Thursday, March 17, 2011 9:34 p.m.By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comNCAA TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
WASHINGTON -- So much for Kemba Walker and the Connecticut Huskies being tired.
Whatever fear existed over the Big East Tournament champions not having maximum energy in their West Region opener against Bucknell afterlast week's epic runwent away quickly. Even with their super hero guard scoring a mere mortal six points before halftime, choosing instead to play the role of distributor, the Huskies led by 17 points.
And they were better after halftime. Fitting with Jim Calhoun reaching a coaching milestone in the lopsided win.
Walker must have found a phone booth inside the Verizon Center during intermission because he came back out with his scorer's swagger, yet still set a school and career-best in assists, and finished with a near triple-double. Connecticut opened the second half with a 23-5 run, ledby41 pointsand rolled to an 81-52 thrashing of Bucknell inThursday night's second round contest.
"Everybody's trying to say that this team is tired from those five games in five days, but there's no way we could be," said Walker, who eventually finished in his usual perch atop the list of Huskies scorers with 18 points. "This is the best tournament in the collegiate level and we just want to play basketball and get as far as possible."Right now for the third-seeded Huskies that means on Saturday playing fellow Big East program Cincinnati, winners over Missouri in the D.C. site's nightcap.The 6 foot 1 junior dished out 12 assists, establishing a career-high and breaking the school's record in a NCAA Tournament game. For good measure Walker also grabbed eight rebounds, swiped two steals and was perfect on six free throw attempts.
"No, he didn't look tired tonight," said Bucknell guard Darryl Shazier. "We really didn't think of that as being a factor. But he's a great player, great quickness and he's a scorer, a great scorer."
Meanwhile the Huskies big men enveloped their Bison counterparts, holding Bucknell to a solitary offensive rebound. Alex Oriakhi snagged 12 rebounds and Connecticut finished with a 49-23 advantage on the glass, their second largest margin on the boards this season.
Oriakhi had five of the Huskies 13 offensive rebounds and finished with nine points. The sophomore center said he watched the earlier tournament gameson the hotel television before taking on the 14th seeded Bison. He acknowledged that seeing upset after upset led him to being "nervous" before tip-off.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Oriakhi, who had two of the Huskies six blocked shots, all coming in the first half. "But I'm just happy we pulled it off and won by a lot."
The Bison were not successful from the field even when their attempts did not get returned to sender, hitting on only 31.4 percent (16 for 51) of their tries overall. Mike Muscala led the Patriot League regular season and tournament champions with 14 points.During those first 20 minutes against the Bison, Walker was getting his younger teammates involved in what for most was their first NCAA Tournament action. Freshmen Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb scored 17 and 16 points respectively and shot a combined 6 of 10 from beyond the arc.
"For a lot of these kids, everybody really except for Kemba, no one else had meaningful NCAA minutes, so it was important for him to kind of get his teammates involved in the game," said Calhoun, who became the sixth coach in Division I history to reach 850 victories. "And he did that as well as you're going to do it."In theironlyregular season meeting withCincinnati on February 27, Lamb led Connecticut with17 points and Walker finishedwith 16in a 67-59 road win.Lamb again led the Huskies in scoring the following game, but since then Walkerbeen the Huskies top point producer in seven straight contests, dating back to the regular seasonfinale against Notre Dame. Including their tournament winning efforts at Maui and in the Big East, the Huskies are now 9-0 in neutral site games this season.
Since the Huskies leading man showed off his versatility as scorer, passer and rebounder, perhaps his teammates have a favorite version?
"Obviously I like Kemba the assist man so I could score more," Oriakhi said.