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Connecticut Preview

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CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (14-5, 4-3)

Time: 7 p.m.

Television: ESPN

Location: XL Center: Hartford, Conn.

Favorite: Connecticut by 2.5

All-Time Series: Connecticut leads 3-2

Last Meeting: Louisville won 76-69 on 2/25/07

Probable Starting Lineup

G A.J. Price......14.0 ppg
G Craig Austrie....5.1 ppg
C Hasheem Thabeet....11.2 ppg
F Stanley Robinson....10.2 ppg
F Jeff Adrien......14.2 ppg

Breakdown

Louisville hits the road for a huge Big Monday game against a Connecticut team that may very well have scored the biggest non-conference win in all of the Big East this season when it went to Bloomington and knocked off No. 7 Indiana on Saturday. Even more impressive was the fact that the Huskies sprung the upset without the benefit of leading scorer Jerome Dyson or key reserve Doug Wiggins, both of whom have been suspended indefinitely and will not play tonight.

Both teams are taking the floor after just one day of rest, but it's likely the visitors who are better equipped to cope with the short break.

Against Indiana, four Connecticut players saw the floor for at least 30 minutes, and three for more than 35. Guard A. J. Price vomited twice on the sidelines, and forward Stanley Robinson had to receive treatment for cramps. Conversely, Louisville had only one player - forward Terrence Williams - play 30 or more minutes in its 67-57 win over St. John's.

All of this would lead one to believe that U of L's trademark pressure might be even more effective than usual this evening, but the Huskies are one of the few teams in the league that can match athletes with the Cards, and they have a point guard in Price who can lay claim to an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3:1.

Price - whose rocky career at Uconn has been well documented - has fulfilled the wishes of many a Husky fan by taking his game to the next level this season. He has scored in double figures in each of Connecticut's last ten games, and has also dished out at least four assists in every game during that span. Additionally, Price is Jim Calhoun's most capable outside shooter, having knocked down 29-of-70 three-point attempts for a solid 41.4% average. He's also not afraid to come out and challenge opposing guards, a mindset that has allowed him to come up with 25 steals, the most of any currently unsuspended Connecticut player. We also found out last year when he checked Brandon Jenkins that he's not afraid to talk to anyone willing to reciprocate.

But what most people think of when they think about Connecticut basketball is the frontcourt, a tendency largely fueled by the fact that Uconn has led the nation in blocked shots the last five seasons. They own the country in the category once again this year, thanks mostly to the contributions of 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet. A native of Tanzania, Thabeet has improved his game immensely after a freshman season in which he consistently appeared awkward and timid in the post. Now he leads the Big East in blocks (3.8 bpg), is averaging double figures in points (11.2 ppg) and leads his team in field goal percentage (63.2%).

The ying to Thabeet's yang in the Uconn post is preseason All-Big East selection Jeff Adrien. Despite being only 6-7, Adrien has recorded nine double-doubles this season, including four in his team's last seven games. He leads the team in rebounding and ranks fourth in the conference at 9.2 rpg. While he's not going to wow any pro scouts with his offensive skills, Adrien does have a fairly consistent mid-range jumper, and is an expert at finishing in traffic. His main downfall is at the free-throw line, where he's shooting only 59.7%.

The Huskies as a team, however, are hitting 75.5% of their shots from the charity stripe, and one of the main reasons why is the guy who will be starting in place of Jerome Dyson, junior guard Craig Austrie. Though he shoots 88% from the free-throw line, Austrie is a bit more streaky behind the three-point line, where he is shooting just 21.4% and has failed to make a shot in Uconn's last nine games. He doesn't handle the ball particularly well, but managed to turn it over only twice while playing 28 minutes against IU. Price won't be able to do all the heavy lifting against the Cardinal press, so Austrie will be forced to step up his game in that department.

With just nine scholarship players to choose from, Jim Calhoun says he expects to use reserve forward Curtis Kelly and guard Donnell Beverly much more than he has. Beverly has appeared in only three of Connecticut's last nine games, but played 16 valuable minutes against Indiana. Kelly has scored only four total points in the month of January, but he will be relied upon when Adrien or fellow starter Stanley Robinson need a break.

Conclusion

This one should be an absolute dog fight. Not a semi-dog fight, an absolute one.

Connecticut's prerogative has to be to dominate the boards, and U of L's has to be to defend the perimeter. Whichever team has the least success in its category will likely be the loser.

Even if one squad gets one of its playmakers going, I just can't see this being a game where somebody opens up a 12 or 15-point lead and is able to sustain it. These teams are too evenly matched, and they're both playing with too much confidence to be blown out.

Despite the presence of Thabeet, don't be surprised if Pitino elects to pound the ball inside early with the hope of getting one of the three bigs in foul trouble. It is a Curtis Shaw night, so 173 fouls is certainly not out of the question. David Padgett may very well break the NCAA record for head fakes in one game.

I foresee a massive amount of tension and whistles.

CC Prediction: Louisville 77, Connecticut 73

This one would be a biggie.