Basketball: It's been divine Providence this year

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Basketball: It's been divine Providence this year

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

PROVIDENCE -- Once again, Providence College is surprising people.

When the Friars hosted the Huskies on Wednesday, they also hosted a hoard of media, 11,137 fans, and plenty of expectations. Connecticut, after all, was playing inspired basketball.

Head coach Jim Calhoun was continuing his leave to "address some medical issues" for the third straight game. In the meantime, his team was winning -- and winning big.

UConn sauntered into the Dunkin' Donuts Center just days after knocking off the No. 1 Texas Longhorns. It was the biggest conceivable win for the up-and-down Huskies. Beating Texas bolstered their resume, gave them their swagger back, and launched them back into the much coveted top-25.

For Providence, it only made the target on UConn's back that much bigger.

That night the Friars stole the show. They out-muscled Connecticut on the glass, they shredded its defense, and they summoned both composure and intensity where UConn could not. As the buzzer sounded, fans poured over the Center's seats and thundered onto the hardwood in a rush to reach their team.

Final score from Providence: PC 81, UC 66.

"We were ready for this game," said freshman guard Vincent Council. "We know we can play with anyone; it's just a matter of going out there and playing hard and playing our game."

So to what degree was this really an upset?

Although UConn took its season further than Providence in all but one of the years in question, the Friars have beaten the Huskies 6 times in their last 10 meetings. Wednesday's win was the fourth for PC in five games. Connecticut was also visiting Rhode Island without having posted a single conference win on the road.

And it looked like UConn thought it proved all it needed to by beating the Longhorns over the weekend. PC, however, had a sizable chip on its shoulder from Saturday. First came the heart-breaking 109-105 overtime home loss to South Florida. It was an ugly ending, with the Bulls overcoming a 12-point deficit in the last two minutes to force OT.

Yet the fallout was worse. Coach Keno Davis, unhappy with his team's performance, publicly criticized his players.

"We don't have players who are able to stop one-on-one dribble penetration," Davis told the media. "We have some guys who are very good scorers that are big weak spots for us defensively."

The remarks drew criticism of their own for being thought harsh and Davis wasted little time personally accepting responsibility for the loss. What he did not do was backtrack. "I don't regret anything I said because we need players who are motivated to improve," he stated.

Clearly, something clicked.

Shutting down UConn's attempts at a comeback so completely gave the PC coach unbridled confidence. In the postgame he asserted that the victory was no fluke, stating that his Friars could beat any team in the country. Davis will get the chance to test that theory in the coming weeks. Six of Providence's next eight Big East games will be against nationally ranked teams: No. 4 Syracuse, No. 3 Villanova, No. 9 West Virginia, and No. 11 Georgetown. Can Providence compete with the upper half of the conference?

They have at least exceeded preseason expectations. In a late October coaches poll, 52 points put Providence at an estimated 13th-place finish in the Big East. A 4-4 record has the Friars locked into the middle of the pack with Notre Dame and Cincinnati.

With a 6-foot-8 center, the Friars are small compared to the bruisers in the Big East. They're also inexperienced. The roster this season is stocked with freshman as only three returning players from 2008-09 actually scored a point.

But sometimes small can work. It did against UConn. Providence actually out-rebounded the Huskies 53-38, something that Calhoun's second-in-command, George Blaney, said "never happens." PC also managed to score more points in the paint (44-32) by spreading their offense and attacking the gaps.

On the other hand, inexperience is what caused the Friars to fall to South Florida. A missed dunk by Jamine Peterson was the first thread pulled in their unraveling. A Marshon Brooks turnover followed, and a couple of Vincent Council misses from the charity stripe failed to protect the lead. Add in a trepid defense that's afraid to foul and sloppy, rushed passing, and it's not hard to imagine that Syracuse or Villanova could rip Providence to shreds.

No matter what happens, Keno Davis is hanging on to his trademark hard-line optimism. And one would be wise to keep an eye on PC in the coming weeks.

They might surprise you again.

Blakely: Blown call didn't cost Celtics the game Saturday vs. Blazers

Blakely: Blown call didn't cost Celtics the game Saturday vs. Blazers

WALTHAM -- You won’t find the Boston Celtics blaming anyone but themselves for Saturday’s 127-123 overtime loss to Portland. 
 
But they certainly didn’t get any breaks down the stretch from the referees, who made a huge officiating mistake in the final seconds of regulation. 

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Following a Celtics miss in the game’s closing seconds, Blazers guard Damian Lillard wound up with the ball but was stripped almost immediately by Marcus Smart, who put the steal back in for a lay-up that would have given Boston a one-point lead with 10.8 seconds to play. 
 
The ruling on the floor at the time was a foul against Smart. But officials later determined as part of their report on the final two minutes of the game, that the foul against Smart was an incorrect call.
 
“It just pisses you off, doesn’t it?” Crowder said. “It just pisses you off. I don’t like it.”
 
Crowder, like a number of players I have spoken to about this particular subject, is not a fan of the league releasing the information. 
 
And his reasoning, like his NBA brethren, is simple. 
 
There’s no recourse relative to that particular game if the officials in fact got a call wrong. 
 
So for their purposes, the transparency that the league is seeking, while just, doesn’t do them a damn bit of good when it comes to what matters most to them. Which is wins and losses. 
 
“It’s over now. It’s too late to confirm it now,” said Smart who told media following the loss that the steal was clean. “The game is over with. It is what it is; on to the next game now.”
 
Smart added that having the league confirm the call was wrong is frustrating. 
 
“They come back and tell you they miss the call, but it’s over now,” Smart said. “We’re on to the next game. It’s like they shouldn’t even said it. But I understand it; they’re trying to take responsibility and show they made a bad call. We appreciate it but at that time as a player it’s frustrating. That possibly could have won us the game.”
 
But as Smart, coach Brad Stevens and other players asked about it mentioned, Boston made so many mistakes against the Blazers and played so uncharacteristically for long stretches that it would be unfair and just not right to pin the game’s outcome on one bad call late in the game. 
 
“It happens,” said Stevens who added that he’s never read a two-minute report other than what he has seen published by the media. “There were plenty of things we could have done better.”
 
He’s right.
 
That blown call didn’t cost the Boston Celtics the game. 
 
Their play did. 
 
The Celtics turned the ball over 21 times that led to 34 points, both season highs. 
 
They couldn’t contain C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, two of the league’s most explosive guards who combined for 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting.
 
Boston allowed Myers Leonard to score a season-high 17 points. 
 
Certainly the bad call against Smart was a factor. 
 
But it would not have been an issue if the Celtics had done a better job of controlling the things they could have controlled, like defending shooters better, making smarter decisions when it came to passing the ball and maybe most significant, play with a higher, more consistent level of aggression around the rim. 

Bradley, Green and Jackson to miss Celtics' game Tuesday against Wizards

Bradley, Green and Jackson to miss Celtics' game Tuesday against Wizards

WALTHAM -- The team flight to Washington for tomorrow night's game against the Wizards will be a little lighter than the Celtics would like. 
 
Boston continues to be cautious with Avery Bradley and his right Achilles strain injury. Coach Brad Stevens confirmed that the 6-foot-2 guard won't travel and will sit out for the seventh time in the last eight games. 

Stevens added he didn't anticipate Bradley returning to the court anytime this week, which means he's likely not to return until next week's game against Detroit on Jan. 30. 
 
Bradley won’t be the only Celtic not making the trip for health-related reasons. Gerald Green and Demetrius Jackson are both not traveling due to sickness. 
 
However, the Celtics did get a bit of good news on the health front. Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller, both having missed games with sickness, will take the trip to D.C. with the rest of their teammates.