College Hoops Saturday Recap: UConn Makes History

March 13th, 2011
Few people thought it could be done: winning five games in five days had never happened in the history of conference tournaments, and no team in the history of the expanded Big East Championship had gone from playing on Tuesday to the tile game. That all changed when Preston Knowles' attempt to tie the game at the buzzer hit the back iron, giving Connecticut the 69-66 win and their seventh Big East Championship title (first since 2004). MVP Kemba Walker scored 19 points, making the game-winning play on an assist after scoring a tournament-record 130 points through five games.

Walker culminated his drive to the basket with 33 seconds remaining with a wraparound pass to freshman Jeremy Lamb, whose layup gave the Huskies a 65-64 lead. Lamb, who finished the game with 13 points and seven rebounds, made a big play on Louisville's next possession as well. His deflection of a Mike Marra pass on a sideline out of bounds play resulted in a Louisville turnover, and a pair of Walker free throws gave the Huskies a 67-64 lead. But Kemba then made a mistake that was likely induced by a combination of fatigue and the savvy of Marra, who earned three foul shots by getting Walker off of his feet on a three-point attempt. But Marra missed the second, making the third when his objective on that shot was to miss on purpose.

"I was so mad at myself because Coach he said "stay down" and I'm telling everybody "stay down" and I'm the one that jumped," said Walker. "I was mad at myself but we were fortunate enough for him to miss that free-throw."

Preston Knowles led Louisville with 18 points and Peyton Siva added 13 and seven assists, but they were the team that looked fatigued early as the Huskies built a 12-point lead with 8:21 remaining in the first half. UConn would lead by as many as 14 but with Walker on the bench with two fouls the Huskies saw their lead shrink to six by halftime. But given what the Louisville pressure can do to teams the margin wasn't necessarily a bad deal for Connecticut with Walker being on the bench. Louisville continued what would turn out to be an 11-0 run, taking a 40-38 lead on a Chris Smith layup with 16:42 left in the game.

Would the young Huskies wilt? No as they tied the game on an Alex Oriakhi dunk a minute later, sparking a suspenseful back and forth battle that wouldn't be decided until the final seconds. The question now: how well can the Huskies recharge their batteries following the unprecedented run? The Big East Championship run that gets brought up most often is what Syracuse did in 2006, winning four in four with Gerry McNamara leading the way. But the difference between the teams are that UConn was safely in the field before this week (Syracuse was out by most accounts) and they're relatively healthy with Roscoe Smith's concussion against Georgetown being the lone injury (he looked fine last night).

McNamara was dealing with a groin injury that became infected during Big East week, and it didn't help matters that the Orange drew a Thursday afternoon game against one of the best defensive teams in the nation that year (Texas A&M). So before jumping to the conclusion that UConn will have a short stay in the NCAA Tournament it would be prudent to at least see who they draw. Jim Calhoun's team has shown this week that they have the ability to beat anyone.

Other Notable Happenings

1. Douglas Davis' buzzer-beater sends Princeton to the NCAA Tournament.
Combining the suspense of a conference that has never sent more than one team to an NCAA Tournament with the rubber match between Harvard and Princeton, the Ivy League playoff was likely the game of the day. And it certainly didn't disappoint, requiring a Douglas Davis jumper from the left wing as time expired to give the Tigers a 63-62 win and their first NCAA bid since 2004. Brandyn Curry's outback with 10 seconds remaining gave the Crimson a 62-61 lead, and after a Kyle Casey block with 2.8 seconds to go the Tigers had one last shot. Enter Davis, who finished the game 15 points despite shooting 4-14 from the field. As freshmen this group went 6-23, winning just three Ivy games on the season. As seniors they leave with a conference title and a trip to the Big Dance.

2. The same goes for Isaiah Thomas, who had an outstanding weekend in Los Angeles.
Recall the many questions about the Washington Huskies just as recently as last week, when Lorenzo Romar's team looked to be in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament if they couldn't turn things around? For the second consecutive season the Huskies limped into the Pac-10 Tournament, only to turn things around and win the automatic bid. Thomas' step-back jumper as time expired gave the Huskies a 77-75 win over Arizona, and their run last season resulted in a Sweet 16 appearance. Can they do the same this year?

Venoy Overton (suspension) will be back next weekend, and with Thomas playing the way he did this weekend in winning the tournament MVP award anything is possible. But similar to what Kemba Walker did for UConn, just as important for Washington has been the play of their complimentary pieces. Terrence Ross scored 16 points and C.J. Wilcox knocked down two critical baskets in the latter stages to keep the Huskies alive. If they can continue to make things happen and Matthew Bryan-Amaning shoots better than he did on Saturday don't be surprised if Washington turns some heads again.

3. San Diego State gets some payback, whipping BYU to win the Mountain West.
The one concern for BYU following the loss of Brandon Davies was how they'd do on the boards. They lost that battle in both games against New Mexico, with the lone loss in the four games following the win at San Diego State coming to the bigger Lobos in Provo. Given the rebounding ability of Steve Fisher's team combined with the likely anger festering thanks to two losses to BYU in the regular season and it was a perfect storm for a whipping. That's exactly what happened as Billy White went for 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and Kawhi Leonard added 20 and eight rebounds to lead the Aztecs to a 72-54 win.

Jimmer Fredette scored 30 and Jackson Emery added 11 but no other Cougar scored more than five points and as a team they shot 32.2% from the field. So the concern going into next week is twofold for BYU: rebounding and getting consistent scoring from a third option, and both issues likely have to be solved by Noah Hartsock. Hartsock made just two of ten shots, scoring four points and grabbing six rebounds. BYU will need more from a scoring standpoint if they're to get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The spotlight will be on Jimmer, but in order for the star to remain on the stage it will be the supporting actors who need to perform.


- Kansas backs up the trash talk, exacting a measure of revenge on Texas

- Penn State likely punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by beating Michigan State

- So much for being whipped in both regular season meetings. UCSB beats Long Beach State to win the Big West

- Alabama, Clemson and Virginia Tech now get to sweat out Selection Sunday

Top Five Games

1. Princeton 63, Harvard 62

2. Washington 77, Arizona 75 (OT)

3. Akron 66, Kent State 65 (OT)
The two bitter rivals, separated by just 14 miles, put forth an exciting game that needed overtime to render a verdict. Two blocked shots in the final seconds preserved the win for Keith Dambrot's Zips. Brett McKnight scored 15 points to lead Akron and Zeke Marshall added nine points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks. Carlton Guyton and Randal Holt scored 14 points apiece to lead the Golden Flashes in defeat.

4. North Dakota 77, South Dakota 76 (2OT)
The Fighting Sioux put together a thrilling comeback in Sioux Falls, scoring the final five points of the game to knock off the Coyotes in the Great West Final. Troy Huff led North Dakota with 15 points and Josh Schuler's three in the final seconds gave them an automatic berth in the Tournament, where they'll play Air Force on Tuesday night. Kendall Cutler led South Dakota with 24 points.

5. Boston University 56, Stony Brook 54
A pair of John Holland free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining capped the Terriers' comeback, giving them their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002. Holland scored all 27 of his points in the final 23 minutes, grabbing 11 rebounds as well. Leonard Hayes scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Seawolves.

Five Notable Performances

1. F Harrison Barnes (North Carolina)
40 points and eight rebounds in the Tar Heels' 92-87 overtime win over Clemson in the ACC semifinals.

2. G Isaiah Thomas (Washington)
28 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Huskies' 77-75 overtime win over Arizona to win the Pac-10 title.

3. F John Holland (Boston University)
27 points and 11 rebounds in the Terriers' 56-54 win over Stony Brook to win the America East crown.

4. G Christian Polk (UTEP)
27 points, four assists and three rebounds in the Miners' 67-66 loss to Memphis in the Conference USA title game.

5. G Jimmer Fredette (BYU)
30 points and six rebounds in the Cougars' 72-54 loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West final.