The 2016 NCAA tournament has already brought us some of the most unlikely upsets in recent memory. Yet, even in all the madness, not every dark horse was able to bring down the juggernaut. A clear example of this involved the Connecticut Huskies — the South Regions’s No. 9 seed — who just didn’t have the manpower to upend the tournament’s top overall team, the Kansas Jayhawks.
As most predicted, Bill Self’s team overmatched Kevin Ollie’s Huskies, and the Rock Chalk cruised to a 73-61 victory. And while this outcome shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise, the fact is when you’re dealing with a program of UConn’s caliber, you never know. As past Huskies teams — particularly the 2010-11 squad — have shown us, they know how to make a run.
While this group entered the 2011 tournament as the No. 3 seed in the West Region, it took an improbable Big East tournament victory for this squad to even get an invite to the big dance. But from there, just as he had done during the conference tourney, UConn’s Kemba Walker put the team on his back and carried it to unforgettable glory. Here’s a look at the three performances that best exemplified his dominance during that magical run.
3. 2011 National Semifinal: Walker vs. Kentucky
As unfathomable as it was at one point to think the Connecticut Huskies could actually make a run at a national championship, by the time the 2010-11 squad made it to the Final Four, all conventional wisdom had been thrown out the window. Despite a difficult matchup with the fourth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats looming, Jim Calhoun’s crew had the look of an unstoppable force. And leading the charge was Walker: the one man wrecking machine.
Try as they might, the Wildcats had no answer UConn’s All-American guard. Walker shot six for 15 from the field, one for five from three-point land, and knocked down five of six from the charity stripe. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and one block, and the Huskies would win the contest by a score of 56-55. Like we said before, with Walker setting the tone, Connecticut was simply unstoppable.
2. 2011 West Regional Third Round: Walker vs. Cincinnati
The third round of the West regional featured a Big East clash between Connecticut and the Cincinnati Bearcats. While the Huskies were easily one of the hottest teams in the country, Mick Cronin’s bunch was certainly formidable enough to play the role of spoiler. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, Walker managed to catch fire from the field. And once that happens, there’s just nothing you can do about it.
Aside from connecting on eight of 20 shots, UConn’s No. 15 also hit three of nine from three-point range and knocked down all 14 of his free throw attempts. By the time the buzzer sounded on a 69-58 Connecticut victory, Walker had compiled a stat line of 33 points, six rebounds, five assists, and one steal. As impressive as it was, the best was yet to come.
1. 2011 West Regional Semifinal: Walker vs. San Diego State
In the Sweet 16, the Connecticut Huskies had their work cut out for them in the San Diego State Aztecs, the region’s No. 2 seed. Not only had Steve Fisher’s club reeled off 34 wins at that point, but they also possessed one of the nation’s best defenses, limiting the opposition to just 59.2 points per game (seventh of 345). This was a group that had more than enough talent to end UConn’s magical run. In the end, however, Walker was simply too much to handle.
The 6-foot-1 guard shot an impressive 12 for 25 (48.0%) from the field, including four of eight from beyond the three-point arc and eight of 10 from the charity stripe. In addition to a game-high 36 points, Walker added three rebounds, three assists, and two steals, and UConn pulled off the 74-67 upset victory. In a big dance that saw him carry the Huskies to a national championship, this game was easily Walker’s most dominant performance of them all.
Statistics courtesy of S/R College Basketball.