John Clay: Kemba will show Cats his super powers one more time

Mid-season lull over, NCAA is his showtime

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 1, 2011 

HOUSTON — The one you can't get out of your mind is the one at the end of the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.

There was Kemba Walker, ball in hand, game on the line, taking advantage of a defensive switch, doing a crossover, faking a move into the lane then, on an absolute dime, executing a devastating step-back.

That's not what you remember so much as you remember poor Gary McGhee, the Pittsburgh center who ended up guarding Walker, falling over into the lane as if he had somehow been hit by a major gust of wind.

Walker's shot found nothing but net, and Connecticut won 76-74.

"Without question," UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said on Thursday on the first day of interviews at the Final Four, "Kemba is the most valuable player in the country."

Not too much earlier, Walker had walked into a curtained-off area for his media interviews with his jersey hung around his neck and draped down his back like a superhero's cape.

Is Kemba Walker really Superman?

"I didn't bring my team here," protested Kemba.

Well, maybe not literally, but from what the 6-foot-1 junior did at the beginning of the season, and what he did down the stretch, it's indisputable to say that Walker is the main reason the Huskies are in the national semifinal matchup on Saturday with Kentucky.

Make that a rematch, of course. After all, the two teams met in the final game of the Maui Invitational the day before Thanksgiving. It wasn't much of a game. Walker scored 29 points in the 84-67 thumping, capping a three-game Island tour de force in which Walker scored 90 points in three games.

"That was a long time ago," said Calhoun.

In fact, you can divide Walker's season into three sections: stellar beginning, followed by mid-season lull, followed by dramatic finish.

Second game of the season, Walker dropped 42 points on Vermont. That preceded his marvelous showing at Maui, in which the Bronx bomber scored 31 on Wichita State and 30 on Michigan State before sending Kentucky home unhappy.

He didn't stop back in the states, either. The point machine scored 30 against New Hampshire, 31 at Pittsburgh, 31 at DePaul. It seemed most hoops heads penciled Walker's name on their Player of the Year sheets.

But then, suddenly, Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette grabbed the scoring spotlight, and Walker couldn't buy a basket. He missed 12 of 18 shots against Villanova, 11 of 17 against Tennessee, 16 of 23 against Louisville.

"I kind of hit a lull," Walker said on Thursday.

Then, final game of the regular season, against Notre Dame, the Huskies lost 70-67, but not because of Kemba. Walker scored 34 points, hitting 11 of 22 shots. Kemba was back. And with a vengeance.

He averaged 26 points in leading UConn through that ironman challenge that was the Big East Tournament. He dropped 33 points on Cincinnati in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament, then topped that with 36 in the Sweet 16 win over San Diego State.

When Arizona decided to try to take Walker away, the guard contributed seven assists in the regional-finals win over the Wildcats.

Now comes more Wildcats, the Kentucky kind.

"Kemba is an unbelievable player," said UK Coach John Calipari.

"If you went among our fans and said Ray (Allen) or Rip (Hamilton), it's very easy to say Kemba," Calhoun said. "He's in that category of first-name only."

This weekend, he'd love to make some more defenders look foolish and join the category of national champions.

"It's not about me," cautioned Walker, the kid in the cape. "It's about our team."

That's what the humble superheroes always say.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnclayiv.

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