Tom Moore was back in his old stomping grounds Sunday. Only this time he couldn’t be seen on the University of Connecticut sidelines, helping draw up Xs and Os and calling out plays for the myriad of young guns that he was so instrumental in bringing to Storrs, Conn.
Quinnipiac’s head coach, who served 13 seasons under Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at UConn and established himself as one the premier recruiters in college basketball, was treated with a warm, standing ovation from the Husky faithful in the pre-game introductions.
That was about as comforting as it would get for Moore, in his first homecoming since being named Quinnipiac’s head coach in March. The state’s longest existing blood-feud was renewed, but it didn’t play out like a rivalry game. The physically superior Huskies put together arguably their best performance of the season, drubbing the Bobcats, 82-49 at the Hartford Civic Center Dec. 16.
“Last year, they didn’t have that same swagger that they did today,” said Moore, who had explained earlier in the week that it would be hard to simulate the athleticism of their Big East foe.
“They are incredibly long and they are very big around the rim. I was very impressed at the way they communicated.”
UConn clicked on all cylinders with their up-tempo offense and the Huskies played above the cylinder, punishing the rim with highlight reel dunks.
Jerome Dyson scored a game-high 23 points in 29 minutes. After coming out flat for most of the first half, Dyson, a considerable NBA prospect, helped fuel a vicious 12-0 run over the final 4 1/2 minutes of the first half. The spurt culminated in an alley-oop from Dyson to 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, whose one-handed banger wowed a crowd of about 3,500 that made it through the blistering cold and snow-blanketed streets.
Thabeet and UConn’s frontcourt patrolled the paint all afternoon for the Huskies, which improved to 7-2 with the victory.
The Bobcats couldn’t permeate any cracks in the lane, and UConn employed a half-court trap that helped instigate 15 turnovers.
“I was trying to get some other lessons (in),” said Moore. “I would like to have the program to the point where we can play programs (like UConn)…It was the first time we were on a big stage, playing a big, physical team…Everyone asked me what I feared most about these guys…Their size around the rim is what that translates to. It translates to them getting out in transition, and that’s how it played out at the end of half.”
When the Huskies sat in a zone, Quinnipiac was quick to take advantage. Sophomore point guard Casey Cosgrove scored a team-high 15 points on five three-pointers, four coming in the first half.
Quinnipiac took a significant blow in the first half, when senior swingman DeMario Anderson was charged with his second foul early on.
Anderson was one player on the equally young Quinnipiac team that Calhoun was familiar with. Playing for Central Connecticut back in 2005, Anderson dropped 23 points on the Huskies while being guarded by current Memphis Grizzlies stalwart Rudy Gay.
This time around, the Huskies kept Anderson (10 points, eight boards) in check, clamping down on him and forcing Quinnipiac to play outside the key.
UConn, who carried a 46-24 lead into the half, led by as many as 36 in the first. The second half would feature much of the same.
The Huskies jacked their lead up to 35 after off guard Doug Wiggins finished on the break. Moments later, Dyson swished a set three from the right corner as the bulge ballooned to 71-37 with 8:20 remaining.
There was no upset, no late-game dramatics. In last year’s contest, then-senior Adam Gonzalez’ hit a three that tied the game with two minutes to play in the second half before the Bobcats fell. This year, Uconn played like a dominant team looking to eat up its out-of-conference slate in whale-size bites before Big East action begins.
“I thought we played as hard as we have (all season),” said Calhoun, who threw lavished praise on A.J. Price (nine assists) and small forward Stanley Robinson (15 points).
“We stayed with it.”
Moore, who was reunited with the UConn beat writers, didn’t touch on any of the sentimental aspects of the game but looked emotionally drained by the end. He admitted he was disappointed, feeling that his team caught the “deer-in-the-headlights look a little bit at the end of the first half and at the beginning of the second half.”
Before Calhoun’s press conference, he chatted briefly with Moore. “We greatly miss him,” said Calhoun. “Quinnipiac’s a beneficiary of him going there. I miss him as (coach), as a recruiter, but I miss him the most as a friend.”
Because of their close friendship and Moore having recruited nearly the entire UConn team, both coaches said they would prefer not to play each other in the future.