UConn's last tournament appearance ended badly when it was upset by George Mason. Could San Diego be another Cinderella? Well, if the shoe fits. ¶ UConn coach Jim Calhoun knows America loves an underdog. ¶ "Being in that position many times (as the favorite), I think you just need to play basketball," Calhoun said. "You really need to take care of the business at hand."
The Toreros upset Kentucky at Rupp Arena 81-72 on Dec. 29. They also beat league rival and perennial NCAA Tournament participant Gonzaga 69-62 in the final of the West Coast Conference tournament. San Diego beat No. 20 St. Mary's 63-55 in the semifinals.
Two days after upsetting Kentucky in Lexington, the Toreros were crushed by Marshall 76-60. Coach Bill Grier said it was a lesson for his young squad on how the team has to be ready to play every night. On Jan. 9, San Diego lost to CSU-Bakersfield 80-72.
About the school
Location: San Diego
Famous alumni: Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (law school); Charlotte Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff; Golden State Warriors coach Eric Musselman; Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown
No. Player Pos. GP Min Pts Reb
12 A.J. Price G 32 32.8 14.9 3.6
4 Jeff Adrien F 32 33.6 14.7 9.0
11 Jerome Dyson G 23 27.0 12.4 3.7
21 Stanley Robinson F 32 27.3 10.5 6.5
34 Hasheem Thabeet C 32 30.8 10.4 7.9
24 Craig Austrie G 30 21.8 7.5 1.8
3 Doug Wiggins G 30 18.8 6.8 2.7
33 Gavin Edwards F 30 7.8 2.9 1.6
14 Curtis Kelly F 24 7.6 2.0 1.8
2 Donnell Beverly G 17 5.4 0.8 0.8
45 John Linder F 3 1.3 0.3 0.0
32 J. Mandeldove C 22 3.5 0.3 0.7
55 Kyle Bailey G 4 2.0 0.0 0.0
30 Jim Veronick F 1 1.0 0.0 0.0
35 Alex Hornat F 2 1.5 0.0 0.0
40 Johnnie Bird G 1 0 0.0 0.0
No. Player Pos. GP Min Pts Reb
1 Brandon Johnson G 33 34.8 16.9 4.1
3 Devin Ginty G 26 13.7 2.5 0.8
4 Nick Price G 4 1.5 0.0 0.3
11 Trumaine Johnson G 33 25.6 5.5 1.3
12 Chris Lewis G 34 18.3 5.0 3.5
13 Danny Brown G 29 8.7 2.6 0.7
15 Ray Murdock F 14 22.9 5.9 3.1
21 Gyno Pomare C 34 28.4 13.7 7.4
22 Rob Jones F 33 25.7 8.8 5.8
23 De'Jon Jackson G 34 30.9 7.7 3.4
33 Clinton Houston F 29 7.8 1.0 1.7
42 Nathan Lozeau C 25 7.9 1.2 1.8
Coach: Jim CalhounRecord: 24-8
The turning point for the Huskies came when they beat then-No. 7 Indiana 68-63 with only nine scholarship players after Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins were suspended for being caught with alcohol by UConn police. UConn also beat Marquette 89-73, Pittsburgh 60-53 and Notre Dame 84-78 — all NCAA Tournament participants.
The Huskies lost to Gonzaga 85-82 in the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase. They also were beaten by West Virginia 78-72 in the Big East Conference tournament.
About the school
Location: StorrsEnrollment: 28,677
Famous alumni: Actor Meg Ryan; actor Ron Palillo (Arnold Horshack in Welcome Back, Kotter)
Coach: Bill GrierRecord: 21-13
USF COACH STAN HEATH SAYS …: "San Diego's Brandon Johnson is a player you have to be aware of, but UConn is a very dangerous team in this tournament. They have a lot of weapons, both on the offensive and defensive end. A.J. Price is a very underrated, strong guard who can control a game, and Hasheem Thabeet controls everything in the paint. Not only does he block shots, he detours shots. … Stanley Robinson is an enigma — he can go for 25 or he can go for five."
Times staff writer
TOWER OF TERROR: The Toreros need to beware of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-foot-3, 263-pound sophomore from Tanzania who helped the Huskies lead the nation in blocked shots.
Calhoun said the first five or six minutes will be important for Thabeet.
"I think if he gets in foul trouble or people go at him and someone gets a shot on him or makes a great play on him, I think it helps," Calhoun said. "Conversely, if he blocks two or three shots or you dribble in there and decide this is a bad idea and dribble out, then he starts to be effective."
San Diego coach Bill Grier, who does not have a player taller than 6-8, said there is no way to prepare to play against Thabeet.
"You know, we had one of our kids get on the shoulders of another one of our kids and practice all week," Grier said. "Then we held up brooms all around."
He was kidding. We think.
FIRST-TIME JITTERS: Hey, UConn has only two players who have been in the NCAA Tournament. But that's two more than San Diego. The Toreros did gain some experience winning in a big arena when they went to Kentucky and got a W.
"Being this group's first time in the tournament, you're concerned about them being tight because of it being the NCAA Tournament," Grier said. "But at the same time, this group's been pretty loose all year. They went into Kentucky and I thought they'd be nervous and they weren't. They played pretty loose and we went out and played. So hopefully, we'll come out and play aggressive and play loose and have fun."
WHAT'S IN A NAME? San Diego freshman forward Rob Jones is the grandson of cult leader Jim Jones, who led a mass suicide of 900 people in Guyana in 1978. Jones has recounted the story many times and doesn't mind talking openly about it.
"I've always been open about this," Jones said. "If anyone ever asks me questions, I'm open to them. Some of my friends' parents have already known about it and we've talked about it. It's just recently that it's gotten national press. Some people have never heard the story before so it's definitely a shock for some people."