Marred Monday

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Plenty of hoops — an NBA quartet on NBA TV and TNT and a trio of college games on ESPN and ESPN2 — to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.

Regrettably, much of the action didn’t live up to the billing. Denver’s Kenyon Martin missed a couple of bunnies and free throws to keep the Nuggets on the wrong side of a two-point loss to the Great Wall of Yao and the Houston Rockets on NBA TV’s matinee. TNT’s early evening affair was a battle, if an ugly one, as the struggling Detroit Pistons got by the Grizzlies in Memphis.

But there wasn’t much in the way of major competition thereafter. The Phoenix Suns, even with the big Shaqtus in the middle, were down by 30 at the half to the defending champion Boston Celtics on TNT.

Meanwhile on ESPN, Pitt, which dropped from the unbeaten ranks and the collegiate top slot with a loss to Louisville on Saturday, squeezed Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange pretty tightly. Defending champion Kansas followed with a double-digit hurting of Texas A&M.

On the Deuce (hello, Keith), it was No. 1 UConn women visiting Chapel Hill and the No. 2 North Carolina Lady Tar Heels in a match of unbeatens. Rashanda McCants could have enlisted the support of her big brother and former UNC standout and current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Rashad McCants and Syracuse’s Nicole Michael could have succeeded in tripping Huskie headman Geno Auriemma and it wouldn’t have made much difference on Monday.

UConn, despite the loss of starter Caroline Doty to a season-ending ACL on Saturday against the Cuse and top player Maya Moore not at her best, broke on top early, withstood a minor UNC run, and then stomped the Heels’ 31-game home-winning streak and 76-contest skein against non-conference opponents into submission.

A record UNC home women’s crowd of 12,722 bore witness to a 30-point loss, even though TV angles made it look like most of the upper bowl was empty

Thank God, Jack Bauer was doing his thing on 24, or I might not have made it to TNT’s nightcap. LeBron led the Cavs into Staples, where Kobe and Big Chief Triangle’s tribe awaited. The reigning MVP dislocated his finger in the first couple of minutes guarding the heir apparent, who forced way too many shots. King James hit just 9-25 and the Lakers overcame a one-point halftime deficit to pull away after the intermission to a 17-point thumping.

All in all, the marquee match-ups didn’t live up to expectations. Let’s see what the Nielsens thought.