Even great college basketball players get tired
Kemba Walker finally broke down and confessed: He was tired.
''Fatigue was definitely a factor,'' the All-America guard said after Connecticut beat Kentucky 56-55 to get to Monday night's championship game. ''I usually won't tell you guys I was tired, but I actually was.''
Walker and the Huskies have been in as grueling a stretch of basketball as any college team in recent memory.
There were five games in as many days - four against ranked teams - that gave the Huskies the Big East title. Then came the NCAA tournament and two games each weekend for three weeks including two across the country in Anaheim, Calif.
These guys have a right to be tired, especially Walker who has averaged better than 38 minutes per game.
''I'm fine,'' Walker said Sunday. ''It was a fast-paced game. That was the only reason I was a little out of breath. As long as I stay mentally tough and my team stays mentally tough, just like we've been doing throughout this whole postseason, we'll be fine.''
Some of Walker's teammates admitted they were starting to feel the effects of 10 games in 25 days.
''I'm not going to lie. I was definitely extremely tired,'' sophomore center Alex Oriakhi said. ''I guess all those games are staring to kick in. Coach did a great job of calling timeouts, getting us a little breather. Kentucky was tired as well. When you play that many games in that short a period of time you're going to get tired, and I was.''
Freshman forward Roscoe Smith was honest, too.
''When I woke up this morning I was tired,'' he said laughing. ''No, I'm not tired. It's kind of exciting. One more game to the season, and it's the biggest game of our lives, us and Butler. It's kind of energetic and can give us an edge.''
The championship game will be Connecticut's 41st of the season, the most any college team has played since 1948. Add in the postseason stretch and coach Jim Calhoun has a plan on how to handle his team with the school's third national title on the line.
''We've handled this situation just because we got used to playing so many games, we felt it was Groundhog Day,'' he said. ''Get up, breakfast, go to the gym, play, come back. ... We've made some adjustments. I talked to Kemba, some of the guys, to see how they're feeling.
''I think when you talk about psychic burnout, I worry about that a little bit, too. We don't want to give them so much. ... We worked very hard on (their defense). But we worked on it if a different way. For example, yesterday morning we were in a ballroom. We didn't take our shootaround time.''
Fatigue can affect both teams.
''You have to suck it up for one more game,'' Bulldogs senior guard Shawn Vanzant said. ''I'm ready to go.''
Sophomore guard Chase Stigall admitted nerves can play a part in how tired you get.
''Me personally, last night right before the first media (timeout) I was just super tired. That was because of a lot of the excitement in the air and the adrenaline was flowing, and somehow the adrenaline was gone and you crash after those first 4 minutes,'' Stigall said of the Bulldogs' 70-62 victory over VCU. ''To get ready for Monday night we have to stay mentally focused. I know practice won't be long (Sunday). A lot of mental work and slow movement to rest our legs as much as possible.''
Butler coach Brad Stevens had his players attend class last year on the day of the national championship game - a two-point loss to Duke - an easy thing to do when the arena is 6 miles from campus. This year it will be different, but not by much.
''Obviously, we'll have breakfast and film, then we'll have a shootaround,'' Stevens said. ''We've got our academic adviser with us. ... You miss three weeks of classes. It's hard. It's really hard. You have to constantly stay on top of that. We have study tables, all those things. That will remain the same. Tomorrow will be a normal game day on the road.''
No, it isn't.
It's for the national championship, tired or not.