The #13 Connecticut Huskies arrived in New York concerned about their rebounding; heading into the game with LSU the Huskies had a rebounding margin average of +2, a far cry from what those both within and outside of the program had come to expect. Head coach Jim Calhoun felt that changes needed to be made, beginning with moving senior Gavin Edwards to the bench. The motivational ploy worked for Edwards, who went for fifteen points and seven rebounds, and as a team the Huskies won the battle on the boards 43-27.
The end result: an 81-55 pasting of the young Tigers in the first of two semifinals played in the Preseason NIT Season Tip-Off. Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson each scored twenty points while Stanley Robinson added a double-double with fourteen points and ten rebounds. Without the imposing shot blocker on the back line the Huskies will have to work harder on the defensive end of the floor, especially when they take on #7 Duke on Friday night. But this was a good result following three games of struggles in the rebounding department.
Three Key Happenings
1. Gonzaga will be heard from come March. That much is certain following the Bulldogs' 61-59 overtime win over Cincinnati in the final of the Maui Invitational. Point guard Demetri Goodson had his best game of the tournament with twelve points and big man Robert Sacre held his own inside with fourteen points and five rebounds. Bu the surprise performance may have come from the versatile Matt Bouldin.
He didn't shoot well due in large part to a Cincinnati defense that doubled him on every ball screen (1-7 FG) but he did grab a game-high ten rebounds. That effort was indicative of an evening in which the Bulldogs did something that many may have doubted about last year's outfit: they found a way to gut one out with rebounding (34-29 edge) and defense (holding Cincinnati to 35.4% shooting).
2. Stanford nearly struck a serious blow for the Pac-10. The Pac-10 has taken it's fair share of shots due to some head-scratching (and in some cases flat-out bad) losses to tip off the season. Few people gave the Cardinal a shot at hanging with #5 Kentucky much less pulling off the upset, but Johnny Dawkins' team nearly did the unthinkable in Cancun before watching a big win slip away. Landry Fields is one of the better players out West that many people know little about and as he goes so will the Cardinal this season. He led Stanford with twenty-four points but made just six of twenty field goals on the night. John Wall led all scorers with twenty-six for the Wildcats but this was ultimately a win that the Pac-10 really could have used.
3. Western Carolina picked up a good non-conference victory. Picked to win the North Division of the Southern Conference quite a bit is expected of the Catamounts within the league. But in regards to national perception they've been overlooked in favor of Charleston and one-time Elite 8 participant Davidson. But this is a good team and that showed in their 83-77 win over a Duquesne squad expected to be a factor in the Atlantic 10.
Forward Jake Robinson scored twenty-five points off the bench while grabbing eight rebounds in the victory, and as a team the Catamounts forced sixteen Duquesne turnovers while also holding them to 25.9% shooting from behind the arc. The North is usually the overlooked division in the SoCon but this could be the year in which their champion wins the automatic bid.
Top Three Games
1. Gonzaga 61, Cincinnati 59 (OT) The Bulldogs seem to attract thrillers in Maui, having been involved in both a three-overtime game and a buzzer-beating loss in their last trip to the island. Lance Stephenson led the Bearcats with fifteen in a losing effort.
2. Kentucky 73, Stanford 65 (OT) Kentucky dodged a bullet thanks to their pair of stellar freshman guards. John Wall led all scorers with twenty-six while Eric Bledsoe drained a dagger of a three in overtime.
3. Denver 80, Wyoming 77 Nate Rohnert led the Pioneers' charge back from a ten-point halftime deficit with thirty-two points while Afam Muojeke, who led the Cowboys with twenty points, left the game with about seven minutes remaining with a leg injury. Losing him for an extended period of time would be a major blow to Wyoming's hopes this season.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Nate Rohnert (Denver) Rohnert posted a stat line of 32 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the Pioneers' 80-77 win over Wyoming.
2. G Justin Tubbs (East Tennessee State) Tubbs scored twenty-nine points while also grabbing seven rebounds in the Bucs' 77-71 win over Charleston.
3. G/F Bilal Benn (Niagara) Benn dropped the following stat line in the Purple Eagles' 74-64 win at Mount St. Mary's: 14 points, 18 rebounds and five assists. The senior also had a pair of steals in the victory.