Nov. 22, 2008 — With the powerhouse University of Connecticut on the court against the La Salle Explorers Friday night, it was no surprise that this year's Paradise Jam Basketball Tournament saw one of the biggest opening night crowds ever at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
UConn's cheering section was substantially bigger than La Salle's Friday, but it really wasn't the size of the crowd that mattered — it was about the game, and the fact that La Salle came out going blow for blow with the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Holding the lead for the majority of the first half, La Salle had Husky fans nervous, but with the strong play of forward Jeff Adrien, who scored 13 points while grabbing eight rebounds in the first half, UConn took a 46-40 lead into halftime.
The second half looked even by the box score, with the Huskies outscoring La Salle by two points, but from the spectator's view, the Huskies seemed to be in control, going up by as much as 10. The much-touted Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet picked up the pace in the second half, blocking five shots and throwing down a couple of alley-oops, while Adrien continued his strong play, finishing the game with 22 points.
Off the bench, Kemba Walker led UConn with 23 points, propelling them to the 89-81 win over LaSalle. Starting forward for LaSalle Rodney Green led all scores with 25 points. While the Huskies might have played down to their competition, a much-needed day off Saturday will help them get their minds right for the next opponent on Sunday.
The tournament opened up Friday with the University of Miami taking care of Southern Mississippi 70-60. Miami dominated the first half, taking a 12-point lead into the break, 36-24. Miami's defense only allowed Southern Mississippi to shoot 31 percent from the field in the first half.
The second half was more of the same, with Miami's defense leading to multiple fast breaks, allowing the Hurricanes to cruise to the easy 10-point victory. Leading scorers for Miami were Dwayne Collins, with 14 points and nine rebounds, followed by Jack McClinton and Lance Hurdle, both with 13 points.
Jeremy Weiss for Southern Mississippi led all scores with 21 points.
The tournament's second game had the San Diego Toreros facing Valparaiso in a back and forth battle. Both teams shot just about the same — about 44 percent — from the field in the first half, but it was San Diego that took the 37-30 lead into the break. The second half showed more of the same even play, with both teams scoring exactly 36 points — but it was the Toreros that held on for the 73-66 win.
The leading scorer of the game came off the bench for San Diego, as Gino Pomare dropped 17 to go along with his 12 rebounds, followed by teammate Brandon Johnson who finished with 14 and eight.
Erik Buggs led Valparaiso with 16 points, followed by teammate Urule Igbavboa with 13 points.
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