NCAA BK

Hard to argue Walker's POY candidacy

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Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. Check out his Yardbarker blog. MORE>>
 
   
 

NEW YORK

It was an all-too-familiar pose, one that Kemba Walker struck just shy of four months ago nearly 8,000 miles away in Maui.

A wide smile, a lei around his neck to go along with an improbable championship.

That's when this ride, more reminiscent of one of those triple-loop roller-coasters, began.

Nov. 24.

That’s when Walker shocked the entire country after averaging 30 points per game in wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky to help Connecticut claim the Maui Invitational.

Walker's UConn Huskies were just filler material upon their arrival in Maui, and they walked into a similar scenario in New York when they were forced to tip-off the Big East tournament Tuesday afternoon.

They weren't given a chance in you-know-what.

"No one expected this," Walker said.

Walker and his young teammates did the unthinkable, the unfathomable. They won five games in five consecutive days to capture the Big East tournament — something that had never been done before.

They ended up winning a league tournament that will almost certainly feature a record-setting 11 NCAA tournament teams.

"It's special," Walker said.

Walker was so special that at one point on Saturday night Louisville coach Rick Pitino mentioned him in the same sentence as Michael Jordan.

The week began with a ho-hum 26 points in an opening round game Tuesday afternoon against DePaul that the Huskies were forced to play after finishing 9-9 in league action and earning the No. 9 seed.

Then Walker went for 28 the following night in a rout over Georgetown, but that would be it for Walker and his Huskies.

Top-ranked Pittsburgh was up next.

However, Walker never stepped off the court, went for 24 points and buried the game-winner as the buzzer sounded on a picturesque step-back jumper as UConn sent the Panthers packing in their first game at Madison Square Garden.

Walker took it to another level Friday night in the semifinals, an overtime victory against Syracuse in which he finished with 33 points, six steals and five assists.

But Walker wasn't quite done.

He had only 19 points, but it was enough to lead his young group of Huskies to a 69-66 victory over Louisville on Saturday night in the Big East championship game.

Walker shattered the Big East tournament scoring mark with 130 points as UConn knocked off four Top 25 teams in five days.

Yes, this may truly have been as difficult — if not more so — than winning the national championship.

This run came courtesy of a team most expected to be in the NIT and not the Big Dance prior to the start of the season.

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Walker came out of the gates as strong as anyone and was the clubhouse leader for National Player of the Year honors, but it was just a matter of time before he’d come down to earth — especially while surrounded by a young, inexperienced group.

He'd wear down, they said, from having to do it all himself.

And the Huskies did struggle down the stretch, losing four of five entering the Big East tournament and being stuck having to play Tuesday while all the elite teams watched with a double-bye.

One coach in the league even omitted Walker from his list of six players on the all-league first team.

But Walker does his best work when others have counted him out. It happened back in high school when he wasn't highly recruited — and now he's proved he can carry this team in the postseason.

"He's just a winner," said UConn assistant Andre LaFleur, who recruited Walker out of Rice High in New York. "He plays with so much energy."

But there were times when it looked as though Walker was toast.

"He said he couldn’t even feel his legs in the second half against Syracuse," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.

But Walker still managed to log 33 minutes — and it would have been more if not for early foul trouble in the championship game.

"I was gassed, but I just wanted to win this game so bad that my heart took over," Walker said.

Walker and his teammates will go back to Storrs and get ready for the NCAA tournament.

"It’s been a crazy season," Walker admitted.

While Walker stood on the platform ready to accept his Most Outstanding Player Award, his teammates started the chant.

"P-O-Y," they said over and over.

If you watched Walker at the Garden, it’s difficult to argue.

Tagged: Connecticut, Ater Majok, Kemba Walker, Charles Okwandu

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