PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Jim Calhoun and UConn are both back in familiar spots.
Calhoun returned to his regular seat on the bench and led the Huskies to another berth in the round of 16.
A.J. Price scored 27 points, Jeff Adrien had 23 and Connecticut dominated Texas A&M from the opening tip in a 92-66 victory on Saturday, putting the Huskies in the round of 16 for the 12th time under their Hall of Fame coach.
“Are we special yet?” Calhoun said. “A couple of wins from now, we’re going to have an idea.”
After getting treatment for dehydration and missing Connecticut’s first-round game, Calhoun came back and never had to worry. The Huskies scored the first 10 points and kept pulling away for their second straight NCAA blowout.
Stanley Robinson had 12 points for the top-seeded Huskies (29-4), who will play the Washington-Purdue winner in the West Region semifinals in Glendale, Ariz.
How’s this for a possible omen of what’s ahead for UConn? The 1999 and 2004 national championships both went through the Phoenix area and Calhoun missed a game in each tournament because of illness.
“We think that we’re going to be there every year and we aspire to do that,” Calhoun said.
Bryan Davis and Donald Sloan led overmatched Texas A&M with 12 points. The ninth-seeded Aggies (24-10) were knocked out by the top seed in the second round for the second straight tournament.
Calhoun appeared a bit more subdued as he sat on the bench. He barked at the refs a couple of times, but otherwise stuffed his hands in his pockets and strolled the bench area like he was talking a walk in the park.
“I think I was my usual self,” Calhoun said. “I yelled a couple things out. My wife will tell me about them later.”
The Huskies rediscovered their swagger and attitude that vaulted them to the top of the Big East standings and The Associated Press poll earlier this season, making this win an easy one.
UConn broke away at the start with a collection of mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers. They didn’t need much from Hasheem Thabeet to crush the Aggies. Thabeet, the 7-foot-3 center and co-player of the year in the Big East Conference, never even touched the ball on offense until midway through the first half. He took just two shots in the game and finished with six points.
“I normally wouldn’t think we could do what we did without Hasheem being a dominant force,” Calhoun said.
Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said he was going to use Philadelphia’s most inspirational fictional character to rally the Aggies.
He may have used Rocky, but Connecticut had Adrien.
The Aggies had won seven of eight, but surrendered their highest point total of the season and absorbed their worst loss.
“I’m not sure we played a team that good since I’ve been at A&M,” Turgeon said. “I definitely think they have a chance to be a national champion.”
Adrien showed why early.
Adrien scored the first bucket of the game, then blocked A&M’s first attempt. He grabbed a missed jumper and swung his two elbows, startling a couple of Aggies. Three possessions later, Price worked the ball in the lane to Adrien for a thunderous and uncontested dunk.
“I was very surprised after I hit the first couple jump shots, they was leaving me that open,” Adrien said. “I just kept shooting and I was feeling good.
The Aggies called their first timeout only a minute into the game, and Turgeon played Calhoun’s role as the cranky coach. He badgered the officials and was finally whistled for a technical on a foul call with 9:58 left in the first half. Price made two for the T and Thabeet swished his two and it was 22-8.
Price didn’t even attempt UConn’s first 3 until almost 9 minutes were left in the half. He made it, of course.
The Aggies made their first 10 shots in their first-round win against BYU, but missed their first five in this one. When Derrick Roland finally hit a jumper, it was already 10-2.
Texas A&M’s 10th basket came with 2:03 left in the half and UConn’s rout was already full steam ahead.
“Guys came out with a few butterflies,” Sloan said. “Big game, big stage. We shot fast, didn’t execute.”
The Huskies 24-1 start matched the 1995-96 team for best start in school history and they appeared primed for a possible No. 1 overall seed. But they lost one of their most effective outside shooters when Jerome Dyson went down with a knee injury, and the Huskies closed the season only 3-3 in their final six games—including the classic six-overtime loss to Syracuse.
The finish didn’t rob them of a No. 1 seed, but it did seem to make them more vulnerable than invincible.
“This should be a message sent showing that we are good team,” Price said. “We’ve had a great year, thus far. Anyone who questioned we were a No. 1 seed, I think we answered those questions by playing hard and showing people we could beat good teams.”
Price helped the Huskies pull away in a sizzling stretch to close the first 20 minutes. He hit a pull-up 3 pointer, scored a layup off a turnover, then nailed another 3 that made it 46-22.
OK, he wasn’t perfect. He traveled on the next possession.
The second half was academic, simply a time for UConn to pad its stats and put the finishing touches on the rout. The Huskies roughed up Chattanooga 103-47 win in the third-largest margin of victory in NCAA tournament history.
“I’m really surprised we never made a run,” Turgeon said. “That’s a credit to how good they are. We just couldn’t get a stop.”
The Aggies had no answer for Adrien and Price, who shot a combined 19-for-32 from the floor. Adrien didn’t come out until 2 minutes were left and Price followed at the 1:30 mark and the Huskies up 26.
“We both played very big today in a big-time game,” Price said.