Marred Monday

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

Regrettably, much of the action didn’t live up to the billing. The Houston Rockets edged the Denver Nuggets by two in a matinee on NBA TV, when Kenyon Martin missed a couple of bunnies and free throws down the stretch, and the evening affair on TNT, the struggling Detroit Pistons topped the Grizzlies in Memphis in the opener) was competitive.

But it was downhill from there. 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, beat up pretty good on Jim Boeheim’ Syracuse Orange. The second ESPN game saw defending champ Kansas crunch Texas A&M by 20.

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 battle of unbeatens. Alas, Rashanda McCants could have called on big brother, Rashad McCants, the former UNC standout who now toils for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Syracuse’s Nicole Michael could have tripped Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, and it wouldn’t have made much difference.

UConn, minus starter Caroline Doty to a season-ending ACL against the Cuse Saturday and top player Maya Moore not at her best Monday, broke on top early, withstood a UNC run, and then stomped the Heels’s 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 the 30-point devastation, 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 was just 9 for 25 and the Lakers, who trailed by won at the half, easily cinched a 17-point triumph.

All in all, the marquee match-ups didn’t live up to expectations. Let’s see if the Nielsens held the same view.