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Connecticut Huskies men's basketball team puts off celebrating until goal of NCAA championship is reached

UConn coach Jim Calhoun and his players celebrate after winning 
the West Region final Saturday. But they didn’t cut down the nets.

Associated Press

UConn coach Jim Calhoun and his players celebrate after winning the West Region final Saturday. But they didn’t cut down the nets.

The ladders and shiny scissors were easily accessible for the Connecticut Huskies to use in what has become the celebratory punctuation to winning an NCAA region title.

One by one, the players and their coach would climb a few steps and snip a piece of that nylon to save.

And then savor it forever.

But the Huskies had other ideas after they won the West Region final Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. They left the court in short order with little cavorting and with no net gain.

"We just chose not to cut down the nets," guard A.J. Price said.

"We felt we could buy a couple of nets if we want to, and we have a trophy as the Western champion," said coach Jim Calhoun, whose Huskies did put the ladders and scissors to use after they won the West — coincidentally in nearby Phoenix — in 1999 to earn a trip to St. Petersburg for the program's first Final Four but then eschewed the net-cutting when they won the 2004 West Region, again in Phoenix. "We had bigger fish to fry, and the nets we want to cut down are the nets on Monday."

The ones at Detroit's Ford Field, the site of this year's Final Four. The Huskies meet Michigan State on Saturday night, and Villanova plays North Carolina in the other semifinal. That's not to suggest making it this far, and leaving behind some fine nylon, is something the Huskies take for granted.

They don't.

"I'd like it to be a habit," Calhoun said. "Nevertheless, in '04, the decision was made not to do it, and we kept with that tradition."

That's where the similarities between 2004 and 2009 end. Unlike that expected run to the Final Four and a second national title five years ago, the Huskies are just two years removed from a disappointing 17-14 record overall and 6-10 in the Big East (their worst conference mark since 1989).

The nucleus of that team, a team that relied on youth after graduation and the NBA raided the roster, should sound familiar today: junior center Hasheem Thabeet, senior guard Price, senior forward Jeff Adrien, senior guard Craig Austrie, junior forward Stanley Robinson and junior guard Jerome Dyson.

"They've climbed a hill," Calhoun said.

Make that college basketball's answer to the Tour de France's daunting L'Alpe d'Huez.

• There have been disappointments on the court for the Huskies, including an overtime loss to unheralded San Diego in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum. (Price tore his left ACL in the first half.)

• There have been season-changing injuries, this year to Dyson. He tore the meniscus in his right knee and had season-ending surgery in mid February that forced the Huskies to reinvent themselves. Dyson not only averaged 13.2 points but was a solid rebounder (4.1), passer (3.2 assists) and defender (1.8 steals).

Price has had to take on more of the scoring load and has done well. He's averaging 19.3 points without Dyson in the lineup, up from 12.2 points with him; and he's averaging 20 points in the NCAAs, which is one reason he was the West's most outstanding player. Robinson, who missed the first eight games for personal reasons, has upped his average from 5.4 points to 11.8 in games without Dyson.

"We need to be not the same team but as good a team, and I think we're as good a team as we were when we had Jerome," Calhoun said. "But we are different."

• And there have been scandalous headlines in recent days with reports that Calhoun's program violated NCAA rules in the recruitment of former player Nate Miles. It's the kind of controversy that can distract a team but, so far, hasn't affected the Huskies' play.

"We don't let stuff like that bother us," Adrien said when that news broke on the eve of the Sweet 16 game against Purdue. "We have been through a lot of ups and downs in our lives and everything. We just know how to block it out."

"These kids stayed with it," Calhoun added, "and that is the thing that's made it really, really special."

And snippets of net weren't required to recognize or memorialize that.

Netting from Monday? Well …

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Connecticut Huskies men's basketball team puts off celebrating until goal of NCAA championship is reached 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 8:46pm]
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