- Roscoe Smith will have to contribute on both ends of the floor for Connecticut to defeat Cincinnati. (Photo: Associated Press)
Spare a thought for the Bucknell Bison. Winners of 25 games this season and regular season and tournament champions of the Patriot League, the Bison were, by general consensus, one of the better mid-major teams entering this tournament.
Then they ran into the Connecticut Huskies, and that was the end of that.
"It was a really bad way to end a terrific season," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen after his team trailed by as many as 41 points in an eventual 81-52 loss to the No. 3 seed Huskies Thursday night at the Verizon Center. The truth of the matter is, despite Paulsen's statement that he "didn't feel we competed nearly as well as we could have," the fact of the matter is that not many teams in the nation can defeat Connecticut when they played like they did Thursday night. Kemba Walker set a new UConn record for assists in a tournament game with 12, and the Huskies' young frontcourt dominated proceedings on the boards, outrebounding Bucknell 43-21.
Most importantly for UConn coach Jim Calhoun, he received sizable contributions from freshmen Roscoe Smith (17 points on 7-for-13 shooting) and Jeremy Lamb (16 points on 6-for-9 shooting), which took a lot of the heat off Walker.
"Bottom line is that when Roscoe and Jeremy [have] been [scoring],we're a different team." said Calhoun Thursday night. "We're just a different team because if you want to do what [Paulsen did], that's been done before and that's fine. You load up with Kemba and ... we ran the pick-and-pop time after time after time. And when Kemba came down the middle, [he] put three guys in there and try and take a charge, block his shot. [Walker] did a wonderful job. He could have had 15, 20 assists tonight. He really could have."
Calhoun will ask for something similar in tonight's third-round match-up against Cincinnati (9:40 p.m., TBS). The game will be a reprise of a February 27 encounter in Cincinnati that ended with Smith and Lamb combining for 28 points, Connecticut shooting 50% from the floor (23-for-46), and the Huskies running out 67-59 victors.
"In our league, I think the team that's the hungriest is probably going to win because the teams are so evenly matched," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said Thursday night after his team's 78-63 second-round win over Missouri. "I think our guys were overconfident [in February] because we had swept UConn the year before and [our players] didn't understand how good their freshmen were.
"It doesn't mean we'll win the the game [Saturday], but our guys are definitely going to have more respect for their personnel."
Cronin, for his part, was reasonably happy with his team after they throttled Missouri on both ends of the floor. "Your players just gotta attack," Cronin said. "And when we did that, we killed them inside, and second-chance points were big as well."
All hands on deck for UConn, then. They're not playing Bucknell any more.
Pitt vs. Butler (7:10 p.m., TBS)
The first game of tonight's doubleheader will be won and lost on the interior. Both Butler and Pitt scored 28 points in the paint and 19 second-chance points in their second-round wins over Old Dominion and UNC-Asheville, respectively. The key match-ups to watch down low will be the combination of Matt Howard vs. Gary McGhee and Andrew Smith vs. Nasir Robinson. Butler was very lucky that neither Smith or Howard fouled out of Thursday's thriller, but it will be interesting to see how close the officials call the low-post game. If either man gets into early foul trouble, it could be a long night for the Bulldogs.