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Calhoun contributing despite ailing wrist

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published March 02. 2013 4:00AM
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo
UConn freshman Omar Calhoun, shown here battling for a rebound with DePaul's Charles McKinney during a game last Saturday, has improved his inside and outside game for the Huskies.

Every time UConn's Omar Calhoun shoots, he feels pain.

He's played with a taped right wrist since injuring it against Villanova on Feb. 16.

He's inflicting his share of pain, too.

Calhoun fought off the discomfort and buried a clutch game-tying 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation against seventh-ranked Georgetown, which eventually beat the Huskies in double overtime on Thursday.

"I'm confident when I get the ball where ever," Calhoun said Thursday. "That's one thing I've always had is confidence."

Just the fact that the Huskies counted on him in a crucial situation shows how much faith they have in the freshman guard.

"He's been working on his game," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He hit that big shot, but it was our guards trusting him, too. They trust him to make that shot, so that just shows the reputation that he has in that locker room.

"That goes back to what he does in practice, shooting after practice, coming in when nobody is watching, coming here at night taking his shots. It's good for him."

Calhoun is nearly a lock to earn a spot on the All-Big East rookie team. He has three games remaining, including today's battle at Cincinnati (19-9, 7-8) at Fifth Third Arena (2 p.m., SNY), to continue to state his case.

UConn (19-8, 9-6) needs one victory to guarantee a winning Big East record for the first time since 2008-09. The Huskies won the first meeting between in overtime (73-66) on Feb. 21 in Hartford.

Calhoun isn't the only hurting Husky. Junior Shabazz Napier is dealing with a sore right ankle that he aggravated against Georgetown. It's the same ankle that he had surgery on last summer and tweaked again recently. He was wearing a walking boot when he arrived in Cincinnati on Friday night and his ability likely won't be determined until just prior to today's opening tip.

In a way, Calhoun's injury has been beneficial to him. He's been forced to expand his game, driving to the basket instead of mainly shooting from the perimeter. He's also passing more, recording a personal best four assists at DePaul last Saturday.

Perhaps Calhoun's biggest improvement is in the rebounding department. A 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard, he's been one of UConn's most consistent rebounders in recent weeks.

He's grabbed at least five rebounds in each of the last eight games, averaging 5.6 during that span.

"I know as a big guard, I can mix it up with the bigs and rebound," Calhoun said. "I try to make sure I'm showing that aspect of my game, too."

Calhoun is still a scorer at heart. He's in the midst of his most productive stretch, scoring in double digits in a personal best seven straight games while averaging 14.6 points. Overall, he's No. 3 on the team at 11.7 per game.

With opponents well-aware of his 3-point shooting prowess, he's learning to attack off the dribble with greater frequency, leading to regular trips to the foul line where he's a 75.5 percent shooter.

"Omar came in as a scorer," Ollie said. "He was spotting up a little bit early in the season and that's where he stayed for a couple games. Then we really started telling him about the pump fakes and using his body, getting to the rim.

"He's a sponge. He takes coaching very, very well. He got to the free throw line nine times (against Villanova). He still has the ability to shoot the three and his passing ability has been great the latter parts of the season. And now he's really putting his nose in there getting rebounds."

It's unlikely that Calhoun will be fully healthy again this season. The hectic schedule leaves him little time for rest. But he is determined to fight through the pain.

"I've just got to concentrate a little more on just my form and everything because it hurts every time I shoot it, but I'm able to still knock shots down and do good things for the team," Calhoun said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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