Friday, March 11, 2011
This is the beauty of college basketball. The underdog, UConn was blitzed early by a red hot Pittsburgh, but they fought through adversity to get back into the game before the end of the half. From there it was just a terrific back and forth basketball game with both teams and their respected superstars playing at a high level. While UConn’s front court was mired in foul trouble, they did a great job and battled hard on the boards, something they haven’t done down the stretch of the regular season. UConn found offense on second chance points and fast break opportunities and kept pace against the fluid Pittsburgh offense. It came down to who had the basketball last and with the help of Coombs-McDaniel, it was Walker and he came up clutch again.
The legend of Kemba Walker continues to grow. While he only hit three jumpers all game, he hit them when he needed to. Teams are playing to his strength, not playing zone, and letting him split the defense and get into the paint where he either got fouled, scored, or gave others chances on the offensive glass. He has also done a much better job of not turning the ball over and only had three turnovers. He is going to have to have his jumper working against Syracuse and find ways of solving the zone which has given him problems all year. He is getting great looks against the zone, but the shots just aren't falling.
Welcome back, Oriakhi. While he found himself in foul trouble early, he played smart with his two fouls late in the first half and helped fuel UConn’s run to get back into the game. He was a monster in the second half and had four offensive rebounds, a hook shot, three hustle plays that saved the possessions, and made three of four from the line. And this was against one of the best rebounding teams in the country. It is games like this that make Calhoun crazy that he can’t consistently give this type of output, but without his energy, UConn didn't have a chance in this game.
Lamb has been amazing all tournament and continued his superb play. In the first half, he had a jumper, a dunk, two steals, and a lay-up. He also had one of his best second halves in a very long time. He rebounded well, sank two floaters, and made all his free throws. He did have a lazy pass and didn’t hit a three pointer, but his offense has allowed Walker to get into the flow of the game without forcing things early. He is playing well at just the right time.
Napier had an outstanding day and is getting into the game earlier. He hit two three pointers, is taking the ball to the rim more, made his free throws, played pesky defense, and actually pulled down some rebounds. He didn’t take any bad shots and controlled the half court sets effectively. The team plays more fluidly when he is on the court, shifting Walker to the two guard and Lamb to the small forward position. Giffey had an early steal and took a jumper, which is a good sign even though he missed it, and he actually found an offensive rebound. All good signs for a player searching for his role. He still plays hard defense and uses his length to keep his opponent in front of him.
Smith had a good first half before he took a nasty elbow to the head and sat the rest of the game. He hit a three pointer, made both his free throws and was having a solid rebounding game. Hopefully he continues to be this effective. Coombs-McDaniel is coming into his own. He hit a jumper early, had a nice hook shot & one, and made the second most important play with an offensive rebound and time out in the closing seconds. Those three plays alone negate his missed block out on a free throw, a sloppy turnover, and a missed wide open lay-up. Okwandu had a tough game, missing all his shots and found himself in foul trouble all game. With Oriakhi playing well, he road the pine for much of the game. Olander came in and gave the team a nice jumper and a sweet block, but was in way over his head against the front court of Pittsburgh.
This team is built for the tournament for some reason. They’ve shown it in Maui and now through their first three games in this tournament. They play much different with their backs against the wall. The freshmen are all stepping up and contributing in big time ways. Oriakhi, Okwandu, and Coombs-McDaniel are making all the little plays that a team needs to make to be in contention for wins. The only issue yet to be solved is the zone and they will have plenty of it against Syracuse. They’ll need to get those transition points and offensive rebounds that they have rediscovered in these past few games to advance. But for a team searching for chemistry at the end of the regular season, they have found it and it sure helps to have a super star on your side.