Jim Calhoun was in the middle of his post-game news conference Saturday when from the throng of writers to his right emerged a 6-foot-9 figure covered in blue UConn men’s basketball gear, gift in hand and a smile on his face.
Jim Calhoun was in the middle of his post-game press conference Saturday when from the throng of writers to his right emerged a 6-foot-9 figure covered in blue UConn men’s basketball gear, gift in hand and a smile on his face.
“Merry Christmas,” Stanley Robinson said as he made his way to the podium, handed his coach a red Macy’s bag and gave him a farewell hug before he left for his flight back to Birmingham, Ala., for the holiday.
“That was all staged,” Calhoun said, jokingly. “It cost me 50 bucks. Not a bad deal.”
Not at all, considering the sophomore forward’s first gift to the Huskies may as well have been deemed priceless.
Shaking off an early technical foul and a nasty bump on the head, Robinson put on a dazzling display of athleticism and versatility in UConn’s final tune-up before the holiday break, scoring 24 of his career-high 32 points in the first half to lead the Huskies (8-2) to a 105-60 win over Maine in front of 12,244 at the XL Center.
The 19-year-old hit on 13-of-18 shots for his fifth straight game in double figures and added 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in what was the highest individual scoring effort from any Husky player since Rashad Anderson had 33 points in a 129-61 win over Morehead State on Dec. 23, 2005.
“It’s really kind of a performance as a coach that you just sit, don’t do any coaching, don’t mess with him at all and marvel at what he did,” Calhoun said. “And I don’t care who we’re playing, what we’re doing, what venue it is, he’s pretty special. We haven’t, quite frankly, had too many special performances in two years.”
Calhoun went on to call it a good step forward, and the game, as a whole, was in many ways. Hasheem Thabeet nearly notched a triple double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks, and A.J. Price continued his emergence, adding 17 points while tying a career-high of nine assists for the second straight game.
Jeff Adrien secured his fifth double-double this season, totaling 19 points and 13 boards, and despite facing a big opponent in the Black Bears (4-7), the Huskies built upon their defensive performance last week against Quinnipiac, blocking 12 shots and winning the rebound total by 30 (59-29).
It all had Calhoun calling his team not only the “most talented team (Saturday), but we looked like we were a better team.”
“You can just see that their energy level has been rising tremendously over the last couple of weeks,” said Maine coach Ted Woodward, a former assistant under Calhoun in the late ‘80s. “I think they’re going to end up having a tremendous season as they go forward. … They obviously put a lot of pieces together today.”
Robinson surely was the biggest one, but it took a technical foul to get him fired up. After taking an elbow from Jordan Cook midway through the half, he told the Maine forward, “Don’t do it again,” only with a profanity, Calhoun said, and the official quickly T’d him up.
Surprised by the call — “I didn’t know I got T’d up until I turned around” — Robinson went off, scoring 16 of the Huskies’ next 25 points, mixing two 3-pointers into a stretch of highlight reel dunks to put the Huskies up 43-24 with 4:05 left..
But then, after a Maine miss, Jerome Dyson brought the ball across halfcourt and flung an alley-oop pass to Robinson, who was being covered by Troy Barnies. But his momentum carried him just past the rim, and after some contact, missed the dunk and fell awkwardly, hitting the back of his head on the hardwood as the ball went back downcourt.
He was down for several moments and was subbed out for Donnell Beverly, but about a minute later, Robinson returned to the floor, putting back a miss and capping his incredible half moments later with a double-pump, two-handed dunk in traffic.
“I saw a little opening because I kind of split the players,” said Robinson, who punctuated the dunk, in all ways, by falling on his butt. “I didn’t want to get the tech (for hanging on the rim) because I was already awkward on the rim, so I just let go. And fell.”
UConn scored the first nine points of the second half, and its lead grew from there, reaching as high as 49 with less than three minutes to play. Adrien was the main producer, notching 16 points and six rebounds after the intermission.
Now the Huskies enjoy a few days off before rendezvousing in Florida on Christmas night to prepare for their game at Central Florida Friday, their first true road contest of the year.
“I think come January, we have everything a good team is going to need,” Thabeet said. “I think if we’re going to keep playing the same defense we do now, that’s how we’re going to win some games.”
Reach Norwich Bulletin writer Matt Stout at 425-4250 or email@example.com