Friday, March 25, 2011

Kemba Walker Is the Star of Madness, As Arizona Raises Fear


It was a game of the most magical explanation, to prove that the Big East may just be fortunate to possess the dominant powerhouses in the tournament. The conference needed and, oh, sustained a flawless tale, as we can pencil in third-ranked Connecticut for the Elite Eight.

The bliss emanated in Southern California because the Huskies secured a 74-67 win over San Diego State in the West regional semifinals Thursday night and clinched a Final Four berth, for its fourth appearance to the national setting. What it means is that the Big East remains alive because the Huskies handled the challenge, hustled in critical moments, stole national attention and embraced the stupendous sensibility of representing the top conference in college hoops.

And Jim Calhoun, well, felt relieved when the buzzer sounded in the end of a nerve-racking, tense evening in a neutral site, where seas of red were easily noticed in the stands to support the Aztecs. Less than two minutes left, when freshman Jeremy Lamb heaved and sharply hit a clutch three-pointer, a portion of the crowd screamed in bliss.

It was total dominance in the end, and maybe it was a case of believability for the Big East, a justification of allegiance for a conference hit with a debate on whether or not the Big East deserves adoration. The evolution of Kemba Walker is increasingly growing as azaleas bloom in the spring and raindrops fall. He looks like an NBA-ready star, or a lethal scorer with no conscience. It's a good thing Walker is wearing an UConn uniform, prominently the top candidate to win the Player of the Year award when he has clearly led the Huskies deep into the tourney.

If the Big East bias shriveled, when only nine schools qualified for the Sweet 16, it was mainly because no star player dazzled like Walker persists in generating emotion and warmth. It's too large a school to be ignored, especially when the Huskies feature one of the brightest stars in the game, a proficient kid believed to be projected as an NBA magnet and seemingly a surefire centerpiece for a lackluster franchise in the association. At this moment, individuals are obsessed with Walker's stellar performances, fully mindful of the high-scoring displays he produce regularly.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can do," said Walker after scoring 12 straight points for UConn in the final minutes. "Whether it's scoring, talking, getting their confidence up or giving an assist, I'm just trying to do whatever is possible to enhance this team."

What is very well-known in the NCAA Tournament, witnessing plenty of upsets and obliterated brackets while stuck in the middle of insanity, is the lingering drama, controversy and unpredictability, only to freak out a number of devoted fans. By this time, every season, that is, we fall in love with underdogs and miracles, including newly stars in the beginning to a compelling upstart.

All season long, intrigued with one of the most intense performances in UConn's storied NCAA history books, Walker hypnotized an immense audience, from his memorable impact to lead the Huskies to breathlessly five wins in five days, earning the Big East tournament title. Its apparent Walker, the skilled junior point guard and arguably the great name in the college game, preserves more than mild attention when he easily forged a signature in one of the singular achievements ever done.

While a player of his brand is a rarity in the game these days, almost as much as he and Jimmer Fredette are seemingly the only two unconscious scorers in the college landscape and, as a result, has stolen the spectacle, Walker is a superstar with promise and can very well translate his sterling shooting, relentless crossover dribble, and angles in traffic on the professional level.

For a season of unpredictability and strange events, Walker has stolen the season and somehow carried the Huskies to seven postseason wins in 11 days. That is rare, for one player with plenty of abilities to take over single-handedly as if he's a superhuman with magical powers, to score and mentally and physically dominate at will, without even rendering signs of fatigue.

Given the team's strengths and weaknesses, along with too much youth and a malicious scandal that tattered Calhoun's reputation a bit with the storied university, the Huskies raised curiosity as for whether or not they can shimmer and hoist the trophy. Walker is too nice of a tale, not to earn respect for such a gratifying season. In that sense, out of respect of course, he is evidently the best player in the tourney and shines largely in clutch situations.


So, while it's not known which team is favorable to win the tournament and place an identity, a modest one, on the university, we know Walker is a fierce competitor and scored 36 points but also was alleviated by his swingman Lamb, who had 24 to remove much of the tension off Walker. By the time he was done scoring on three-pointers, layups and midrange jumpers and free throws that intensified the feverish crowd at the Honda Center, he had decided the game for the Huskies and looked over to the press table and pulled his jersey and shock his head.

Walker, a 20-year old who developed his game on the playground and translated his skilled effort in the gym, becoming a local star on the local campus in Storrs, has averaged 24 points a game while leading the nation with six game-winning shots in the final three minutes.

"He makes plays, and I just shake my head," teammate Alex Oriakhi said of Walker. "I ask him how does he do that. He just says it's God-given ability. He couldn't explain what he does. It's really amazing what he does. He's truly something special."

Yes, he certainly is something special.

It just so happens that he plays with versatility and resiliency, schooling players with his trickery and high intelligence on the court every time. There is clearly a legitimate winner, once and for all, to determine who is worthy of the national buzz, which includes the national player of the year. And the award goes to...Walker.

Well, in retrospect, at least he is well-deserving in a tight race with Fredette, despite BYU's drastic fall to Florida in the Sweet 16 Thursday night now eliminated from the brackets. Yet, on a night one of the sweetest stories were in the making had San Diego State won, he began slow and missed his first four shots. This time, he was sluggish in the first half, but adapted to the defensive-minded Aztecs, a team normally exceptional at hindering star players.

The best thing that happened essentially on a spectacular night was Arizona's 93-77 stunner of Duke, an upset we never imagined and had been publicly announced. The best upset so far was a regal institution being victimized by the unforeseen Wildcats, one where the university from the desert made national headlines and publicly were advertised as the Cinderellas of March, where the 'Cats endured an uncontested battle and shockingly conquered ascendancy.

There were smiles on the face of Arizona forward Derrick Williams by the time he walked off the court, thrilled after capping the coolest victory to qualify for the Elite Eight. Williams, in the eyes of many, was the star of the night when he buried a 27-foot jump shot. But in such an emotional game, the Wildcats trailed by six.

And then, suddenly, Arizona as a whole celebrated in staggering triumph and point guard Mo Mo Jones stood at midcourt and slammed the ball. A few minutes afterwards, he pumped his fist and screamed to the heavens, electrified over the stunner of Duke. For whatever reason, the Blue Devils were sluggish, weren't scary, weren't fearful and the seniors with experience seemed vulnerable and exhausted.

Why?

Don't ask.

A storied team with a history of glorious accomplishments, known as the Blue Devils and college basketball's most prominent program, were bullied like a chew toy and had no response for the roaring Wildcats. Expected to sustain back-to-back glory, the Blue Devils had plenty of elements, many of whom returned from last year's national title class and even a freshman phenom who enhanced the notion of back-to-back happiness with the chances of another title. In one game, where Duke completely collapsed and couldn't match the intensity, balance and firepower of the Wildcats, the Blue Devils were not ferocious but hesitant to exploit a game plan on both ends of the floor, and instead, allowed the Wildcats to crush and steamroll them.

"We earned a lot of respect tonight," Williams said.


The basketball world witnessed the biggest underdog prevail on the greatest of all nights, seeing the Wildcats play like terrifying predators with large fangs and claws, enough to inhibit a pretentious school from reaching the grandest stage. By now, of course, Williams is the heavy talk for leading the stronger team to a transcendent level in the tournament, one win away from a Final Four appearance.

Had it not been for the burgeoning sophomore Williams, the Wildcats probably wouldn't have salvaged its season and could have been packing and sent home. The second half turned into a disaster and Mike Krzyzewski, one of the game's legendary coaches, watched from the sideline weary and perplexed as the Wildcats delivered five minutes into the half.

Later in the half, Jones hit a jump shot to tie the score, collected a defensive rebound and suddenly hit a pair of free throws to give Arizona a lead. From there, unbelievably, the lead punctuated and never diminished when the Wildcats extended the lead on Brandon Lavender's dunk to give Arizona an 11-point advantage.

Soon enough, Williams nearly electrified the building on a tomahawk dunk, bringing thousands dressed in seas of read to their feet. It wasn't long before Jordin Mayes missed a three-point attempt, but Jamelle Horne, a senior forward who committed to the program after signing to play for the legendary name Lute Olson, reeled in the rebound and dribbled to finally levitate and nearly behead Kyle Singler with a mean dunk that pretty much decided the outcome.

There was Olson in the stands, witnessing Arizona coach Sean Miller follow his footsteps and simply employ his creations into the modern generation, staring proudly at Arizona's latest restoration and the 'Cats scoring 19 of the next 21 points in the second half.

And while Duke took an early exit, for unexpectedly struggling, the Wildcats played fearlessly and it helped their cause. The immeasurable reliability of Kyle Irving, Duke's freshman guard after coming off the bench, posted 14 first-half points on five of six shooting.

The only thing is that it wasn't enough to overtake the underdogs for which Arizona wore the class slipper and, quite fittingly, forged a transcendent story, just as much as Walker has done for the Huskies.