Cardillo here checking in some a deflated Alumni Hall after No. 1 Hillhouse defeated No. 2 Fairfield Prep 59-44 Tuesday night.
First the good for the Jesuits.
The building was packed, the atmosphere was what you’d expect for a showdown of the state’s top two ranked teams.
Prep junior center Paschal Chukwu blocked nine shots in front of the watchful eye of UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
For the first couple minutes Jesuits’ guards Tommy Nolan, Ryan Murphy and Keith Pettway were flying around the court.
And then … the bad.
Hillhouse didn’t exactly blow Prep’s doors off, rather the Jesuits went the final five minutes in the second quarter without a hoop. It turned a game that was tied at 15 into a nine-point Academics lead at the break. The hole proved too deep to dig out of for Prep.
The Academics proved to have too much scoring in the forms of Shane Christie, Andre Anderson and Raiquan Clark.
Yes, the Jesuits made a late run and got to as close as seven points in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough with the Academics going into a four-corners, slowdown and making enough shots to never let Prep make them sweat.
The debate from this will be if Fairfield Prep’s lofty perch in the state polls was inflated. Remember, the Jesuits had won all their prior games by double-digits. The Academics, though, had more scoring punch across the floor and never went into an extended drought.
Doesn’t hurt either that Hillhouse has played in plenty of “big” games prior to tonight, including last year’s Class LL final.
That said, the Academics will be a heavy favorite the next time the teams play on Feb. 1 in New Haven.
Fairfield Prep is very good.
Hillhouse just happens to be better, by a solid margin.
* Ollie has watched Chukwu twice in person in the last week. He’s 7-foot-2 and getting better. Can he play in the Big East, err, whichever conference UConn finds itself playing in down the road? Probably. It’s not like the Huskies have never had success with a Nigerian shot-blocking center before. Perhaps the name Emeka Okafor rings a bell.
* Rarity in the first quarter, as neither team committed a turnover.
* Much respect to the kid in the Fairfield Prep “Bomb Squad” wearing a t-shirt with a Kelly Kapowski graphic on it.