Friday, March 25, 2011

Magical Ride

Simply amazing. There is something about the tournament setting that brings the best out of this team and no matter what happens down the stretch of the tournament this has been a special year. A group of unheralded freshmen, two under-achieving sophomores, two bench seniors, and a budding super-star have matured into one of the deadliest teams in America and are putting together one of the best runs ever in UConn history. The offense was sustained early by jumpers and was able to answer San Diego State’s runs. The defense was stellar again. They did have a few lapses that brought SDSU back into the game and fouled too much in the second half to get into the bonus early, but overall, they limited SDSU to jumpers. It was a great game against an elite squad and are now in position to shock the world again.

Walker was sensational. He was aggressive early and missed his first three shots, but was able to get to the line to see the ball go into the basket for his first points. From there he hit a backdoor lay-up, a jumper, two three pointers, and a steal then lay-up to end the half. He continued his superb play into the second half and was able to get to the rim early and often getting three lay-ups, two jumpers, two three pointers, and went six for six from the line. With his impressive offensive output, his defense goes under the radar. He kept his opponent in front of him and didn’t allow back screens or easy drives to the basket. It has been a joy all season to see his game mature.

If Lamb can put up a performance like he did on a stage like this then his upside is through the roof. He hit three 3-balls, sank a running floater off the backboard, a pull up jumper, a nice steal, and two dunks. What was most impressive about his play was that he hit the big shot that stole back the momentum in the closing minutes where San Diego State had everything going their way. Other then a lazy pass early in the second half, Lamb played a flawless game. He has become a consistent threat that is pulling double teams away from Walker.

Oriakhi did what he needed to do, rebound. He rushed most of his shots, but he kept battling. He had a tough match-up defensively and had to cover quicker and more athletic forwards. He found himself getting touch fouls and was late on several rotations, but without his rebounding, especially on the offense glass, this game wouldn’t have been a victory. Okwandu didn’t have much of an impact on the game and with Oriakhi not in foul trouble and rebounding better, he rode the pine.

Napier had an uneven performance. He made several beautiful passes, played great defense, hit a nice jumper, and had a steal, but then he had a turnover, took two bad jumpers, and fouled a three point shooter. His shot wasn’t there, but he made impacts in other ways and freed Walker up by running the point and is driving to the basket more. Beverly played briefly and was solid on defense and didn’t turn the ball over. All positives.

Smith was outstanding and did all the little things that UConn needs to win close games. He was a monster on the boards, hit a three pointer, had a lay-up, and three blocks. This is the type activity that Calhoun has wanted out of Roscoe and just wants it consistently. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough game, missing all his jumpers and gave up a free throw rebound. He did play good defense and had four rebounds. He just needs to find ways to get the ball around the rim more. Giffey played limited minutes and didn’t get into the stat book, but played well defensively and didn’t turn the ball over. Olander had a good game, hitting a nice hook shot.

The magical ride continues. They are playing their best basketball at the right time and players like Lamb, Smith, Napier, and Oriakhi are doing all the little things to back up Walker’s impressive performances. Everyone is settling into their roles, jumpers are falling, and they are closing out halves strong. They'll need to get back on defense against a quick and athletic Arizona team and keep them in the half court. Rebounding will be a key to the victory and they need Oriakhi, Smith, and the guards to all chip in and limit them to one attempt. If they can keep their jumpers falling and play this type of defense than anything can happen. And with this team, who would bet against them?


Matias Nino said...

I have never been so proud of our Huskies! This is the exact type of team that historically makes Connecticut great. No under-performing egos. No lack of spirit. Just heart, confidence, skill, and perseverance in the face of their personal challenges. Finding and doing what needs to be done to edge out.

Out of the ashes of last season and some years of troublesome overindulgence on the part of the program, Connecticut is right where they should be to show the world everything about their program, teams, and coaching mentality a hallmark in the history of College Basketball.

David Gillett said...

I agree. This is a truly special team and one for the ages. It has been a joy to see and write about this team all season and to watch them gel into the cohesive unit they are today.