The Huskies face a huge test against the streaking Kentucky Wildcats in their national semifinal matchup. Here are the top three reasons why UConn will emerge victorious against Kentucky and then take the national title back to Storrs, Conn. in the championship:
1) UConn has the best player left in the tournament in Kemba Walker (sorry Brandon Knight and Shelvin Mack). Walker has been nothing short of incredible this season, and he’s only gotten better in the final month, having scored 33 or more points four times in March. Walker may have had the performance of the tournament when he went for 36 points against San Diego State, and he followed that up with 20 points and seven assists against an Arizona team that made a concerted effort to limit his chances.
Beyond the statistics, the awe-inspiring thing is the versatility that Kemba shows in a close game where every possession is critical. He can always create space for a step-back deadly jumper or he can slice through the lane and finish at the rim, plus he’s great from the line (82 percent). When the opponent throws an extra guy at him, he has no problem trusting his teammates and finding the open man. With the game in its closing seconds, I want the ball in Walker’s hands.
2) No one has beaten the Huskies on a neutral floor this year. They are undefeated in tournament play in the 2010-2011 season. They’ve raised the hardware in Maui and at MSG. Look at who they’ve knocked off in tournament play this season: Arizona, SDSU, Cincinnati, Bucknell, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Kentucky (we’re coming back to this), Michigan State and Wichita State. That’s seven neutral-court victories over teams in the RPI top 20 (and beating ‘Cuse at the Garden is pretty much an away win). Moreover, this team hasn’t lost a single game outside of the Big East. On a neutral court against Kentucky, I’ll take my chances with the Huskies.
3) Nov. 24, 2010: That was the day UConn demolished Kentucky in Maui. It was a bloodbath that was over at halftime (50-29). After beating Michigan State in the semis, Walker splashed in another 29 points and Oriakhi had 18 points and pulled down 11 boards to lead UConn in a rout that ended 84-67, though it wasn’t that close. This was also before Jeremy Lamb had found his footing, as the freshman only had 2 points in 12 minutes back in the November contest. In contrast, Lamb has been a key weapon in March, scoring in double figures in all nine of UConn’s postseason victories thus far. While Kentucky has certainly improved since then, the Huskies match up well enough to handle Big Blue again.
After a win against the Wildcats, UConn will be too athletic and too balanced for either Butler or VCU. On April 4, look for Kemba and his young cast of co-stars to be featured most prominently in the best three minute music video of the year: One Shining Moment.