All That Jazz
With jazz great Wynton Marsalis allegedly in the building -- his son, Simeon, is a sophomore point guard for Vermont -- it was somewhat fitting that Kemba Walker put on a virtuoso performance as smooth as one of Marsalis's jazz solos.
Here's the Walker stat line: 42 points, 15-for-24 shooting, 4-for-9 3-pointers, 8-for-10 free throws, eight rebounds (!), three assists (kinda tough when no one else is scoring), three turnovers (how could he!?!?) and a steal in 37 minutes of action.
The 42 points match the XL Center/Hartford Civic Center record set on Dec. 28, 1987 by Clifford Robinson against Hartford. The 15 field goals breaks Robinson's building record of 14, also set that night. The 42 points are also the most in a game by a UConn player since Donyell Marshall did it twice in 1994 -- both times against St. John's.
Oh, and the eight rebounds also led the Huskies -- though that's not necessarily a good thing for UConn.
"I've been fortunate enough to witness some pretty good performances over the years," said Calhoun, who's in his 25th season as UConn's head coach. "Kemba's performance was pretty special. Every time we needed something, he got it ... I saw Cliff Robinson do it here, I saw Donyell Marshall do it against St. John's. (Walker) scored 42 points, easy. It almost looked easy for him. His quickness and speed was just so different from everybody else on the court. It was certainly a magnificent performance."
Indeed, Walker's scoring all came well within the flow of the game -- though it wasn't as easy as it may have looked.
"I worked hard for it," he said. "It was falling tonight. I just wanted to be aggressive. That's what I did tonight, and I was fortunate enough to get baskets."
Walker said that when he was 15 years old and playing in an outdoor tournament in his Bronx neighborhood, he once scored 88 points in a game. His team finished with about 120 or so. That performance must have bore some resemblance to tonight's effort. He hit shots from everywhere on the floor – 10-foot leaners, fallaway jumpers, 3-pointers, driving layups, even a rare two-handed jam. Walker had a perfectly symmetrical 21 points in the first half and 21 in the second.
Snd he did it all despite battling stomach cramps that sidelined him for a couple of minutes early on. Walker left the game in obvious pain during a timeout with 15:55 left in the first half.
"My stomach and back started to hurt," he said. "I couldn't breathe."
Walker did some stretching exercises with trainer James Doran and checked back in about 1 ½ minutes later.
"Thank God he recovered and he was OK, because he was magnificent," Calhoun said.
Indeed, no other UConn player really distinguished themselves. Roscoe Smith had 15 points, but 11 in the latter half, most of which came when the game was well in-hand. In fact, as Smith unleashed one trey with 13:26 left, Calhoun shouted out "No!!!!" before the ball swished through the hoop.
Alex Oriakhi had 11 points, seven boards and five blocks but played much of the night in foul trouble. No one else was really a factor offensively, though Calhoun did highlight the second-half defensive play of Niels Giffey and, in particular, Shabazz Napier, whose ball-hawking skills led to several Vermont turnovers. Napier had five steals to go with seven points (3-for-10 shooting).
"It was a great performance by (Walker)," Calhoun summarized, "and not a great performance by us."
In fact, in the locker room afterwards, Napier -- just a freshman -- made it a point to tell his teammates they can't survive on Kemba Walker alone.
"Kemba's a great player, but we can't rely on him to score 42 points," Napier said, according to Oriakhi. "We have good players out here. We know Kemba's the best player, but he needs a supporting cast. We've definitely got to step it up as a team in Hawaii."
Evan Fjeld, his mustache and Matt Glass combined for 50 points for the Catamounts.