Walker Leads UConn Back into NCAAs; Improves Draft Stock
Something has changed with Kemba Walker's attitude. He just decided to throw it into a different gear. He went from struggling shooter and poor decision-marker to the best player on the nation's hottest team. Whatever the reason is, Walker's leadership and hot shooting has put his Connecticut Huskies back into the field of 65.
With a second loss to Cincinnati, a definite bubble-team, coming last week, the Huskies were 14-11 and had a resume of losses to fellow bubble contenders Marquette and Louisville throughout Big East play. They had lost to two Top-10 teams (Duke and Kentucky) away from Hartford and their best win (against #1 Texas) was looking more and more like a fluke victory. Then, Kemba Walker exploded on the scene with a career-high 29 points over #3 Villanova. He kept 'Nova's backcourt off balance with his barrage of outside jumpers mixed in with his seemingly unstoppable drives in the lane. He set career marks in made 3-pointers (3) and foul shots made (14) and attempted (16). He pulled down a season-high 9 boards. Overall, it was Walker's best performance of the year and gave his Huskies their second win over a Top-10 team, putting them back in the discussion for an at-large bid.
Back in primetime, Walker dominated West Virginia's combination of ball handlers, both offensively and defensively. He keyed a 28-8 first-half run by getting the outlet passes and leading transition down at the other end. He minimized his turnovers by not trying to do too much and instead made the smart play, whether it was a pull-up jumper, a strong take to the rim or a dish off for an easy two points. His latest ability to knock down deep jumpers has forced defenders to go over screens, allowing Walker to utilize his quickness and get into the lane or to the foul line. Defensively, the sophomore guard harassed Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. The two were routinely under so much pressure that West Virginia's forwards Da'Sean Butler or Devin Ebanks had to run the offense.
During UConn's recent three game win streak (including two wins over Top-10 teams in the last week), Walker is averaging 22 points on 48.3% shooting from the floor and 46.7% from 3. He is getting to the foul line at an amazing rate - 36 times in three games. He is also averaging one turnover less per game, while forcing opponents into poor decisions or simply stripping them of the ball. If Walker can continue his exceptional play, he could get himself back into the 1st Round of the 2010 NBA Draft.