Early Wake-Up Calls For Hartford, Quinnipiac Teams

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John Gallagher has a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call for his Hartford Hawks Tuesday in Fort Myers. He doesn't want another one at 7:10, another at 7:15 and yet another at 7:30 a.m.

"Nebraska, the other night, didn't let Florida Gulf Coast have one dunk in their opening game," Gallagher said Sunday. "If we can do that, we'll be in good shape in Dunk City. I don't think that will happen. I hope it happens. I'm just really concerned about our energy, sold-out game, 7 a.m. Responding early will be huge for us."

Coaches, hurting for anything more original, love to say, "This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon." Well, this one isn't a sprint. It's a 29-hour, 18-game, sixth annual ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. It'll start at 7 p.m. Monday with the UConn women's fans standing in Storrs for the opening tipoff between the No. 1 Huskies and No. 3 Stanford and it won't end until Kansas wunderkind Andrew Wiggins — or maybe Duke wunderkind Jabari Parker — says so Tuesday night in Chicago in the State Farms Champions Classic.

In between, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will take, by my measure, a 20,204-mile journey through the college game that will include No. 1 Kentucky-No. 2 Michigan State from Chicago, a New Mexico State at Hawaii game that starts at midnight local time/5 a.m. Eastern and a couple of jumbo coffee-required early morning games with two local teams.

I used road mileage for games in the 48 contiguous states and as-the-crow-flies from Hawaii, so I might be off by a yard or two. But I'm not off in advising Tim Welch, who'll be an analyst for the Kent State at Temple game Monday night and the Quinnipiac at La Salle game at 9 a.m. Tuesday to stay hydrated and get a good night's sleep. And you, Kara Lawson. Don't pull a hammy rushing from Gampel Pavilion to an 11 a.m. LSU at UMass game Tuesday.

"Jack McDonald, our AD, and I have sort of been lobbying ESPN for years to become a part of [the marathon]," said Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, whose team won its opener over Hartford 82-77 Saturday at the Connecticut 6 Classic in Bridgeport. "Typically, the niche for the mid-major teams in the Northeast has been one of those early morning time slots when it comes back from Hawaii."

"Although we would have loved to have it at home, it would be neat for our students, we're thrilled they looked favorably enough on us to get us in the lineup. There are some big names there. It's still a fight for name recognition. President [John L.] Lahey feels any opportunity, athletically, we can get to put our name forward, that it's good for Quinnipiac."

Moore doesn't believe the 9 a.m. tip will be a burden.

"Ironically, this semester we practice in the mornings," Moore said. "Our body clocks, I don't think, will be too thrown off. Our kids have 8 a.m. classes, we try to start practice at 9:30 and most of their classes are in the afternoon and evening. This is my 13th semester as coach; we've probably had it this way three-four times. Both Tricia Fabbri and I have explored it. Our academic advisers get together, see what are the 'must classes' for our upper classmen for their majors. We make it fit. It does allow us for more afternoon recruiting."

The Bobcats had a late afternoon practice Sunday. They tried to clean up some things from the Hartford game in which they fell behind 13 in the first half, took a 15-point lead in the second only to watch it dwindle to one in the closing moments. They turned the X's and O's emphasis to LaSalle on film. There was a study hall at 6 p.m. There'll be 8 a.m. classes Monday, a morning practice and a bus ride to Philly afterward. Out to eat, into bed early.

"A couple more bed checks, maybe, make sure they're in their rooms," Moore said. "We usually have our meal four hours before the game [as does Gallagher]. We'll probably eat at 6 a.m. this time. You don't want them going back to bed. John's situation when you tip at 7, I think that's when it gets really tricky."

After they walked off the Webster Bank Arena court Saturday, the Hawks took the bus back to West Hartford, had film session at 8:15 a.m. Sunday and went to Bradley Airport for an 11:55 a.m. flight scheduled to arrive in Florida at 3:15 p.m. They shot around for an hour, had a reception for Hartford alums and went to dinner. On Monday, there will be study hall for 90 minutes, practice, film and bed. Up at 4:30 a.m.

"We'll go old school-style with this, bagels, fruit, at 4:50 a.m., get on the bus 5:10, get to the gym at 5:20," Gallagher said. "We have practiced Monday and Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. this fall, so with the switch over from Daylight Saving Time, it's really 6:30. We've actually had nine practices starting before the Florida Gulf Coast tip."

The thing is, Gallagher doesn't want his team too comfortable this season.

"The more uncomfortable situations I can put my team in, the better off we're going to be in January and February," Gallagher said. "Last year [as one of the youngest teams in the nation] I put them in a lot of comfortable positions and we had some great success, but for us to take the next step, I want to create more adversity."

"We're in a one-bid [NCAA Tournament] league and adversity, we need to embrace it. Things like a 7 a.m. game against a Sweet 16 team, I think that will help us in league play."

LaSalle, which lost its opener Saturday to Manhattan, was a big story last spring in beating Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss to get to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed. Only not half as big a story as Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles were everybody's darlings after they knocked off Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to get to the Sweet 16. The camera, of course, couldn't take its eye off coach Andy Enfield's wife/former bikini model, Amanda. Well, Andy and Amanda are off to USC, former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley took over as coach and the Eagles lost their opener 79-55 at Nebraska Friday night.

"We got a call from ESPN looking for a team that wanted to play at Florida Gulf Coast," Gallagher said. "Obviously, there aren't a lot of takers right now. For the growth of our program, I think we're ready just to take that step."

"My best buddy, Chris Harriman, is the assistant at Nebraska. He's an Australian. I know everything they ran against Nebraska. We'll be prepared."

One of the pluses of an ESPN2 game, Gallagher said, is that the families of his three Aussies — Corban Wroe, Taylor Dyson and Dougal Weir — will be able to watch on television. With a 16-hour time difference, it will be 11 p.m. Tuesday on Australia's east coast.

So what did your Australian buddy say about holding FGCU, which had 148 dunks last season, to no dunks? Dress the football team?

"Ha, I should tell him that," said Gallagher, still ruminating Sunday at the airport about the loss to Quinnipiac. "We should probably have pressed them earlier. I thought we were the better team for 27 minutes. But their 13 was better than our 27 and that's disappointing."

"That was the worst we've played in a 13-minute stretch since I've been here, and we still had two foul shots to tie with 29 seconds left. That's very encouraging. It's never going to be perfect. It just can't be that bad for 13 minutes."

After all, you'd hate to go Funk City in Dunk City and lose a game before 7:30 in the morning.

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