Friday, April 3, 2009
But now, with the UConn Final FourFest and Opening Day a raindrop away, we are, as Don Orsillio might say, back and back big. Today, I was officially hired by NESN.com to be their live blogger during games this season. I'm excited for the opportunity and grateful to get back In The Pahk for a third straight season. I will also continue to freelance games for the Hartford Courant, as I did for the final two months of the 2008 season and spring training a month ago.
I will also get back to posting on this blog more than once a month. It's goin to be mostly on the Sox, but we'll also keep our eyes on St. Louis and Detroit this weekend, too.
Personally, I am rooting for UConn and Villanova today. If they meet in the final, I win the Courant office pool for the first time since 1989 (Thank you, John Clougherty).
Friday, March 13, 2009
Syracuse 127, UConn 117. Final. Six overtimes.
Where do you even begin to try and capture the flavor of the second-longest game in Division I history? Which play was the biggest, the strangest, the most spectacular? And how happy must West Virginia be to pick up the pieces tomorrow night?
Let the analysis of UConn's NCAA Tournament seeding and mindset come another day. Right now, let's pick some nuggets from this goldmine of a basketball game, the longest game in UConn, Syracuse and Big East history.
-- Eric Devendorf. After UConn ties the score on a crazy broken play with 1.1 seconds left in regulation, Devendorf calmly cans a three-pointer as the buzzer sounds. Maybe a smidge too calm. Replays show the ball was still on Devendorf's fingertips as the light went off. No basket.
-- Stanley Robinson. Did you know he scored 28 points? Do you even remember that he played in this game? Robinson gave an enormous performance tonight, and that gives the Huskies bright hopes for the NCAA Tournament. Robinson has been Mr. Inconsistent all season, but if he wants to peak in March (and April), no one is going to complain. He was all over the floor before fouling out.
-- The Rautins Triple-Double. Leo won a triple-overtime Big East tournament game in the final seconds in 1981 and now sonny-boy Andy comes through in the latest third-OT, forcing a fourth overtime with a three-pointer. Three overtimes later, Rautins hits the three-point dagger with 4:50 left to put UConn away.
-- Price was right. Thirty-three points (19 in overtimes) and 10 assists for A.J. Price. If he shoots a little better from three-point range (3-for-14), the Huskies win. But he was about the last reason the Huskies didn't emerge victorious tonight.
-- Paul Harris' Charles Smith Impersonation. Harris got the last laugh in the sixth OT, but dude, seriously, make a layup. First, Harris misses three bunnies in a row with under three minutes to play in the fourth OT, then misses two more in the final seconds of the same overtime. Even worse, all five misses came after Hasheem Thabeet fouled out. When exactly did Jordan, Grant and Cartwright throw on UConn jerseys and sneak into this game?
-- Scottie Haralson. That was a big-time cameo for Haralson, who had some strong moments for the Huskies late in the overtimes. It will be interesting to see how much he contributes in the
NCAAs. He certainly has earned a chance to get some minutes.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Paps went all medieval on Manny Ramirez's ass in the April edition of Esquire, joining Curt Schilling as the third-man-in on the Manny-bashing curcuit. Paps goes so far as to call Manny "a cancer" for his dubious self-engineered exit from Boston last summer.
"He was on a different train!" the always-calm and lucid Papelbon begins. "And you saw what happened with that. We got rid of him, and we moved on without him. That comes from the manager, and it comes from guys like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield and David Ortiz. Nobody is ever going to be allowed to do that. Even a guy like me, just heading into my fourth year in the big leagues — if David Ortiz gets a little, you know — I’ll tell him what’s up! I’m not afraid to do that. I’m not afraid to put him in his place, because I think everybody needs that.
"And if somebody does it to me, I understand that. I most certainly understand that. Varitek tells me all the time, 'Just shut up. Do what you’re supposed to do.' So Manny was tough for us. You have somebody like him, you know at any point in the ball game, he can dictate the outcome of the game. And for him not to be on the same page as the rest of the team was a killer, man! It just takes one guy to bring an entire team down, and that’s exactly what was happening. Once we saw that, we weren’t afraid to get rid of him. It’s like cancer. That’s what he was. Cancer. He had to go. It sucked, but that was the only scenario that was going to work. That was it for us.
"And after, you could feel it in the air in the clubhouse. We got Jason Bay — Johnny Ballgame, plays the game right, plays through broken knees, runs out every ground ball — and it was like a breath of fresh air, man! Awesome! No question."
It is somewhat ironic (and not just a little hypocritical) for Papelbon to follow Schilling's lead, considering Papelbon pounded Schilling a couple years ago for calling out Barry Bonds (Schilling later retracted it). But whether as the closer or the commenter, Papelbon loves to blaze his own trail. The question is, when will he get burned by it?
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Moore edged out McCoughtry for player of the year, but it is Montogmery who could be the key tonight. Of all the UConn starters, Montgomery is the only one still looking to hit her stride.
This is the 10th 1-vs.-2 in the Big East final, with the No. 2 winning 5 of the first 9 meetings. UConn is in the title game for the 19th time and is seeking title No. 15.
Postgame: Five of my six players made the tournament team. Montgomery did not. Candyce Bingham of Louisville earned the final spot. Moore was the MOP, as expected.
UConn 75-36, Final: The coronation is complete. It's the Huskies' fifth straight tournament title and 19th overall. UConn's average score this tournament was 75-40. The NCAA Tournament awaits.
UConn 69-27, 7:52: Maya Moore comes out of the game to a standing ovation. She scored 28 points tonight, leaving no doubt she is the Big East player of the year.
UConn 65-24, 11:57: Here's what I have on my All-Tournament ballot: Most Outstanding Player: Maya Moore. All-Tournament team: Kalana Greene, Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, UConn; Angel McCoughtry, Louisville; Shavonte Zellous, Pittsburgh.
Montgomery was the only reach on my ballot. She really didn't have a great three days, by her standards, but there really wasn't anyone else that stepped up to deny her a spot. Greene and Charles were money all three games. If Moore hadn't gone off as a scorer the final two games, Greene and Charles could have made a case for MOP. They'll settle for the trophy, instead.
UConn 65-24, 12:20: Another big run, this one 15-0 to open the second half. Charles has eight of her 21 points and Moore has five of her 24 in the run. Next up: Selecting the all-tournament team.
UConn 55-24: 15:45: No scoring for almost four minutes.
UConn 55-24, 17:15: The refs are certainly getting their money's worth out of this one. Three players already have three fouls, including Kalana Greene, who just picked up No. 4. It has removed all flow from this game, which the Huskies continue to control.
The Huskies continue to dominate on the glass this tournament, outrebounding Louisville 25-13 in the first half. UConn has a 22-6 edge in the paint and 10-2 on second-chance points. McCoughtry is 3-for-12 from the field and has two turnovers. Tina Charles had 13 points, 9 rebounds. A terrific tournament for Charles, as well.
UConn reaches 50 points at the half for the seventh time this season, but the first since Dec. 18 against Washington, a total of 25 games.
UConn 50-24, Halftime: Louisville ends the half on a 7-0 run, but it is way too little, too late.
UConn 50-17, 2:32: Even when Louisville tries to get tough -- and maybe a little dirty -- it backfires. After Maya Moore hit a three-pointer, she got free for a breakaway layup, but was knocked hard into the camera well by Tiera Stephen, who was called for an intentional foul. Somehow, Moore made the layup as she was hit, then got two more free throws. She made one, Charles rebounded the other and scored and it's a 33-point lead. Moore has 19 points.
UConn 42-15, 3:48: Moore has the scoring lead with 13 points. Tina Charles has 11. McCoughtry has just seven for Louisville.
UConn 33-9, 7:47: UConn has had runs of 9-0, 7-0, 7-0 and 8-0, the latter ongoing after four straight points from Greene, who is sneaking up on the outside for tournament MVP. Moore will probably get it, but Greene has had three solid games and has totally locked down McCoughtry tonight. I'd vote for Greene.
UConn 31-9, 8:41: McCoughtry picks up her second foul at the offensive end, this time climbing Greene's back on a rebound attempt. This game is already over.
UConn 25-7, 10:17: Another 7-0 run for the Huskies, including a pair of three-pointers by Maya Moore, who is looking to take over this game. The defense against McCoughtry remains stifling. She is a total non-factor tonight.
UConn 18-7, 11:44: Becky Burke hits a three for Louisville to end a 7-0 UConn run, but this game is all Huskies. Angel McCoughtry has been a non-factor so far, defended well by Kalana Greene. McCoughtry is 1-for-4 from the field and Louisville is 2-for-13. The Huskies have made 7 of 10 shots.
UConn 18-4, 12:16: Louisville coach Jeff Walz, seeing this game slipping away and UConn pushing the Cardinals around, picks up a technical foul after screaming at referee Dennis DeMayo.
UConn 13-4, 13:21: Tiffany Hayes breaks up almost three minutes of scoreless action with a pull-up jumper at the foul line. Kalana Greene and Tina Charles have already stepped up this tournament. If Hayes can raise her game, this team will be unbeatable.
UConn 11-4, 15:40: McCoughtry finally gets something going with a three-pointer, but the Huskies have hit Louisville with a flurry of inside baskets to forge the early lead. All five UConn starters have scored.
UConn 7-0, 17:13 remaining: So far, it's Maya and Renee and nothing from Angel. Moore scored inside and Montgomery spotted up for a deep three and a 7-0 lead. McCoughtry has barely touched the ball on offense, and when she did take matters into her own hands, she committed a charge.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Look for a different outcome tonight. Too much firepower for the Huskies.
UConn 72-42, Final: 46-16 over the final 25:15.
UConn 67-40, 3:28: The benches are in and the finals are next, Tuesday night against either Louisville or Pittsburgh. UConn beat Louisville by 28 points on Jan. 26 and beat the Panthers by 53 on Feb. 15.
UConn 56-30, 11:41 left: The run is now 30-4 as Villanova can't even beat the shot clock anymore. Two straight possessions without hitting the rim and UConn leading by 26. The removal of the UConn starters is already underway.
UConn 49-28, 14:47: Moore has eight points in the half and 17 for the game. The Huskies are on a 10-0 run and 23-2 since Villanova tied it up with 5:35 left in the first half. Moore has 12 of the 23 points.UConn 43-28, 17:08: UConn is asserting control now, shutting down the Villanova offense, while Maya Moore continues to score. Moore now has 13 to take the team lead from Charles.
UConn has a 30-2 advantage in the paint and a 10-0 spread on the fastbreak. Villanova is 6-for-14 on threes, but only 1-for-8 outside that one, four-minute stretch in the first half. And that's the story of your ballgame, so far.
UConn 37-26, Halftime: UConn ends the half on an 11-0 run, with Tina Charles scoring four of her 12 points to end the scoring. UConn is exploiting their obvious advantage in the paint, and the Wildcats are no longer hitting from long range.
3:09: Oh my, Maya! Moore just sent Lisa Carcic's three-point attempt from in front of the UConn bench back into the seats. What a block. Moore could easily have dunked her breakaway a moment ago. Ketia Swanier's father might be right: He told me in the summer of 2007 that Moore would make UConn fans forget Diana Taurasi. Diana who?
UConn 33-26, 3:34: Villanova's three-point barrage continues, with O'Connor hitting from the top of the key with 5:35 left to tie score at 26-26. It's the fifth three-pointer in six attempts for Villanova. But Maya Moore answers with her own three-pointer, then makes a breakaway layup off a turnover for a five-point lead. Kalana Greene scores on another fastbreak, and the Villanova uprising is quashed.
UConn 24-20, 7:31: And just like that, Villanova is back in it. Tia Grant hits a pair of threes and Karcic adds another and the lead is down to four. Villanova's only chance tonight is make its threes and limit the Huskies' possessions. That's what's happened the past three minutes. The question is, can Villanova keep hitting them?
UConn 22-11, 9:57: Tina Charles has come to play tonight. She blocks a shot at one end, then converts a third-chance offensive rebounds into a basket. Charles leads all scorers with eight points.
UConn 20-11, 11:29: So far, I've counted five times the Villanova bench has shouted out the final eight seconds of the shot clock -- 6 ... 5 ... 4 ... 3! Such is the nature of the deliberate Villanova offense. It worked for a short while, with Siobhan O'Conner hitting a three-pointer to make it 12-9 with 14:27 left. But UConn got its fastbreak in gear for an 8-2 run and their first sizable lead. Maya Moore had a Jordan-esque layup on the break, craning her arm out in front of her as she swooped in for a layup. Pretty stuff.
UConn 12-6, 14:54 remaining: The Huskies are making their living in the paint, with Tina Charles scoring an early four points and Kalana Greene converting a nice three-point play. The Huskies are all over the offensive glass, which set Renee Montgomery up for an easy three-pointer.
Villanova is Villanova and that means working the clock and making the Huskies play defense. For the most part, the Huskies have not been bothered, although Lisa Karcic did hit a baseline jumper at the 30-second clock to make it 12-6 with 15:16 left in the half.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Maya Moore has just been introduced as the Big East player of the year and Geno Auriemma as coach of the year. The three-day coronation begins ...
UConn 79-42, Final. Second half ends in a 32-32 tie. Just sayin'
UConn 68-33, 8:09: Geno takes the starters out. Villanova is next, tommorow night at 6 p.m. in the semifinals.
UConn 52-18, 15:42: We got to 50-10, and then the Bulls decided to show a little bit of pride, going on an 8-2 run to nearly match their entire first-half output. The big news for UConn today is the play of Kalana Greene and Tina Charles, who are both active and productive, giving the Huskies four unstoppable options. If those two continue at this level the next eight games, it's all over.
Two minutes to the start of the second half and USF hasn't returned to the court. Maybe they left at halftime. ... Nope, still here. They emerged, dazed-looking, with 45 seconds before the buzzer. No warmups, except for the bus.
Here's a heck of a halftime note: The 10 points UConn allowed in the first half is its fewest ever in a Big East tournament game. ... Maya Moore already has a double-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds. ... Kalana Greene already has a season-high 18 points and needs eight more for a new career high. She's made 8 of 9 shots and has eight rebounds. ... UConn has a 34-11 rebounding edge, 22-9 on the offensive glass and 13-0 second-chance points. ... USF shot 3-for-27. UConn: 18-for-36.
UConn 47-10, Halftime: Lorin Dixon caps a ridiculous first half with a nifty stop-and-pop with 1.6 seconds left. This is what it was like when I covered the team full-time at the beginning of the decade, with Sue and Swin and Diana. Just a total domination right now.
UConn 38-8, 3:47: The lead topped out at 38-5 with 4:23 left on Kaili McLaren's foul line jumper. Janae Stokes hit South Florida's first three-pointer with 4:01 left to end the 13-0 run. USF hit 14 threes on Saturday.
UConn 34-5, 5:53: A scare for the Huskies in an otherwise splendid afternoon: Tiffany Hayes went down after trying to draw an offensive foul and had to be helped to the sideline, before heading to the locker room. Either she got her bell rung, or may have hurt an arm or a hand. It was tough to tell exactly what happened from our vantage point. Meanwhile, Kalana Greene has 14 points.
UConn 28-5, 8:42: Finally! USF scores a field goal on a basket by Porche Grant. But Moore answers with a three-pointer to push the lead to 23.
UConn 25-3, 9:23: USF 0-for-13. UConn 24-7 rebounding edge. Maya Moore: 11 rebounds.
UConn 20-1, 11:57: Total dominaton. There are no second shots for the Bulls, who just went into the penalty with their seventh foul, so UConn will be shooting plenty this half. The last UConn basket was a thing of beauty. Maya Moore passed to Kaili McLaren at the high post, cut around her to the basket and McLaren hit her with a perfect pass under the basket, where Moore flipped the ball up and in before losing her balance on the hard cut. No defense for that.
UConn 18-1, 14:20: UConn is controlling the defensive backboard and the fastbreak is starting to click. Kalana Greene scored six straight points before Moore hits two free throws for a 17-point lead.
UConn 12-1, 15:38: It's ugly early for USF. The Bulls are 0-for-4 from the field and UConn has an 11-2 rebound advantage. Yesterday, South Florida took an early 11-point lead and still needed to scrape past No. 16 Cincinnati. Now they're down 11 to the best team in the nation. Not good.
UConn is only 4-for-13 from the field and Montgomery seems to be playing a half-click too fast in the early going. She's forced up a couple of shots and misfired a pass to Moore on a fastbreak. Once she settles in, this one is really over.
UConn 10-0, 16:43: Charles off to an agressive start. UConn's offense is going through Charles so far, and she has been active on the offensive glass, turning a put-back into a three-point play for the 10-0 lead.
UConn 7-0, 18:19 remaining: Moore and Renee Montgomery, the de facto runner-up for player of the year, get the Huskies started quickly. Moore hits a wing jumper and Montgomery buries a three in the game's first minute. Tina Charles' basket forces a quick timeout by Jose Fernandez.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Done. Fin. No amount of steroids can save him now.
The Yankees revealed today that Rodriguez, the trainwreck that keeps on wrecking, has a torn labrum in his right hip, but will not immediately have surgery, as the team hopes a more conservative approach to rehab can stave off a four-month absence.
Good luck with that!
The program, known in baseball circles as RETP, calls for rest, exercise, treatment and prayers.
Surely, the Yankees are aware of how rest worked for Mike Lowell's torn labrum last season. Lowell sustained his hip injury in early July, after putting on an RBI clinic for two months. But with his range of motion limited, Lowell hit a measly .215 in July, then .195 in the first two weeks of August.
But here's the problem for the Yankees with trying the rest route with A-Rod: Lowell got his rest, missing three-plus weeks in late August with an oblique injury, but it did nothing to alleviate the pain in Lowell's hip. He was a crippled shell in September, before finally being taken out back behind Fenway Park and shot during the Division Series in October.
So say A-Rod misses 10 weeks and tries to come back in mid-May. Say he plays a handful of rehab games in the minors and still has stiffness. Say the cyst re-appears because the tear hasn't entirely healed. Then what?
Surgery. Four months. Game over, man. (And let the suspension conspiracy theories begin!)
Maybe A-Rod missing the season wouldn't be the worst thing for the Yankees. At least it would prevent him from imploding in another October.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
J.D. Drew was sent back to Boston yesterday for an injection in his perpetually cranky back. No confirmation that general manager Theo Epstein has been scouring medical books trying to link the lower-back bone to the shoulder bone.
When Drew signed his five-year, $70 million deal before the 2007 season, it came only after the Red Sox made sure there was language in the contract that allowed the team to void the deal if Drew spent significant time on the DL because of his pre-existing shoulder injury.
Right idea, wrong body part. But clearly this is going to be an ongoing issue this season, seeing as though Drew missed all but two games over the final six weeks of the 2008 season because of his back and could well miss significant time again in 2009, forcing Rocco Baldelli into a role he himself might not be physically able to handle.
This, coming on the heels of Brad Penny's shutdown Monday with a stiff shoulder, has put a sudden, sobering end to Camp Boredom. John Smoltz and Mark Kotsay will eventaully come available to provide needed depth, but a rash of injuries early could put the Red Sox in such a division hole that all the reinforcements in the world might not be sufficient for a rescue.
What will be fascinating is if Drew's season ends on the DL, and he struggles again next February to stay loose. Would the Red Sox attempt to exercise the out in the contract? Save for one swing in October, 2007 and one month in 2008 (June), Drew has not come close to living up to the deal he signed. With Mike Lowell and Julio Lugo in the final years of their deals in 2010, might Theo start early on a housecleaning?
Better get back in the chamber, J.D.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Helen leads us off today with a wide-ranging query: Now that you're a veteran of the beat, can you reflect on what you thought you knew about women's basketball and what you now know, both in terms of how the game is played and how it is covered?
John Altavilla: I did not come to the UConn women's basketball beat with a prejudice about the game, in terms of how exciting - or boring - it might be to cover. The reason for that is I've had much previous experience with it, both at the New Haven Register and Courant. In New Haven, I covered a Division II national champion at the University of New Haven - and this was long before I ever met Geno Auriemma.
I enjoy covering the UConn women and the WNBA's Connecticut Sun very much. The personalities are great to deal with, very genuine, mostly cooperative, usually appreciative. I don't even mind not seeing slam dunks. Women actually shoot the ball better, but strangely, cannot make a layup to save their lives. But I never expect the national coverage of the sport to rival that of men's basketball. Frankly, not enough people care, particularly some of the schools that pretend to field competitive teams; yes, even in the Big East.
The OTP asks about the upcoming postseason: What is the one remaining roadblock standing between the Huskies and an undefeated season? Or has Geno covered all his bases?
JA: The only potential problem I can see developing on this team is an injury or a bad shooting night by Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery - on the same night.
UConn has had 13 games in which they've had five players score double-figures, but their starting five score over 80 percent of their points. If Moore and Montgomery falter, who is there to pick up the slack? In terms of who might beat them, look out for Stanford because of its size.
Dave has a two-parter about covering the recruiting process: How do you find out which recruits UConn is interested in and what is UConn's position when it comes to writing articles about future recruits?
JA: Recruiting is a very difficult thing to cover because you are dealing with very young kids not experienced with reporters. Also, the NCAA has a ton of rules in place that universities and colleges must comply with regarding what they say about recruits and, especially, how they should sheltered them from the media during visits on campus.
It becomes a tricky process trying to get a word with a recruit and their families when they are visiting.
The schools themselves are often the biggest obstacle we face when it comes to talking to recruits. Chris Dailey, UConn's associate head coach, reminded me twice at the end of a practice two weeks ago to stop talking to the father of recruit, even though it’s my belief that the stories we eventually write only benefit the program. We find out they are coming from a variety of sources. Coaches are allowed to confirm kids are visiting. High school and AAU coaches and parents are usually the source of the information.
Back to OTP: Which player can we expect to raise the level of her game in the next five weeks? Can Maya Moore be even better, or is it a role player on the verge of busting out?
JA: There's not much else anyone can realistically expect from Maya Moore or Renee Montgomery, perhaps not even Tiffany Hayes, since she's a freshman and has already played so well. But the Huskies need Tina Charles to play consistently great and they can not afford any more games from Kalana Greene that end with zero or two points.
Dave asks another question about coverage: How do you go about deciding on what to report about players on the roster? Are there any subjects that are basically off limits? Do the coaches restrict what you can ask or what they will answer?
JA: The stories we write are basically motivated by events of the day and/or our instinct. If someone has a good game or a bad game, that's a story. If someone is approaching a record, that's a story. Logic comes into play. But you always have to remember that you are dealing with college kids. The media needs to show understanding and restraint when reporting about their performance You need to report fairly and accurately, but there's no reason to take cheap shots, like you might at a pro athlete.
And yes, coaches often try to restrict questions and topics that are discussed, some more than others (see football coaches). When the Elena Delle Donne situation was developing this summer, Geno Auriemma wasn't terribly happy about being questioned about it or having his players asked about it. But 95 percent of the time, Geno in pretty much OK with questions, although we actually only get the watch the last half-hour of practice and usually once - perhaps twice - a week.
Frank chimes in with a similar question: Do you ever have to weigh the interests of fans in learning all they can, against the interests of players and coaches in restricting some information? How does this play out in practice?
JA: Sportswriters represent the newspapers they work for and the fans who read them. But not every request of a reader can be met. There are some issues where common sense needs to prevail. Some fans are extremely enthusiastic and care too much; you'd be surprised how much concerned mail I get about a 29-0 team. I try to remind them to keep things in perspective when perspective seems lost.
The OTP takes one last shot: Which team poses the greatest threat to the Huskies in March, and why?
JA: I mentioned it before - Stanford. Perhaps Oklahoma and Maryland, Duke or North Carolina, if the Huskies have a bad shooting day. I don't think California is capable of beating UConn, Auburn, either. And Baylor just lost its best player.
Finally, here’s a question from Mark W., that everyone is curious about: Do you think the NCAA would have the courage to put Tennessee in UConn's bracket?
JA: Not only would NCAA have the courage, ESPN may demand it!
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Maybe Theo Epstein should do more NESN telecasts. He certainly didn't disappoint Sunday.
Toward the end of a one-inning stint with Don Orsillo today, as the Sox played the Twins at chilly Hammond Stadium, the GM created his own high heat. At first wishing a speedy recovery to Jerry Remy, who is on the DL with an infection, Epstein went all Shecky Greene on us and crushed Manny Ramirez.
"He might be tanking it," Epstein mused about Remy. "Like some of our players in the past, didn't feel like showing up for spring training and arrived in time to answer the bell."