Storrs, Conn. There was a cold wind blowing through Gampel Pavilion when UConn coach Jim Calhoun brushed by St. John's coach Norm Roberts after the obligatory pregame handshake Wednesday night without saying a word, and then gave Roberts a quick handshake after the game.
"Yes, our hands touched," Roberts said, trying to defuse the situation.
Roberts has found himself in the middle of his first Big East feud in this, his second year in the league. Roberts was an assistant under Bill Self at Kansas University in 2003-04. He and Calhoun seem destined to become bitter adversaries after two controversial incidents that could redefine this rivalry.
Calhoun is a Hall of Fame coach who arguably has the most talented team in the country, but he spent most of this intense, nearly-out-of-control game in an agitated state, looking like he had drank too much caffeine during the top-ranked Huskies' 66-50 victory over the Red Storm.
It was obvious this one was personal, one of those times when Calhoun needs to reign himself in so he doesn't lose focus. He drew an early technical foul from John Cahill for arguing an out-of-bounds call and ran onto the floor, getting all over guard Marcus Williams during one second-half timeout for not identifying St. John's guard Eugene Lawrence, who went down to hit a three.
The acrimony between these two programs started last fall when guard Doug Wiggins, a valued St. John's recruit from East Hartford, Conn., de-committed and signed with the Huskies, prompting accusations and vehement denials about tampering.
It escalated two weeks ago when the charter airplane that serves both St. John's and UConn picked up the Huskies late for a trip to Syracuse. The plane was delayed because high winds and weather conditions in New York were so bad that St. John's, which was supposed to return Saturday night, could not take off until 11:30 the next morning. When Calhoun met the media that night, he suggested the reason for the delay was because St. John's had left a player back at the hotel, a story he heard from the charter pilot.
"I guess St. John's paid us back," he said, jokingly.
When Roberts, who is sensitive to any suggestions of a lack of supervision because of the Red Storm's sex-club scandal that occurred three years ago under then-coach Mike Jarvis, heard that, he fired back, saying Calhoun was stupid for making those comments and suggested he was sure Calhoun wouldn't like someone making comments about laptop computers and his program (Williams is serving probation for his involvement in the theft of computers from a dormitory). Roberts then went on to point out that the person SJU was waiting for was its academic adviser, and the delay was less than 15 minutes.
"There were no barbs coming from this program, no comments coming from this program," Calhoun said. "I said something in jest. I trust the people who follow our program not to take it seriously. I won't do it again."
Calhoun has been involved in feuds with Rick Pitino, and admitted he did not talk to him for five years when the two were at Northeastern and Boston University; he later feuded with former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino.