Cats swamped by UConn

Huskies pull away with 21-2 first-half blitz, never let Cats back in it

jtipton@herald-leader.com ,By MeNovember 25, 2010 

  • Maui Invitational

    Wednesday's games

    Championship: Connecticut 84, No. 9 Kentucky 67

    Third place: No. 2 Michigan State 76, No. 13 Washington 71

    5th place: Wichita State 70, Virginia 58

    7th place: Chaminade 68, Oklahoma 64

LAHAINA, Hawaii — The third time held no charm for Kentucky.

As he did Monday and Tuesday, Kemba Walker led Connecticut to a victory in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, this time scoring 29 points to help the Huskies beat UK 84-67 in the finals.

The margin tied UK’s worst defeat in this event (the previous mark an 80-63 loss to John Calipari-coached Memphis in 2006).

"That was a shellacking," Calipari said, borrowing term Barack Obama used to describe the mid-term elections earlier this month. "We were outplayed. We were out-coached. We were out-everything."

Calipari blamed "selfish" play for the blowout.

"We played against each other," he said. "They played for each other."

Although Walker scored 90 points in the three days here (he’d scored 30 or more in the previous three games), Calipari noted that several UConn players contributed. Alex Oriakhi had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Freshmen Niels Giffey and Shabazz Napier added 14 points and 13 points, respectively.

On Sunday, Calhoun lamented that the Huskies had a "bevy of nothing," a comment he explained away by saying, "I’m a (B.S.er), yes."

Walker unleashed the same bevy of talents that buried Wichita State, then Michigan State and finally Kentucky. He was named Most Valuable Player of the Maui Invitational. Terrence Jones, who led UK with 24 points, joined him on the all-tournament team along with Oriakhi, Steven Bennett of Chaminade and Kalin Lucas of Michigan State.

UK (4-1) had given up no more than 67 points all season. UConn (5-0) reached that number with 9:41 left.

Before Kentucky headed west, Calipari predicted that the Cats would be "broke" at some point. Then the program would learn a lot about its freshman-oriented team.

Breakage came in the final seven minutes of the first half. Although leading for only 10 seconds in the half, UK hung tough. The deficit was 29-27 when Doron Lamb hit a jumper with 7:05 left.

Then a basketball tsumani swept Kentucky into the locker room with a 50-29 halftime deficit to ponder.

As in earlier games here, Walker figured prominently for UConn. He scored 10 of the points in the 21-2 run.

Walker lost DeAndre Liggins on a backdoor cut for a layup. He hit two free throws after fouled on a drive. But he provided a psychological earthquake to match the real-life one that hit off-shore the night before.

With UK already trailing 42-29 and trying to limit the damage in the final few minutes, Walker rose and hit a three-pointer over Brandon Knight to put the Cats 16 points behind.

After Calipari called time with 2:08 left, Kentucky missed two shots and Walker buried another three-pointer to complete his 17-point half. That left him 15 points from matching the Maui Invitational scoring record with 20 minutes to go.

In all, UConn scored the half’s final 13 points.

Things weren’t going swimmingly until then, but Kentucky was hanging in there. Six UConn turnovers helped nullify foul trouble. Terrence Jones picked up his second and went to the bench with 9:01 left.

Knight struggled again with turnovers, committing three in the half. That gave him 11 in the last three halves. UConn outscored Kentucky 14-0 in fast-break points.

The second half began with promise of “Miracle on Maui” headlines. Three straight three-pointers (two byJones sandwiching one by Miller) brought the Cats with 54-39 at the first television timeout.

UConn, which played at a fast pace in the first half, seemed intent on milking the clock rather than playing basketball.

Walker slowed the rally with a driving shot, giving him 21 points with 15:20 to go.

But after Shabazz Napier launched a NBA-length three-pointer in practically a no-pass possession and a Liggins basket returned the UK deficit to 15, UConn called time.

Calipari countered with a hybrid zone, which looked like a 3-2.

Knight’s jumper brought the Cats within 56-43. The Cats got no closer.

Napier hit a three-pointer off inside-out action to cool UK’s jets. Walker’s next basket signaled this was UConn’s night. He lost the ball on a crossover, but teammate Niels Giffey’s diving save returned the ball to Walker. He drove to a layup to make it 63-45 as UK assistant Orlando Antigua threw back his head in disbelief.

"They came out with a viciousness and toughness we did not match," Calipari said.

When asked what inspired that toughness, Walker said, "That's us. That's who we are. We're out to show the world we’re still Connecticut."

Travel plans

The UK contingent plans to travel home on Thanksgiving Day. The Cats have a late-morning flight off Maui.

If the schedule holds, UK will touch down at Lexington’s Bluegrass Field at 1 a.m. Friday.

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