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UConn's Price back from bad bounces

A.J. Price figures he was 10, maybe 11 years old when his father, Tony Price, first told him he played in the Final Four in 1979 when he was at Penn.

A.J. Price figures he was 10, maybe 11 years old when his father, Tony Price, first told him he played in the Final Four in 1979 when he was at Penn.

A typical pre-teenager at the time, A.J. Price didn't think much of it. But by the time he got to high school in Amityville, N.Y., it registered. The old man played in the Final Four? At Penn?

"As I got to high school, I understood how special it was that he took an Ivy League school to the Final Four," Price said yesterday. "Something that will never be done again. Not a chance."

Price hopes to someday swap Final Four stories with his father, but he's running out of time. He's the senior point guard for Connecticut, the No. 1 seed in the West Regional, which will play No. 16 seed Chattanooga today in a first-round game at the Wachovia Center.

Strange as it may seem for a senior at a school that has advanced to the Sweet 16 nine times since 1994 and the Elite Eight six times since 1995, Price, the Huskies' leading scorer, has only nine minutes of playing time in the NCAA tourney.

His first crack at extended playing time on the game's biggest stage came last season - UConn didn't make the tourney two years ago. Nine minutes into a first-round game against San Diego, Price tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Without their top playmaker and one of their best three-point shooters, the Huskies went down to a 70-69 defeat in overtime.

"Last year I felt good and something unfortunate happened," he said. "I'm feeling good this year, and we'll see what happens."

A lot has happened to Price since he chose UConn among the bevy of schools that recruited him. He's an example of a young man who has taken the bad with the good. He missed his freshman year because of a condition called arteriovenous malformation, which caused bleeding in his brain. After radiosurgery treatment, he was cleared to play for the 2006-07 season. But that wasn't until after the university suspended him for the '05-06 academic year because he was involved in the theft of laptop computers.

There may be no other player in the tourney who has been through as much as Price, so a trip to the Final Four would be especially sweet.

"I really haven't gotten that far ahead of myself yet," the 6-foot-2 guard said. "Everybody knows I've been through a lot in my college career. It's still going. That's the way I look at it. Got one last tournament to play in, and we could play as many as six more games."

Price's role for the Huskies has expanded since backcourt mate Jerome Dyson was lost for the season with torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury many believe will severely diminish UConn's chance for a national championship. Price has taken on more of the scoring and ballhandling duties.

In the eight games without Dyson, the Huskies went 5-3 after going 22-1 and rising to No. 1 in the polls with him. Meantime, Price's minutes increased dramatically, from 29.3 a game with Dyson to 38.5 without him, most on the team. And since Dyson went down, Price has averaged 19.0 points a game. With Dyson, he was at 12.2 a game.

Even though UConn is clearly diminished without Dyson, Price said the Huskies have adjusted to life without him.

"You understand any time you lose a great talent like that, you're going to have to make some adjustments in order to pick up what he means to the team," said Price, who leads the team with 142 assists. "I think we've adapted well and adjusted well since losing Jerome. I think everybody's confidence is where it needs to be, and I think we will go out there with our swagger and play as hard as we possibly can."