Friday, January 06, 2006

I promise, the end of Marquette/UConn madness

From ESPN's college hoops report card:


Speaking of friendship ... Marquette's Steve Novak has some pretty high-profile friends -- like Dwyane Wade and Travis Diener. Those two were Marquette's top players in 2002-03, when the Golden Eagles flew all the way to the Final Four.

Novak was just a freshman then, coming off the bench. But he came up huge in Marquette's tourney run. He went 3-for-3 from 3-point range in overtime in Marquette's second-round win over Missouri. He knocked down three more 3s against Pittsburgh in the next round. And he drilled five treys against Kentucky in the regional final.

Novak's next two seasons didn't go as well. Wade made the leap to the NBA after the Final Four. And Marquette has had to settle for two straight NITs. Now Diener's in the NBA, too, and it's Novak's team. He has some young talent around him. But Marquette just joined the Big East, the deepest conference in the country, and the Golden Eagles were picked to finish 12th out of 16 teams in the league coaches' preseason poll.

So what did Marquette do in its first-ever Big East game Tuesday night? Oh, just blew out the No. 2 team in the country, undefeated UConn, 94-79. And what did Novak do in his first-ever Big East game? Oh, just put up 41 points and 16 rebounds.

41 points and 16 rebounds. No wonder he got a call from Diener right after the game. That performance deserves an A+, doesn't it?

Novak, despite his size (6-foot-10) is one of the best pure shooters in the country. Last season, he was sixth in the nation in 3-point percentage (46.1). And he has made 63 consecutive free throws, dating back to year. "I've never had a kid work harder than Steve, particularly on shooting," Marquette coach Tom Crean says.

UConn simply couldn't handle Steve Novak.But Novak also has a knack for coming up big when it counts the most. Besides the games already mentioned, he scored 28 points in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout against South Carolina earlier this season and was named the tourney's MVP. And his previous career high, before the UConn game? Thirty points in a huge road win vs. Louisville his sophomore year.

But Novak played at an even higher level against the Huskies on Tuesday. He was all over the glass. He was extremely aggressive looking for his shots. And he connected on so many. He finished 12-for-20 from the field, including six 3s.

Why does Novak play so well in big games? "Steve's got a good balance of focus and intensity, yet he has a certain calmness about him," Crean says. "When he's really locked in, he can play with just about anybody."

"When I have my best games, I don't even really think about my shot," Novak says. "I'm just so focused."

Novak's main focus is getting back to the Big Dance. If he can lead the Golden Eagles there, he'll have all the friends he could ever want around Marquette.

But no matter what, Novak should get a chance to join his friends Travis and Dwyane in the NBA next year.

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