UConn looks to continue its Western trend - East Valley Tribune: Sports

UConn looks to continue its Western trend

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Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 7:58 pm | Updated: 12:50 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

You can see a pattern forming.

In 1999, Connecticut was a No. 1 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament, played its regional final games in Phoenix and won the national championship.

You can see a pattern forming.

In 1999, Connecticut was a No. 1 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament, played its regional final games in Phoenix and won the national championship.

Memphis, Missouri matched for Madness

Five years later, 2004, Connecticut was a No. 2 seed in the West Regional, played its regional final games in Phoenix and won the national championship.

Five years later, 2009, Connecticut is a No. 1 seed in the West Regional and about to play regional final games in Phoenix (Glendale this time).

So far, Connecticut has blown away its first-weekend opponents, Chattanooga and Texas A&M to (in retrospect only) cement itself as the No. 1 overall seed in this tournament. Though early returns have the Huskies as seven-point favorites, don't expect an easy romp through No. 5-seed Purdue on Thursday afternoon. The Boilermakers come from the Big Ten, which equals grind-out games and win the end-game tussles. It's how they beat Missouri Valley Conference champion Northern Iowa and the Pac-10's best in Washington to get here.

It's a long shot, but Purdue is trying to get back to the Elite Eight since legendary coach Gene Keady took the Boilermakers in 2000, and if they do, it would happily wreck UConn's prosperous pattern of playing in Phoenix.

Connecticut Huskies

Record: 29-4

Coach: Jim Calhoun (23rd season at UConn, 16th NCAA tournament appearance)

How they got here: Defeated No. 16 Chattanooga (103-47); defeated No. 9 Texas A&M 92-66 

Key Player: Hasheem Thabeet

The 7-footer can dictate games with his defense and is a top shot-blocker in the country (4.4 per game). He's improved his offensive abilities this season (13.7 points per game) but has either gotten into foul trouble or disappeared on that end of the court at times (including Texas A&M). When he's on the floor and active, the Huskies are a huge handful. 

Strengths: Thabeet and Jeff Adrien (13.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg), for starters, as the Huskies are an excellent defensive and rebounding team. It makes scoring runs by opponents difficult to sustain and even tougher for teams to climb out of deficits against them. Still, A.J. Price (14.6 ppg, 4.8 apg) has been the Huskies' best player in this tournament. He put up 24 points against Chattanooga and 27 against Texas A&M, and his 3-point shooting has improved dramatically in three seasons (27.3 percent to 41.7 percent this season). With backcourt mate Jerome Dyson lost for the season to injury in mid-February, you can no longer tell Price suffered a torn ACL in last year's first-round tournament loss. 

Weaknesses: When Thabeet is in foul trouble or struggling to fit in offensively, the Huskies aren't nearly as imposing in the middle. Because of Dyson's injury and sixth man Kemba Walker is going through a poor shooting season, Price is the Huskies' only reliable outside threat to date, which makes it easier for teams to double-team the Huskies' interior threats.

Starting Lineup

Jeff Adrien Sr. F 13.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, .513 FG %

Stanley Robinson Jr. F 8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1 bpg

Hasheem Thabeet Jr. C 13.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 4.4 bpg

A.J. Price Sr. G 14.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.8 apg

Craig Austrie Sr. G 7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 18-to-1 assist/turnover in March

Key Reserves

Kemba Walker Fr. G

Gavin Edwards Jr. F

Donnell Beverly So. G

Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 27-9

Coach: Matt Painter (fourth season at Purdue, third NCAA tournament appearance)

How they got here: Defeated No. 12 Northern Iowa (61-56); defeated No. 4 Washington (76-74)

Key Player: Robbie Hummel

As good as JaJuan Johnson has been the entire season (13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.1 bpg), Hummel holds the key to Purdue's fortunes. A hairline fracture in his back cost him playing time during the Big Ten schedule and it's still having an effect on his body, but the Boilermakers need their sophomore forward to be at his all-around best against UConn's front line, especially because Hummel is a 39-percent shooter from the 3-point line and was a nonfactor against Washington. 

Strengths: It's the Big Ten calling card: Defense. Despite having a roster few outside their fan base ever heard of until this tournament, the Boilermakers were in the top 10 nationally defensively allowing 38.8 percent shooting and 59 points per game. Purdue doesn't commit turnovers (plus-3.5) and has an inside-outside duo offensively with the 6-foot-10 Johnson and E'Twaun Moore that are difficult to handle. Had the Boilermakers been healthy, there's little doubt they would have given Michigan State a better run for the Big Ten title. 

Weaknesses: Same as most teams in the Big Ten: Offense. Outside Johnson, Moore and Hummel, the Boilermakers aren't real dangerous offensively, and though their scoring is balanced, it's often difficult for them to overcome one of those big three having an off night. UConn present a size and athletic matchup Purdue hasn't seen this season, and if the Boilermakers are misfiring from behind the arc, they are in trouble. 

Starting Lineup

Chris Kramer Jr. F 5.2 ppg, 2.5 apg, 2.1 spg

Robbie Hummel So. F 12.4 ppg, 7 rpg, 2 apg

JaJuan Johnson So. F 13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg

Lewis Jackson Fr. G 5.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.3 apg

E'Twaun Moore So. G 14 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.1 apg

Key Reserves

Keaton Grant Jr. G

Nemanja Calasan Sr. F

Marcus Green Sr. F

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