools have met and five of seven games stretching back to 2003. PC has won on its last four trips to Connecticut, winning three times at the Hartford Civic Center and once at Gampel Pavilion, where today’s game will be played. Surprisingly, the Huskies haven’t beaten the Friars in Storrs since Feb. 6, 1996.

“They’ve beaten us three straight and disrupted things last year to take us out of the running for the top spot (in the Big East),” Calhoun said. “Providence has turned their season around after a rough start. They need more wins over good people and we seem to qualify.”

The Friars hope to serve as a roadblock to the top of the polls today. With No. 1 Duke losing at Wake Forest on Wednesday, the second-ranked Huskies are in line for the top spot if they can get by PC. UConn (19-1) has lost only to Georgetown, in its Big East opener.

“I don’t want them to be number one because that would mean a loss for us,” PC’s Jeff Xavier said before practice yesterday.

Players on both teams have verbally jarred over the last year. The Friars openly celebrated on the court in Hartford last January, when they poured home a stunning 14 3-pointers in a 77-65 victory. The antics didn’t sit well with the Huskies.

“Real disrespectful,” guard A.J. Price said at the time. “They don’t know how to win, and it showed. They were laughing, mocking. I usually have a lot of respect for other teams, but they showed a lack of respect. They beat up on us and made a mockery of it.”

Price then said that UConn wanted “to blow them out” in the rematch last March in Providence. It didn’t happen. The Friars grabbed control of the game in the second half and scored 53 points after halftime in a 85-76 win. Asked yesterday whether he still held any ill will towards the Friars, Price said, “I did the second game when we played them at Providence, but they beat us there, too. I can’t have any animosity towards them, other than they’ve beaten us a couple of times and we need to win this game. This is a big game for the Big East standings; they’re right behind us.”

UConn forward Jeff Adrien pointed out that PC didn’t build on its two wins over UConn inasmuch as it finished 15-16. UConn was 24-9 a year ago but fell in the first round of the NCAAs, to San Diego.

“They won, they enjoyed it, (but) they didn’t do too much after that. It’s what you do after that,” Adrien said. “You beat us and you’ve got to build from that. I don’t think they really did that last year.”

While it’s clear the Huskies have plenty of motivation to snap their losing streak against PC, the Friars hope to keep rolling as well. They’ve won seven of nine games and need to keep stockpiling good wins for postseason consideration. Winning at UConn would be the biggest possible win of the season.

“We’ve had their number but it’s just another game for us,” PC’s Xavier said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to win. We’ll always push (the ball) and we’ll take the first good look just like we have all season.”

The two keys to the game appear clear. PC must continue to shoot the 3-pointer well. The Friars lead the Big East with 8.4 threes per game and their offensive versatility has impressed Calhoun. Also, PC must find a way to keep the 6-7 Adrien and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet from dominating off the glass.

“You start at 7-foot-3, that’s NBA size and more,” Davis said. “They’re a top-10 team that will try to force us to play their style, but we have a motivated team and a dangerous team right now. It should be a fun game.”

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