Kemba Walker was terrific, but UConn still looks mediocre
The Maui Invitational seems to always leave us with a memorable moments, be it a game that deserves to be on ESPN Classic or a great individual performance.
Its the reason that it is generally regarded as the best of the early season tournaments.
We only had to wait one game to get one this year.
Kemba Walker, fresh off of a 42 point performance in a win over Vermont, put his young UConn Husky team on his back on Monday afternoon (well, Monday morning if you are on the islands) and led them to a come-from-behind victory over Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State.
Walker was in foul trouble for much of the first half, sitting all but four of the first 20 minutes and scoring two points. UConn had a one point lead heading into the break, but the Shockers quickly built a nine point lead early in the second half.
That’s when the Kemba showed started. When it ended, Walker had scored 29 second half points and my twitter feed had officially blown up.
The lightening quick Walker drove to the rim at will. The slower Wichita State guards simply could not stay in front of him, as Walker drew foul after foul and scored layup after layup. For the last 12 minutes of the game, every UConn possession turned into Walker going one-on-one. And on seemingly every possession, Walker made something positive happen. If he missed the layup, it was Roscoe Smith tipping home the offensive rebound. If he passed the ball, it ended up in Smith’s hands for an open three or to Alex Oriakhi for an and-one alley-oop.
No question, Walker’s afternoon will go down as one of the best individual performances of the entire season.
And as excited as UConn fans should be that their point guard may very well be the best player in the country at this moment, this game should also send up some major red flags.
Wichita State is a good basketball team, don’t get me wrong. The Valley is as good as it gets at the mid-major level, and Wichita State was everyone’s pick to win the conference heading into the season. But compared to the rest of the Big East, the Shockers are probably a middle of the pack team, at best.
What does it say about UConn that they needed this kind of performance to beat them?
UConn was outplayed in the paint by the Shockers. Offensively, when the ball wasn’t in Walker’s hands, UConn looked lost. Defensively, Wichita State executed their offense to perfection and got just about whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it.
There is promise on this UConn roster, but consistency and offensive reliability is lacking.
Oriakhi finished with 12 points and 7 boards this afternoon, but he struggled defensively and didn’t rebound like he normally does. Shabazz Napier showed some moxie and flashed the potential to be a big-time point guard, but he has to improve his decision making, shot selection, and reduce his turnovers. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel still hasn’t seemed to earn Jim Calhoun’s trust. Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb, and Niels Giffey are long and athletic, but their skill level isn’t where it needs to be. Charles Okwandu and Tyler Olander? They’re certainly not Emeka Okafor and Josh Boone.
There is no reason to think that some of the younger guys on this roster can’t improve. But with how far some of these kids have to go to reach their full potential, how much can you really expect these guys to improve during the season? There will be nights when Napier or Oriakhi or Smith provide a secondary scoring option, but none of them will develop into a reliable scoring threat until there get at least one offseason of work.
If you take anything from this game, it should be the attitude improvement of the Huskies. Last season, UConn would have folded when Wichita State went up nine. Walker is an infinitely better leader than either Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson ever was.
But don’t expect this performance to change the outlook of UConn’s season.
The best teams in the Big East will be able to slow down one player that is going off.
UConn doesn’t have the weapons offensively to compete with the best in the Big East is Walker gets slowed down.
This game was a tremendous display of ability from Kemba Walker.
But anyone that thinks it changes the trajectory of UConn’s season is rushing to a premature conclusion.