Kemba "Steve Alford" Walker
Indeed, Jim Calhoun labeled UConn's current modest two-game road winning streak as "the most signficant thing we've done this year" -- and that's not an exaggeration. The Huskies really needed this one, particularly with No. 8 West Virginia on the docket Monday night in Hartford.
"We're a bubble team, and you wouldn't have said that a week ago?" said Calhoun. "You would've said, what bubble? If we're fortunate enough to get a couple of wins, then you have to start thinking something else. Right now, I'm just thinking about the XL Center and West Virginia."
Some notes 'n quotes from UConn's 76-58 dismantling of the Scarlet Knights:
***When Kemba Walker came out of the visitors locker room with a noticeable limp and began the second half on the bench Saturday, the concern among the numerous UConn fans inside The RAC was almost palpable.
But Walker immediately entered the game on the first dead-ball situation, then proceeded to continue his torrid play of late. The sophomore point guard scored 14 of his 16 points over the final 20 minutes, including a pair of dagger 3-pointers in the waning minutes, to spearhead UConn's win.
Walker hit 3 of 4 3-pointers Saturday and has now buried 8 of his last 14 from beyond the arc. When asked about Walker's recent long-distance prowess, Calhoun quipped: "You mean Steve Alford?"
"Guys get into a rhythm," Calhoun continued. "There's nobody on this team right now, nobody, who works as hard as (Walker) does. I told a couple of the other guys, if you come in every night and shoot the two hours that he does (that's what happens)."
Walker had tweaked his ankle while being called for a charging foul – his second – with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first half. He didn't play again in the half, and spent halftime getting treatment on the ankle.
***Walker had picked up his first foul early and played just 12 minutes in the first half, scoring just two points. Donnell Beverly picked up the slack, however, and led the Huskies at halftime with eight points and five rebounds.
"He gave us a great lift," Calhoun said of Beverly.
"That's my mindset, just to go as hard as I can," Beverly noted. "I know that's what coach wants. Today, the ball bounced my way, but I was still going hard and showing a little enthusiasm, which I think helped my team, as well."
***Freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel was suffering from a sprained left ankle suffered in practice Wednesday, and Calhoun figured he'd be doubtful to play Saturday.
But after plenty of work in the morning at the hotel with trainer James Doran – including running up and down the hallways – Coombs-McDaniel felt "70 percent" and knew he could give it a go.
He wasn't sure if Calhoun would feel the same way. But midway through the first half, he got the call to replace Stanley Robinson.
"I wasn't expecting to be in the game," Coombs-McDaniel admitted, "and coach called my name. I was ready."
Indeed, building off his impressive eight-point effort against Villanova on Monday, Coombs-McDaniel hit a 3-pointer late in the first half and finished with four points in 13 minutes.
"Any young player, after coming off a decent game, you want to come out and try to play better the next," he said.
***Coombs-McDaniel's friend and high school teammate, Alex Oriakhi, came off the bench for a second straight game. The Huskies, of course, are now 2-0 in those games.
"I'm motivated by it, actually, to go out there and prove to coach I should be starting," said Oriakhi, who had four points and seven rebounds. "We've been winning so far with me coming off the bench, so I don't think (Calhoun is) going to change it. I don't mind, because I'm still getting the same minutes I was getting when I was starting."
***Stanley Robinson barely managed to keep his double-figures scoring streak alive, extending it to 33 games with a free throw with 38.1 seconds left to play. Robinson finished with 11 points, but it was hardly a strong effort by the senior.
"I think Stanley's still got to get it going," said Calhoun. "If Stanley gets it going, and we get some help off the bench, we could be somewhat of a factor coming down the stretch."
***Rutgers leading scorer Mike Rosario showed up four minutes late to Saturday morning's shootaround and began the game on the bench as a disciplinary measure. Rosario entered the game about 4 ½ minutes into the action and finished with a team-high 14 points (5-for-15 shooting) before fouling out.
***A.J. Price's mom, Inga, was in the house, cheering on the Huskies in her exuberant fashion. Inga was wearing a UConn jersey with Price and the No. 12 on the back.