Late heroics lifts Huskies over Texas

The clock was winding down, and Kemba Walker couldn't shake the defensive specialist Dogus Balbay. Then, after a few crossovers, Walker let fly a fall-away jumper from the left elbow, and watched as it hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

Walker has not had it easy in his last few games, but the National Player of the Year candidate was money when it mattered. He sunk the game winning shot in overtime on Saturday to lift the Huskies to an 82-81 non-conference victory at Texas.

Though he managed another 20+ point game, he struggled most of the way. He had five points at halftime and needed to attempt 27 field goals to get his 22 points. Walker was also off earlier in the week at Notre Dame, as Irish guard Ben Hansbrough frustrated him all night. In fact, Walker struggled so much on Tuesday that some wondered if it made sense for him to have not taken the final shot of the game, which would have tied it.

On Saturday, with the Huskies down by one in the closing seconds, there was no doubt that the ball would be in his hands. When Walker goes one-on-one at the top of the key, then puts up that mid-range jumper, the Huskies' point guard is nearly unstoppable. It is almost as automatic as a slam dunk (but maybe not one attempted by Texas sophomore Jordan Hamilton).

Walker's late-game heroics, despite a difficult 43 minute effort, show that UConn is slowly becoming a complete team. The Huskies are inexperienced, and that showed on Saturday, but for most of the game, it was sophomore Alex Oriakhi and the supporting cast that led the way until Walker found his game.

The early season criticism of UConn was that it was all Walker. The junior from the Bronx was the main reason the Huskies won the Maui Invitational, and it seemed like they would be lost without him.

Not anymore. On Tuesday, freshman Shabazz Napier's 18 points kept the Huskies in it. Then on Saturday, he added 15 more to go with Oriakhi's 11 points and 21 rebounds, and freshman Roscoe Smith's 13 point performance.

Simply put, Walker leads the way, making the big baskets, but shutting him down does not mean a victory for the opposition. Napier was the one who gave UConn its first lead of the second half when he banked in a three from downtown, and Oriakhi was the one who snared 10 offensive rebounds to aid the Huskies' 24 second-chance points.

The balance of Walker and the youth seems to be a formula that works. Walker certainly has millions of dollars waiting for him at the next level, but he is the only Husky currently in that situation.

Napier, who seems to be the future UConn point guard, has the perfect teacher to learn under. Eventually, the freshman's wild shots and tendency to dribble too much will go away, and if Napier can mirror the play of his backcourt teammate, the sky is the limit for him.

The Napier/Walker duo performing at its best means Oriakhi and senior Charles Okwandu do not have to do as much on offense, although they still need to rebound. Meanwhile, Smith and freshman Jeremy Lamb can continue to develop, giving the Huskies even more scoring options.

But as the win over Texas demonstrated, it all starts and ends with Walker. He is the first option to score, and on Saturday he took the last shot with the game on the line. This time it worked, and with Walker leading the way, don't look for the Huskies' offense to slow down any time soon.


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