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UConn can and will… Trags Take 04.03.09 at 3:03 pm ET
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National semifinal-Michigan State (30-6) vs. Connecticut (31-4), 6:07 p.m. ET, CBS-TV.

For a team that is a No. 2 seed playing on its virtual home court, the Michigan State Spartans sure seem like a considerable underdog against Connecticut in Saturday’s first national semifinal at Ford Field in Detroit. There’s good reason.

Michigan State fans, coaches and players need to travel just 85 miles to get to its destination on Saturday evening. And when they get there, there will be a tremendously gifted and motivated team that awaits them.

Back on Feb. 1, when they lost at home to eventual NIT champ Penn State, it seemed a lot longer than 85 miles to Destination Detroit. But this team is coached by Tom Izzo and he never lets his team lose focus or confidence. And he didn’t this time either. They regrouped and, except for a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals, the Spartans have been on a mission, winning 10 of their last 11 and playing their best basketball in the NCAAs, reaching the Final Four for the fifth time in 11 seasons.

Their opponent, the Connecticut Huskies haven’t been short on storylines. But certainly, thanks to some ace journalism from Yahoo!, it’s been the wrong kind. Coach Jim Calhoun is once again the lightning rod of a program that is back to the Final Four for the third time since 1999. The last two trips have resulted in titles.

The tournament for UConn began with their coach in a Philadelphia hospital and continued the next weekend with allegations of serious recruiting violations. But the Huskies aren’t playing like there’s another shoe to drop. They’ve taken care of business, playing like a family that has come together in the worst of times. Throw in the best talent this side of Chapel Hill and you have a practically unbeatable combination. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Connecticut, March Madness, Michigan State,
Forest for the trees 04.03.09 at 12:54 pm ET
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The standings, like every other statistical number in sports, don’t lie.

And the standings are telling the Celtics that second seed in the East, and guaranteed home court advantage in the second round, are there for the taking in the final six games of the season.

Heading into tonight’s game with Atlanta, the Celtics lead the Magic by a game for second place in the East. Both teams have 19 losses with Boston ahead by two wins, 57-55. So Orlando has two games in hand on Boston but the Celtics have fate in their own hands for the time being.

What does all that really mean to Doc Rivers as he tries to get Paul Pierce and Ray Allen some rest in the last two weeks?

“It’s human nature and obviously, we want it,” Rivers said at Friday morning’s shootaround. “Don’t get me wrong, I really would like to get the second seed but I don’t worry about it a lot but the bottom line is you’ve just got to play and you’ve got to control your own destiny and whatever happens, happens.”

In other words, don’t expect to see Pierce and Allen playing 45 minutes, or even 40 for that matter, just to get the number one seed.

His younger players like Glen Davis and Rajon Rondo will have the chance to carry the load, especially with Kevin Garnett out for another week.

“We just try to go out there and play the game how it’s supposed to be played,” Davis said. “We can’t worry about what the other teams are doing. We’ve just got to go out there and make sure we do what we need to do to go where we need to go. No matter where we are in the playoffs, we feel like we can compete with anybody and that’s just the way we feel.”

“First is probably out of reach even though Cleveland lost yesterday, we’re still 4 1/2 games out with eight to play,” Rondo added. “We’re not looking ahead to who we’re going to play in the first round but definitely, if we make it to the second round, we want to have home court advantage.”

Read More: Big Baby Davis, Boston Celtics, NBA,
Time for TA 04.03.09 at 11:38 am ET
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Doc Rivers began his briefing with reporters this morning at shootaround in Waltham by declaring that Kevin Garnett is going to return to action tonight against the Atlanta Hawks.

“Kevin is going to play tonight and that’s April Fools a couple of days late,” Rivers said before quickly qualifying as a joke.

While Garnett is still out, Tony Allen could see his first action since spraining his left thumb in early February. Allen made it to the scorer’s table in the fourth quarter but never entered the game on Wednesday against Charlotte.

“We are going to try and ease Tony in,” Rivers said, indicating that tonight would likely be a chance for Allen to return to action. “It was game situation and Eddie (House) had it going. They stayed small, which is unusual for them. They usually go big and they stayed small. They had (D.J.) Augustine and (Raymond) Felton in a lot together and that allowed us to keep Eddie on the floor, and that was good for us because the way he was shooting we wanted to keep him on the floor.”

The other bonus of House’s playing time the other night was it allowed Rivers to rest Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for big minutes in the fourth quarter.

“Think about it, we went two overtimes and Paul and Ray still only played 47 and 48 minutes, and that’s with an extra 10 minutes added to it,” Rivers said. “Thank goodness we got them that rest because I don’t know if the overtimes would have worked out.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Paul Pierce,
Why Nova beats Carolina… Trags Take 04.02.09 at 9:07 pm ET
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National semifinal-Villanova (30-7) vs. North Carolina (32-4), 8:47 p.m. ET, CBS-TV.

It is generally assumed that the University of North Carolina, with names like Lawson, Hansbrough and Green, is the team with the most depth and the most talent in the NCAA tournament, with Connecticut a fairly close second. And it’s generally assumed Carolina is headed for another championship date, if not title, on Monday night in Detroit.

North Carolina has been, for the most part, very workmanlike in their four-game run through the tournament to this point. They have dispatched of Radford, LSU, Gonzaga and Oklahoma. Villanova is coming off one of the most epic battles in NCAA tournament history, edging Pittsburgh on a mad 60-foot dash to the basket by Scottie Reynolds.

These two teams have great tournament history.

Michael Jordan and company beat Villanova in the Elite Eight in 1982 when Carolina finally won a title for Dean Smith. Villanova returned the favor in 1985, when they beat the Heels in the Southeast title game, 56-44. And in 2005, a most dubious traveling call was made on Nova’s Allan Ray and Carolina held on for a 67-66 win in the Sweet 16 as Carolina won its first title under Roy Williams.

Here’s how Villanova evens that score on Saturday night in Detroit.

1: Man-to-man. Villanova has the athletic depth on its roster that not even the No. 2 seed Oklahoma Sooners could throw at the Heels. Scottie Reynolds can match up with Ty Lawson man-to-man, with Corey Fisher off the bench. Dante Cunningham can defend Tyler Hansbrough because Cunningham plays ‘long’ as scouts are fond of saying. Dwayne Anderson, Nova’s most underrated player, will likely get the assignment of dealing with Danny Green.

2. Senior Leadership. No team is getting more out of their seniors than Nova. Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark. They all played key roles in not folding under the pressure on Saturday, when the Cats trailed by four with under three minutes to go.

3. Coaching. Jay Wright has his team believing they can beat anyone in any circumstance.

4. Defense. Villanova is playing better defense than any team in the field right now. They’ll need it because Carolina is averaging 90 points a game in their four wins.

5. 1985 Karma. Otherwise known as the Rollie Massimino Reunion Tour. Massimino met with former Pistons coach Chuck Daly this week at the hospital that is treating Daly’s pancreatic cancer. Daly, who took Penn to the Final Four in 1979, drew up a play for Massimino to give to Jay Wright.

How they got here:

No. 3 seed Villanova won the East Regional. Beat No. 14 American, 80-69. Beat No. 6 UCLA. 89-69. Beat No. 2 Duke 77-54. Beat No. 1 Pittsburgh, 78-76.

No. 1 seed North Carolina won the South Regional. Beat No. 16 Radford, 101-58. Beat No. 8 LSU, 84-70. Beat No. 4 Gonzaga, 98-77. Beat No. 2 Oklahoma, 72-60.

This Villanova team isn’t the 1985 squad that pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA history by beating Memphis State and Georgetown in the final. It’s better and more talented. The 1985 team had Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Gary McLain, Harold Pressley and Harold Jensen, Wakefield’s Mark Plansky off the bench.

And with all due respect to Plansky, a classmate in Electrical Engineering ’88, this version of the Wildcats have about twice the number of scoring options and are playing even better defense. That 1985 squad had the advantage this one doesn’t-playing with no shot clock. And still, this team has found ways to shut down UCLA, Duke and Pitt in three straight games.

Final take:

Villanova 71, North Carolina 68

Read More: March Madness, North Carolina, Villanova,
The lonesome shooter 04.02.09 at 1:22 pm ET
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With apologies to Adam Sandler, Ray Allen felt like the Lonesome Shooter on Wednesday night.

He had no lift or life in his jump shot in the fourth quarter and teammate Eddie House, who was on fire, gave him some friendly advice.

“It was like for a second, everything was flat,” Allen said. “I just needed to kind of back away from it and just get my legs back. I went out of the game and kind of clean-slated it. Eddie was telling me, obviously one of the best shooters in the NBA, he was telling me, ‘I don’t normally say anything to you but your shot, everything is flat.’ It’s all in my legs. There were two shots I took before I left the game. I think in the fourth quarter, it was just legs and I knew it once the ball left my fingertips. It’s a funky thing for me.”

Another teammate, Paul Pierce, called Ray Ray the best clutch shooter he’s ever seen.

“I’ll proclaim Ray the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA that I’ve ever seen,” Pierce said after Allen’s game-winner with 2.1 seconds to go in double-OT.

But Allen remained humble.

“He didn’t play with Reggie Miller,” Allen said. “I’m sure he would’ve seen heroics from him day-in and day-out. I think it’s all predicated on what you do in clutch situations. I think on a couple of buzzer-beaters I’ve hit, he’s been the passer. He’s been right there, personally. It’s odd because Paul’s the one that always has the ball but I’m the one who’s made a couple of buzzer-beaters the last two years. He’s hit a lot of big shots but it always somebody makes a mistake. Eddie’s out there, I’m out there, Kevin’s out there to make them pay for their bad rotations.

“In my mind, I always think the next shot is always the one that going to go in and the next shot after that is the going to be the shot to win the game. Regardless of what’s happened up to this point, my mind has to be ready to take that shot as if I’m in the gym myself.”

Just like Andre Kristacovitchlalinski, Jr.

Read More: Adam Sandler, Celtics, Lonesome Kicker, NBA
Ray for Hall of Fame 04.02.09 at 12:39 am ET
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It should be pretty obvious to everyone who watches the NBA that Ray Allen will be headed to Springfield and the Basketball Hall of Fame after his career is over.

Wednesday night’s game-winner is just another moment in a career filled with game-winning heroics.

But with Kevin Garnett on the sideline and the Celtics needing a pick-me-up, Ray Allen was bigger than life.

Listen to the praise of his teammates.

Paul Pierce: “That’s Ray.  He’s a future Hall of Famer, and great players find a way.  When Ray shoots and misses shots, it doesn’t discourage him.  You know this from great players.  His confidence is through the roof regardless if he’s missed two, three, or four hundred shots in a row, he always feels like the next one is going to go in.  I’ll proclaim Ray the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA that I’ve ever seen.”

Eddie House, who actually gave advice to Ray when he noticed he wasn’t getting lift in his shot earlier in the game: “It just takes one. I told Ray, I told him don’t worry man you’re going knock it down when we really need and he did exactly that. Shooters aren’t afraid to take the next shot, always got confidence in self. Even when he had some air balls he came back and found himself. That’s just a hall of fame player right there.”

Read More: Celtics, NBA, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Getting spoiled 04.02.09 at 12:21 am ET
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Does life get any better for Boston basketball fans?

Their NBA franchise is the defending world champion and bearing down on another high seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs.

TD Banknorth Garden just hosted one of the most memorable college basketball games in history, as Villanova edged Pittsburgh, 78-76, in the East Regional championship last Saturday.

And then there was Wednesday night. Celtics 111, Bobcats 109. Double-overtime. Best Celtics game of the season. Best game of the NBA season. Want proof?

Trailing by 12 with 6:01 to go, Eddie House drains the first of back-to-back threes to make it a six-point game. Trailing by eight with two minutes to go, the Celtics rally as Rajon Rondo hits a pair of free throws to force OT.

Ray Allen drains a three with 12.4 seconds to tie the game, 101-101, and force overtime No. 2, foreshadowing what was to come.

Allen makes a three late in double overtime for the lead. Former UConn star Emeka Okefor converts a layup to put Charlotte back on top. Allen airballs a three. All hope appears lost. But the Bobcats fail to get a shot off.

Then, with the Celtics needing just two to win and down 109-108, Paul Pierce drives into traffic and then dishes to a wide-open Allen on the right baseline. Allen launches another three and this time the ball finds nothing but net and the clock reads 2.1 seconds. 111-109 Boston. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, NBA, Ray Allen,
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