Sunday, March 27, 2011
Perseverance. That is what it takes to win nine games in a row and do it in the fashion that they are. They had everything stacked against them in this game. Arizona was killing UConn on the boards, getting easy baskets around the rim, and frustrating UConn’s front court with foul trouble. But this team answered every run with one of their own and silenced a rowdy Arizona crowd. Once again they did it on the defensive end. They didn’t allow open jumpers on the perimeter and the help was there to limit dribble penetration. That has been the difference during this historic run. The jumpers will clank, they’ll give up some offensive boards, and teams will make shots, but one thing that UConn can control is their tenacity on the defensive end and they are doing that. It also doesn’t hurt to have a superstar on their team and a freshman maturing into a clutch performer.
Walker didn’t have his best game and his jumper was off, but he made the plays in key spots to snatch momentum back. He had a crucial stretch in the closing minutes of the first half where he made two jumpers and a three pointer at the buzzer. His poor shooting continued into the second half. He missed his first three shots before sinking a jumper. Arizona kept him from the rim and he didn’t have driving lanes to use his speed for easy baskets. But he didn’t need to force the issue because unlike the beginning of the year, Walker now has a sidekick.
Lamb was sensational. He started his night off with his patented floater off the glass, hit a three pointer, had a lay-up, and ended the first half with a block. He wasn’t done yet. He hit another three pointer, had two steals which lead to one missed dunk and one monster slam, hit another floater, and sank 3 of 4 from the line. His ability to hit the jumper off screens for a freshman is phenomenal and his length on the defensive end is causing havoc. There hasn’t been a UConn freshman to contribute in the fashion that Lamb has in a long time.
Oriakhi had a tough assignment and struggled early to match the intensity of Arizona’s athletic front court. He did get to the line and sink 1 of 2, had a block, and an offensive rebound, but didn’t do the job on the boards and Arizona took advantage. He did better in the second half but was still in and out of the game due to touch fouls in the post. He had a dunk, offensive rebound and dunk, offensive rebound and lay-up, and two boards, but it wasn’t enough to negate Arizona’s attack of the glass and he didn’t get much help from his teammates. Smith didn’t back up his solid play versus San Diego State. He struggled with his jumper, missing all four of his jumpers and only getting a dunk late. He did have five boards but it wasn’t enough and he allowed way too many offensive boards. He needs to play much better.
Napier had a much better game then he did against San Diego State. He hit two three pointers, had two steals with one leading to a lay-up, had two boards, and broke the press for a nice Smith dunk. He did have a bad three point shot which had him back on the bench, but overall he played a great game and his combined offensive and defensive capability has been a key to UConn’s success during this run. It is also great to see him take the ball to the rim more and not only rely on his jumper. Once he gets a mid-ranged jumper to his game, then he will reach another echelon. Beverly played sparingly but did have a nice lay-up on a cut to the basket. He has done a much better job of limiting his turnovers and not doing too much with his dribble.
Okwandu had a tough task, defending a more athletic, quicker, and outside shooting Arizona front court. He found himself in foul trouble for most of the night but did have an impact. He had three blocks, an offensive rebound and put-back, and a nice dish to Lamb. Olander played early and had a block, an offensive rebound but also missed a dunk and gave up a free throw rebound. Coombs-McDaniel had a tough game. He missed all his shots, had two boards but also had back-to-back bad plays that sent him to the bench in the second half. He still hasn’t found his game that he displayed midway through the Big East regular season. Giffey played a few minutes and spelled Walker, but didn’t do much.
Unbelievable. It is simply incredible what this team has done during this run. Sure the spotlight is on Walker and now Lamb which is deserved, but without Napier’s defense, Roscoe’s rebounding, Beverly’s ball handling, Coombs-McDaniel’s multitasking, Okwandu’s blocks, Olander’s early contributions, and Giffey’s defense, then this team wouldn’t be where they are today, The Final Four. This is a team and it is a beautiful thing when everyone trusts each other and knows their role. They might not be the best individual talent but they have something special, chemistry. And that is what makes sports so intriguing and keeps us coming back for more, because when a you have a true team then anything is possible.