Sunday, April 3, 2011
There must be a higher power looking over this team. UConn was far from playing their best game. Kentucky was killing UConn on the offensive glass and they cashed in on some sloppy turnovers, but once again this team stuck together, wouldn’t fold, and with stellar defense on their side, they are now playing in the biggest game on the biggest stage. UConn had everything going in the first half. The jumpers were falling and the defense was keeping an athletic Wildcat team from the rim, but they failed to meet the energy level in the second half and were blitzed by the three ball and didn’t help themselves with sloppy play, handing Kentucky the momentum. They weathered the storm with some timely baskets from some unsung heroes and strung together a series of incredible defensive stands that frustrated Kentucky and had them go one for ten down the stretch. With the game in the balance one of the freshmen put the game away with some clutch free throws that proved to be the difference.
Walker didn’t have his best game. He had a few untimely turnovers and was out of gas late in the game, forcing up two jumpers that were blocked. Even with his uneven play, his star power was still on display. He was able to get on the break early on some Kentucky turnovers and drew contact to get to the line. Late in the first half, he put together two key jumpers, and a steal that led to a Smith dunk. In the second half, he struggled to find his offense and forced it a bit and took shots in double and triple teams. He did make a key block that looked like a sure two points, had three free throws on a foul, and sank a jumper when all the momentum was swinging Kentucky’s way. But Walker didn’t need to do it all because this isn’t a one man team anymore.
Lamb had an effective first half. He was able to come off screens and get into the paint for two mid-ranged shots and hit a nice jumper. He sustained the offense in a crucial stretch in the first half. In the second, he struggled to find that consistency that has been there all tournament for him. Besides a lay-up and getting to the line, he couldn’t find the basket. He also made a poor foul that luckily turned out to be a two pointer rather than a three pointer, but he needs to be careful on the perimeter. Overall, he played a solid game and his length creates a miss match on the defensive end.
Oriakhi had problems containing a glass crashing Kentucky team and had a few rebounds slip off his hands for second and third opportunities for the Wildcats. He did have an early hook shot but was then injured on an and-one play. He returned in the second half with a monster put-back dunk, a block, a lay-up, and some key rebounds, but also had a couple of turnovers that unleashed Kentucky’s fast break. He played big in some crucial stretches in the second half and was able to secure key defensive rebounds. Smith has been in a rut offensively and missed some wide open fifteen footers. He did have the first bucket for the team in the second half to get them pointed in the right direction and helped out on the boards, but he continues to search for ways to contribute in offensive sets.
Napier also had a poor thirty-eight minutes. He took some bad shots, missing all his jumpers and had a horrible turnover late in the game that almost cost them the game, but he did make a huge play on a reverse lay-up and sank two free throws in clutch time that proved to be the difference. Beverly played sparingly and did a good job defensively and did not turn the ball over. Coombs-McDaniel was in and out of the line-up and missed his only shot.
Okwandu had a great first half with a block and used his size to clog up lanes to the basket which proved key to keeping Kentucky to only jump shots which isn’t their strength. He has done a much better job of showing on help and recovering. Olander played great early on with a hook shot and a rebound. He is doing a much better job in his limited minutes. Giffey used his length defensively in the first half and kept a faster Kentucky guards in front of him. He had a terrible pass in the second half that led to points.
This team is dodging bullets, giving opponents opportunities late in the ball to steal games that UConn was in control of throughout. Like every game since the Big East tournament, they hung their hat on the defensive end and were able to find just enough offense to outlast a very hot and very talented Kentucky squad. With only one more game to go, UConn has the look of destiny on their side. To make it this far against the talent that they have played against in their collective tournaments, this team has already put themselves up against the more experienced teams of UConn championship lore. While they are playing inspired basketball, Butler is a team that thrives on being under the radar. They don’t look like a team that could make a run like they have. They aren’t that athletic, they aren’t tall, but they are a great defensive team and they find ways to take away your first and second option. UConn will need a total team effort, but that’s nothing new from this team.