Sunday, March 27, 2011

Walker Defines Otherworldly Talent: Huskies On Pace to Cut Down Nets


If March is the month when we have fallen in love with college hoops, when filling out brackets become a common rite, and when we are hypnotized with the infatuation of rooting for the underdog, we can fall in love with Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies. In another week, of course, Connecticut just might be crowned champs with perennial dominance and natural powers.

Such is Walker, the skilled junior guard who was born and raised to dribble and shoot a Wilson basketball, constantly elevating his ability on the playground. He is, no doubt, the well-known star that natives in Connecticut love to embody, worshipping his finesse and scintillating style as the noble idol in a community where populace adores basketball.

There'd be no reason to ultimately disbelieve or denounce the Huskies given the sudden emergence from a flattered ballplayer, clearly the most popular jock on campus, once and for all, sharpening his draft status to make an effortless transition into the NBA. He is, obviously, a commodity within the NBA, only if he decides to forgo his senior season and declare for the draft.

There's no player having a bigger year, other than Walker, who probably represents the finest, or even the overrated, Big East conference after it wasn't such a splendid season. For now, we are flabbergasted with Walker's remarkably startled effort in such a volatile tournament, where nothing is guaranteed but upsets are meant to ruin our brackets.

Saturday night, that team was Connecticut at the Honda Center, where the Huskies celebrated, exhaled, and felt relieved after Derrick Williams missed three-point attempts that could have won it for Arizona, the near-darlings in the West region. It was close, very close, but Williams, who tried to produce an encore performance and stun the basketball world, missed a three-pointer that he fired strongly. For the Wildcats, a group that had much faith and had been hyped after beating Duke, it was a disadvantage without Williams. This was because he was forced to spend much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, but he finally proved to be a huge factor in the closing moments.

"We were happy when Derrick Williams went outside," said Calhoun.

His counterpart, Jamelle Horne, missed on a shot attempt following Williams' miss when teammate Kyle Fogg secured the ball on a rebound and handed it off to Horne for a memorable miracle to upset the Huskies. Forgive me for speaking, although Arizona was the cutest team for nationally embarrassing and romping top-seeded Duke in a staggering rout, too highly of the Wildcats. It was knowingly that Arizona wore the glass slipper, sending one of the renowned schools back home distraught and heartbroken for being devoid of defending its title.

So instead of the darlings from the desert, we are intrigued to applaud what could be the best program in America, the imagery of the greatest player in college basketball, the attributes of a resilient and versatile ballplayer, dominating the game like Alaskan huskies rule the frigid wilderness. The magical surge late in the season erased the distasteful reflections of a lingering scandal and instead generated a party for a university that celebrated thrills in a one shining moment, escaping the thoughts of adversity.

Back in the Final Four are the Huskies, and suddenly, UConn delivered with a captivating 65-63 win over Arizona in the West Regional final at the Honda Center. This is the team folks had long forgotten, coached by Jim Calhoun, the much-scrutinized man who has been accused as the villain for allegedly keeping a secret or pretending as if he wasn't aware of the NCAA infractions that ruptured a tattered image of the university and painted a fraudulent portrait.

With every victory, the Huskies, for whatever reason, are the hottest team in the tourney and have attracted the eyes of many, ever since UConn's unthinkable streak that included nine straight wins. This is, by definition, the ones with all the momentum and ooze to shimmer and win it all, two wins away from immortality and cutting down the nets in Houston.

For the time being, on this proudest night, Calhoun climbed the ladder and clipped a piece of the net. It was a grand celebration considering that Calhoun saw his fourth Final Four invite, no matter if the mission is not yet complete. The joy suddenly soaked in for Walker, in which he also climbed the ladder and cut a piece of the net, but nobody was more emotional than his sidekick Jeremy Lamb, who cut down his share of the net. Walker’s performance was a dream come true. He finished with 20 points, along with 12 in the first half as the Huskies took a seven-point lead.

"It's a special feeling, but I didn't do it by myself," said Walker, who should be the national player of the year. "Everybody came in, worked extremely hard, and we did a great job of having great chemistry as a team. It's paying off for us."

Early on, he struggled in a rare shooting drought and misfired on plenty of attempts, missing 5-of-6 three-point attempts. He never rendered signs of fatigue or tiredness and constantly downplayed it, but pressed on and led the Huskies in a surprising season. And as usual, he led UConn to victory with other clutch finish by grabbing a game-changing steal late and drilling the shot that shifted the dynamics, a jumper to give the Huskies a five point edge with 1:13 remaining.

While the Wildcats were in an onslaught and harassed Walker with double teams and pressure, nobody expected Lamb, his reliable sidekick, to score in double digits. If anything, the Wildcats stayed alive when Williams drew a series of fouls, collected rebounds, and jumped for two vicious dunks. When he found a groove, he converted on two free throws with 6:36 left that gave Arizona a 55-52 lead, but suddenly, Lamb capped a scorching run with a steal and a one-handed dunk. Throughout the course of this season, it seems that Lamb has matured, a true freshman proven to be a top player.

But much of the attention centers Walker, the finest player these days, particularly if he will be named Player of the Year. That's what he has meant to his team after meaningful victories, potentially wins leading to the brightest prize at the end. Every way, that is, a casual fan can agree with the assessment that Walker is the brand name for the Madness this season.