- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THEY WERE BIG EAST CHAMPIONS, BUT EVEN AS THE HUSKIES CUT DOWN the nets at Madison Square Garden, there were doubts about their staying power. The conventional wisdom was that after battling through five teams in five days in the conference perceived to be the toughest in the country, Connecticut would be tired and vulnerable in its NCAA tournament opener just five days later.
What's more, said the naysayers after the Huskies received the No. 3 seed in the West region, the team was inexperienced. Aside from junior Kemba Walker, who'd been a sixth man during UConn's 2009 Final Four run, only senior guard Donnell Beverly had seen even a minute of action at the Big Dance.
And then there was the opponent: Bucknell, which had pulled off a 14-versus-3 upset of Kansas in 2005. A Bisons win wouldn't be unheard of, and Bucknell guard Bryan Cohen, a two-time Patriot League defensive player of the year, spoke confidently of shutting down Walker. Then the game tipped off.
With Cohen focused on containing Walker, the tournament's most dangerous scorer became a distributor. He handed out 12 assists, many of them to a couple of freshmen. Jeremy Lamb, the rail-thin wing whose confidence was peaking, scored 16 points and hit 4 of 5 three-pointers. Roscoe Smith had his best game ever, scoring 17 points from inside and out. "I told the guys to be ready, and they were," said Walker, who was "held" to a game-high 18 points. "They made the shots."
UConn had a 17-point lead by halftime. An 18--3 run to start the second half put the game out of reach.
If fatigue was a factor at all, it was in the Huskies' second game in D.C. Facing Big East foe Cincinnati, the team came out flat, falling behind by eight points seven minutes in.
With less than five minutes to go before the intermission, Walker slipped free for a long Alex Oriakhi outlet pass and broke out ahead of the pack. Bearcats forward Justin Jackson closed quickly, but not quickly enough. Trying to pin the layup, Jackson gave a hard foul with his body, sending Walker crashing to the floor. Connecticut's star got up trying to shake the pain out of his right wrist.
Walker stayed in the game with his wrist taped but went more than seven minutes in the second half without a point. UConn's eight-point halftime lead became a one-point deficit with 12 minutes left in the game.
That's when Walker played through the pain and delivered as clutch a performance as he had all season. Repeatedly knifing through the Cincinnati defense and getting to the free throw line regularly, he scored 15 of his 33 points in the final 10 minutes.
"I didn't let [the wrist] affect me," Walker told reporters. "I just wanted to win. I could deal with all the bruises later."