Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kemba Walker Leads Scary UConn Team Into Tourny

Posted by CoHoops DeAnte Mitchell
The Connecticut Huskies (26-9, 9-9) came into the season, unranked with nobody giving them much of a chance as a contender.

The Huskies did lose a lot from the season before but returned their potent guard Kemba Walker, forward Alex Oriahki and added many talented freshmen.

Early in the season, the Huskies went from un-ranked to No. 7 in the AP poll after winning the Maui Tournament with wins over Michigan State and Kentucky, who were both top ten teams in the country at the time.

To cap off the regular season, UConn went on a similar run, except this time the Huskies capped off a five game win streak over four straight ranked teams to be crowned Big East tournament champions.

After the game, head coach Jim Calhoun chocked on his words when he talked about this week's focus and handwork showed by his Huskies squad.

With their 69-66 victory over Louisville in the Big East tournament final, UConn pulled off arguably the toughest stretch in college basketball this season, possibly even history.

"This is what I worked for, the whole summer, this is what our whole team worked for and all of our hard work is just paying off," Walker said following their Big East championship win.

Throughout the year, the Big East has been noted as the nations best conference. Projected NCAA Brackets and experts have 11 Big East teams dancing, and amongst them will be UConn, despite the 9-9 record during conference play.

This makes their five-game win streak that impressive. In the past three days, the Huskies pulled off wins against teams that dominated them in the regular season.

Pitt defeated UConn by double-digits, Louisville defeated them twice, and Syracuse pulled away from the Huskies as well.

Not only did the Huskies prove that they can compete against some of the best teams in the country, but showed their ability to win tough games with a NCAA tournament like atmosphere.

At neutral sites this season, UConn has been a perfect (8-0). Six of the eight wins have come against top-25 opponents, and five of the matchups were against top-15 ranked teams.

Credit junior guard Walker for his leadership and perseverance down the stretch for this young Huskies team with just five upperclassmen. At neutral sites Walker averages 27.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assist, and 2.7 steals.

Granted, Walkers stat line is very impressive but other Huskies have certainly put forth effort to pull out wins.

Oriahki, Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb, and Shabazz Napier are all key contributors and chip in just enough to lead UConn to victory.

In mostly all of the losses to UConn this season, a player outside of Walker failed to step up and contribute. But, heading into March Madness, I don't think the Huskies will have to worry about that.

When asked how this will translate to the NCAA tournament coach Calhoun said, "I'm caught up in the emotion of what happened here."

"I think we showed in the past four days, particularly, that we're a good basketball team." Soon after, coach Calhoun stated that he's anxious to lead the Huskies through the tournament.

No team in College Basketball history has won five games in five days at any site to win a conference title, until now that is. Going back to what coach Calhoun said, the Huskies are a really good basketball team.

UConn has proven they can win at neutral sites and junior Walker has great leadership skills that should aid the Huskies well come tournament time.

One thing sticks out to me about this UConn team now, and that's they can win without requiring Walker to get a crazy stat line.

Other players on the team have stepped up and proved that their is more to UConn than their future first-round draft pick, Walker.

The Huskies are well conditioned, balanced, anxious and dangerous headed into March. I'm saying UConn has the best chance at sneaking up on an NCAA title after a performance like this.

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