Coombs-McDaniel's 'Stormy' Night
There's one play, in my mind, that best summarizes UConn's 75-57 romp over PC on Sunday night.
With 4:41 left the Friars still in it (trailing 63-55), Kemba Walker got the ball near the top of the key with the shot clock running down. He took a couple of dribbles and seemed primed to hurl up a 3-pointer.
Walker leapt in the air like he was taking a jumper, but instead fired a bullet down low to a wide-open Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who it a reverse layup with about a second left on the shot clock. That kicked off a 12-0 Husky run that shut the door and gave them the victory.
It also represented everything that was right for the Huskies on Sunday. Walker, rather than forcing up a tough shot, distributed the ball beautifully. He did it all night, racking up seven assists while taking just 10 shots -- a season-low. He hit seven of them (including a trio of 3-pointers), to snap out of a seven-game shooting slump (during which he was 38-for-123, 31 percent overall).
And, of course, Coombs-McDaniel had by far his best night as a Husky, with career highs in points (25), rebounds (eight), minutes (31), praises from Jim Calhoun (who labeled his relationship with the player as "stormy") and postgame questions from the media.
"I'd love to ask him, 'Do you think, in the midst of playing six minutes, say, in Hawaii, did you really think you'd come here and score 25 in a game?'" Calhoun said. "He'd say yes, by the way. His ego would say. But I really wondered that. And yet, in the last couple of games, the one thing he does is comes in and plays hard."
Has Calhoun seen frustration from Coombs-McDaniel?
"I did last year. I don't think I saw frustration. The thing he is, he's probably 15, 20 pounds heavier, worked like crazy on weights. Roscoe (Smith) comes in, Niels (Giffey) was great, and then he kind of got stuck. When you win 11, 12 games in a row and you're 17-2, you're not going to make too many changes. But during his struggle, every time we put him in, he gives us a spark. He did that against Seton Hall, as a matter of fact."
Said Coombs: "It's definitely been tough, but I'm just trying to stick with it. Last year, I would sulk and stuff, and that's not doing me any good. I'm just trying to continue to play hard, get better and earn some minutes on the court."
Fittingly, that 12-0 UConn run was also capped by a pass from Walker out on the perimeter to Coombs-McDaniel, who buried a 3-pointer.
Charles Okwandu (six points, career-high 11 rebounds, four loud blocks) played terrific, and Donnell Beverly (five assists) was as steady as ever. But this game was all about Kemba Walker getting back to being Kemba Walker and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who'll be in the starting lineup Wednesday against Georgetown) having a breakout game.