By: Joey Cranney > Freshman > Journalism Major > Temple University, Photo by: Steve McLaughlin
In a week filled with exciting finishes, star players, and marquee matchups, one name stands out.
Connecticut junior guard Kemba Walker led his Huskies to five wins over five days and a Big East conference championship this week in the conference tournament.
"Someone must have questioned if he is the best player," UCONN coach Jim Calhoun said. "I think he is the most valuable player on any college team in America."
It was UCONN’s seventh Big East tournament and its first since 2004. Walker averaged 26 points per game over the five games they played and hit a buzzer-beating step-back jump shot to beat Pittsburgh on day three.
"He is as special as any player I’ve ever coached,” Calhoun said of Walker. “No one’s going to surpass him. They may equal him but no one is going to surpass him…five games in five days, he’s amazing."
Walker began his spectacular run on Tuesday in a 97-71 win over Depaul University. The 6’1 guard scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out five assists to help his team get its first victory in the Big East tournament in six years.
What looked initially like a team getting over the hump quickly turned into the beginning of what would end up being an historic run.
Walker responded to his first game’s performance by putting up equally good numbers in Wednesday’s game against Georgetown. Walker had 28 points, six rebounds, and three assists to lead the Huskies to a 79-62 win.
But Walker saved his most exciting performance for Thursday.
Nine-seeded UCONN faced one-seed Pittsburgh in a tense, back-and-forth battle. Pittsburgh led by one at half, but the Huskies rallied behind Walker’s eleven points in the second half and UCONN found themselves with the ball and the scored tied at 74 with under thirty seconds left to play. Walker took the ball at the point and let the clock run down before moving forward into the paint. He faked inside, then stepped back and hit a buzzer-beating jumper to give the Huskies the 76-74 win.
"Everybody in the world knew that ball was coming to me,” Walker said. “I wanted to take that shot."
After it seemed like he could do no more for his team, Walker reached his statistical pinnacle in Friday’s overtime victory over Syracuse in the conference semi-finals. He scored 33 points, collected 12 rebounds, handed out five assists, and forced six steals in the Huskies 76-71 win that was more like a one-man Kemba Walker show.
"Tell me any other guard who is getting 12 rebounds, six steals, five assists," Calhoun said. "I’ve never seen a guard dominate a game inside and out."
Walker capped off his historic tournament run in Saturday’s Big East championship game versus Louisville. Walker scored 19 points, five of which came from free throws in the final seven minutes, to lead the Huskies to a 69-66 win. Walker broke the Big East conference record with 130 points (46 more than the previous record) and was named tournament MVP.
Five wins in five days: no team has ever done that in conference tournament history. And it was done in the Big East, which as of last night, has an all-time record eleven teams in the 2011 NCAA March Madness tournament. And it was all made possible by the little guy with the big heart, who made shot after shot in leading his team to victory.
"What these kids have accomplished this week has been as moving for me as anything I could possibly think of. Whatever was asked of them, they did," Calhoun said. "Their heart took over, their determination to win, and their skill level. I couldn’t be more proud of them."