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.

OFFSEASON

Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

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Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three, first-round picks on International players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either of Boston’s international first rounder picks Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here, … is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the International top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding … now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.

Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

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Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

BUFFALO -- With it appearing that Loui Eriksson is all but gone from the Bruins with the July 1 opening of free agency around the corner, B’s general manager Don Sweeney must find a way to replace the second-leading point man from last year’s hockey club. With or without a suitable Eriksson replacement at right wing via trade or free agency, the Bruins will also need greater production from their returning wingers on the right side.

That means 20-year-old David Pastrnak needs to have a breakthrough season after the Bruins knocked away attempts to extract him in trade discussions for a top-4 defenseman, and Jimmy Hayes needs to rebound from a streaky, disappointing first season in Boston. The 6-foot-6 Hayes slumped to 13 goals and 29 points in 75 games, and was a team-worst minus-12 while going through long stretches where it was hard to even notice him on the ice.

His GM said that needs to change next season with the Bruins counting on him to play more consistently, and be willing to play the big man’s game.

“We have internal candidates that might have to step up, and David is a player like that…Jimmy is a player like that. There’s no question we’re not a complete team right now,” said Sweeney. “So we’ll go to work now, and that could be through free agency, or through potential trade stuff. It could also be about the excitement if somebody pops from the development side of things. I think Jimmy had a pretty start to the year, but he really tailed off when the team needed him most. He should take some responsibility for that. We had a pretty frank discussion about that to challenge him to take his game to another level, and be able to help out a younger player.

“He played a lot with Ryan Spooner. I have to put ownership on Jimmy in terms of saying ‘Hey, I have to take more responsibility. It’s not just about finishing and scoring goals.’ He has the capacity to do that. He gets power play time and net-front time, and he needs to get to the hard areas of the ice with more consistency. It’s an area that he needs to continue to improve upon. We as an organization feel that we need to have players that are driven to get better.”

As far as the free agent options mentioned by Sweeney, Kyle Okposo and Troy Brouwer would be names to watch closely as they both fight the Black and Gold mold of winger with size, strength and finishing ability.

Clearly there’s no choice but for the 26-year-old Hayes to have a bounce-back season given that he’s signed for two years in Boston at $2.3 million per season, and that they need him with the right side of their forward group in flux. 

Ray Bourque arrested and charged with OUI Friday

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Ray Bourque arrested and charged with OUI Friday

Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque was arrested in Andover this weekend, and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol according to multiple reports.

Andover Police told CBS Boston that the former Bruins and Avalanche defenseman was taken into custody around 11:30 p.m. Friday night on Lowell Street. The Bruins legend has lived on the North Shore with his family since retiring from the NHL, and has been a constant presence in the community at charitable events and Bruins functions.

Bourque was released on bail. No additional information was immediately available