Jim Calhoun found out what life is like without point guard Kemba Walker on Monday afternoon during the EA Sports Maui Invitational. And from the first indications it wasn’t all bad as the UConn Huskies held the halftime lead against the Wichita State Shockers. With Walker in the lineup for a the better part of the second half good things happened.
Walker scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half to help the Huskies to a 83-79 win over the Shockers in front of 2,400 at the Lahaina Civic Center on the island of Maui.
The Huskies (3-0) will now face the winner of the Chaminade/Michigan State matchup which will take place later on Monday. The Shockers (1-1) will face the loser of that game.
With Wichita State holding a 76-71 lead with 3:54 to go in the game, Walker scored the next seven points, four on free throws and a three-pointer, to the put the Huskies up in front by two with 2:26 remaining. Graham Hatch put the Shockers back up front by one with an old fashioned three point play.
Walker would give the Huskies the lead for good when his jumper made it 81-79. Walker would add two free throws and Alex Oriakhi would make one of two at the line for the final margin of victory.
Walker spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls playing just four minutes. Besides the 31 points, he also had three rebounds, two assists and three steals. Oriakhi had 12 points and seven rebounds while freshman Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier added 10 points. Jeremy Lamb chipped in with seven points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Toure Murry led four Shockers in double figures with 19 points. David Kyles added 18 points while J.T. Turley had 12. Hatch rounded out the Shockers in double-digits with 10 points. Aaron Ellis pulled down six rebounds in the losing cause.
The first half was a see-saw affair early on before Wichita State went up five on a Turley jumper at 16-11. The Huskies reeled off five straight points before the Shockers responded with five of their own. UConn battled back to tie the game on two free throws by Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. The Shockers got the lead back to five points before UConn battled back to take a one-point lead when Smith hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Wichita State built up a nine point lead in the second half before Walker decided to take over. He would constantly attack the basket either hitting the layups or drawing the foul.
Solid effort by the Huskies all around. I was quite impressed with how they stepped up their game without Walker in the first half. At most points of the first half with Walker on the bench, there were usually four freshman and a senior. It was great experience for them especially in a tight game and they showed they can play without Walker.
Of course we don’t want to see that too many times this season but at least now we know these young players can step up their games to another level.
The game tomorrow night in Maui will start at 7 p.m. and be televised nationally on ESPN.
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Notes and musings:
The starters were Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Niels Giffey, Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu.
The last time the Huskies played in the EA Sports Maui Invitational was in 2005 when they won the championship.
UConn shot 44.4% (24-of-54) from the floor while Wichita State shot 47.6% (30-of-63).
The Huskies had just seven assists on their 24 made baskets.
UConn was 3-of-12 (25%) from three-point land while Wichita State was 10-of-24 (41.7%)
The Huskies were 32-of-44 (72.7%) from the free throw line including 14-of-15 by Kemba Walker. The Shockers only got to the line 13 times, making nine of them (69.2%)
UConn was outrebounded 36-33.
The Huskies outscored the Shockers 34-32 in the paint and held a 16-15 advantage on second-chance points.
Wichita State held an 11-9 advantage on the fast break.
UConn had 18 points off of nine Shockers turnovers. The Huskies had just five turnovers turned into 14 points by Wichita State.
Photo credit: AP Photo