Sunday, March 13, 2011
Heart. That is what it takes for a team to play five games in five days to battle through the best league in the entire country and end up victorious. They had to have tremendous belief in themselves to face and win against teams that have beat them thoroughly in the past. For the most part, they did a great job of attacking the press, something they had a tough time dealing with. Fatigue started to creep in midway through the second half and the offense stuttered, but Louisville’s harassing defense led to fouls which UConn was able to cash in for points. There were many unsung heroes to this impressive run from Olander, Okwandu, to Smith. This team is maturing at the right time and their confidence is on an all-time high and this is a truly special group of players.
Walker was on fire early, hitting two jumpers and two lay-ups before getting his second foul and sitting for the rest of the half. In the second half, his legs started to get heavy and had six turnovers, offensive fouls, poor passes and had a horrible foul on three point attempt in the closing seconds. But when they needed a play, he was there. He got to the line and sank free throws, had a beautiful lay-up & one and a sweet pass to Lamb for a lay-up in crunch time. Calhoun is right that no other player is as dependent on his team in the conference and he is still effective against the double and triple teams. One thing about Walker that makes him different then other UConn stars is that he knows that he needs to take over and does.
Oriakhi didn’t have the game that he wanted. In the first half, he got to the line early, had a lay-up, and an offensive rebound and put-back, but in the second half, he only had a dunk and an offensive rebound and tip in. He had a tough time defending without fouling and Calhoun needed ball handlers on the court to deal with the pressure and it limited his minutes. Okwandu had an early offensive rebound and put-back, but disappeared from the game after that. Olander got the start after his superb performance against Syracuse, but struggled to find the magic again. He had a bad save under his own basket for two easy points for Louisville.
Lamb had an amazing game and tournament. His whole arsenal was on display from hitting a three pointer, knocking down a jumper, getting two lay-ups, grabbing seven boards, a block, and getting a clutch deflection in the closing seconds. His confidence is at an all-time high right now and he is getting comfortable in taking over the offense in key stretches. Napier had a slow first half with a board, a steal, and a turnover, but turned it around in the second half. He hit a three pointer, had two steals, and knocked down two clutch free throws in the closing seconds. UConn's arrow is pointing up with these two up and coming stars in the Big East.
Smith was a monster. He blocked a ton of shots, hit a long jumper, knocked in a three pointer, and rebounded much better. He was all over the offensive boards and in one stretch he got fouled three times on the offensive glass, sinking three of four from the line. He has been a mystery for this team and has had games like this before. He needs to continue to provide this type of energy out there for UConn to make another tournament run. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough night. He did hit a jumper and two free throws, but only had one rebound in the second half as his only contribution. Giffey had an offensive rebound and then an immediate turnover on a bullet pass. Beverly had a jumper, and a steal and got fouled, hitting two of two from the line. It was a great sight to see him hug Calhoun after the victory.
They did the impossible, winning five games in five days. It will go down as one of the greatest feats by a UConn team because of the strength of the field and the teams that they had to beat to win the title. Walker didn’t win the Big East Player of the Year award but he stepped up and showed the conference who the best player was when it counted the most and walked home with a nicer trophy. This team went from limping into the NCAA tournament, to putting their name in the hat for contention for the title, because if they could beat the caliber of teams that they did and the ways they did it, then the sky is the limit and the impossible is now possible.