Saturday, November 29, 2008

UAlbany Men's Basketball Vs Penn @ Sefcu Arena - Game Writeups

The UAlbany basketball team is still a work in progress, and head coach Will Brown has decided — at least for now — not to anguish over it.

The up-and-down Great Danes are riding a three-game winning streak heading into

tonight’s home game against perennial Ivy League power Pennsylvania, but Brown knows it will still take a while for him to fully understand how to get the most out of his starting lineup, and how to utilize his entire roster.

“Have I figured this team out yet? No,” said Brown. “I’ve got to stop banging my head against the wall trying to figure everything out. I’ve got to take a deep breath with these guys, because it will take a little time. I’ve got to be more patient than I’d like to be. We’ll have our ups and downs, but at least we’ve had more ups than downs, so far.”

Brown said the 3-2 Great Danes have played well, for the most part, yet there are still many pieces of the puzzle that haven’t come together.

“We lost the two games that we were supposed to lose [against Villanova and DePaul of the Big East], but we won the three games I thought we should win,” Brown said.

“In the Bryant and Central Connecticut State games, we let big leads slip away, but it didn’t affect us that much. It almost bit us in the butt in the Central Connecticut game, but we won, anyway. Then, after the first eight or nine minutes of our last game against Columbia, we settled down and played very well the rest of the way.”

Brown admitted that many of the players in his normal rotation have surprised him.

“I was thinking about shortening our rotation before the last game. I thought Jerel Hastings wasn’t giving us anything offensively, and that was the area I was going to cut back on. But then during the Col­umbia game, I thought we needed a spark, and Jerel’s an energy guy. He goes out and scores 13 of his 15 points in the first half. If anything, Jerel made it even more confusing for me to figure out who will play and how much. He’s a mid-range shooter and is very athletic. If he’s more aggressive, like he was against Columbia, then he’ll get more playing time.”

Another confusing player for Brown is Will Harris, the 6-foot-6 transfer from the University of Virginia who was supposed to be one of Great Danes’ primary players. Harris scored in double digits against both Big East opponents and also had 18 points and nine rebounds against Central Connecticut State, but he was almost invisible against Columbia Tuesday night.

“His knee is still bothering him, but not to the point where he should have scored just one point the other night,” Brown said. “Right now, he’s unselfish to a fault. He played two solid games against Villanova and DePaul. He got hurt against Bryant, but he played well against Central Connecticut in the first half. He wasn’t that aggressive in the second half. The same was true against Columbia. There are only so many ways you can tell a kid to be aggressive. It’s a feeling out process for him. He’s trying to be a sponge, and learn everything so quickly.”

Sophomore guard Tim Ambrose paces the Danes in scoring at just under 14 points per game. Brian Connelly, who registered 11 points and seven rebounds against Columbia, Harris, freshman point guard Anthony Raffa and 6-11 junior center Brett Gifford are the other usual starters.

The Quakers, who have won 25 Ivy League championships and have made 23 NCAA tournament appearances, are off to a 1-3 start. Tyler Bernadini, the 2008 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, tops the team in scoring at 17.5 ppg. Other key players include 6-3 senior guard Kevin Egee (14.0 ppg), 6-7 Brennan Votel (10.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and 6-8 Jack Eggleston.

“Penn was a unanimous pick to finish second in the Ivy League. They might be the best team in the league,” said Brown. “They like to spread you out, and they use a lot of dribble-handoffs along with a lot of three-pointers. They play very little man-to-man defense. They’ll use a matchup zone, and they will force you to shoot jumpers. Two things will happen. Either you will be very aggressive and don’t settle for jumpers, or you have to make your jump shots. I don’t want us to take quick jump shots against them.”

By Bob Weiner - Gazette Reporter

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UAlbany tries to learn Penn's system - Team is similar to Danes' future opponent Hartford.

The University at Albany men's basketball team plays its first America East Conference game Saturday night, in a sense, even though the league opener is five weeks away.

The Great Danes (3-2) welcome the University of Pennsylvania to SEFCU Arena, an opponent that bears a striking similarity to one of UAlbany's America East rivals.

"This will be a great test for us because this team plays a lot like Hartford,'' Brown said. "They spread the floor out and really try to expose you, and if we don't communicate, it could be a long night for us.''

Like Hartford, the Quakers (1-3) like to shoot 3-pointers and employ a motion offense rather than using a lot of set plays. Penn also relies on a matchup zone defense, a favorite of the Hawks.

UAlbany struggled badly against Hartford's offense in a 68-63 loss at SEFCU Arena last year, allowing the Hawks to shoot 56 percent from the field in the second half.

Brown often talks about using his nonleague schedule to get ready for conference play, and this is a perfect example.

"It's a game that will help us get ready for a team like Hartford in our league that plays very similar,'' Brown said. "And it's a good challenge for us to see where we're at because this team plays differently than any team we've played so far (this season).''

And yet while Hartford is new to success, reaching the America East final for the first time last season, Penn is likely the most prestigious program ever to visit SEFCU Arena.

The Quakers have won 25 Ivy League championships and were picked second in the preseason coaches' poll behind defending champion Cornell.

They're led by 6-6 sophomore forward Tyler Bernardini, the 2008 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, who scored 26 points against top-ranked North Carolina in the season opener on Nov. 15.

"He can really shoot the ball,'' Brown said. "He's very crafty. He's one of those kids, you've got to make him work. He's not a guy that breaks you down off the dribble. He's a guy that scores out of their system.''

With that in mind, Brown worked his team extensively in practice the past two days in defending the dribble handoffs and ball screens that are staples of Penn's offense.

One emphasis was communication on defense, which Brown said has been a team weakness so far.

"We've got talk to each other,'' Brown said. "Let your teammate know what kind of screen is coming. Make sure we're in the right place at the right time. We haven't been consistent.''

UAlbany freshman point guard Anthony Raffa said Penn should be a challenge for a team with eight new players.

"They run many things that can confuse on the defensive end because they're a smart team,'' Raffa said. "In our program, there's a lot of new guys and we're trying to get communication with one another and work things out.''


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