Point guards pivotal to Final Four fates

Walker, Knight, Mack and Rodriguez proving to be pivotal floor leaders

mfields@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2011 

  • How the point guards match up this season

    Brandon Knight

    GFg-fga3pt-aFt-ftaReb. Ast. St. TO Pts. Avg.

    37 211-490 (43%) 84-220 (38%) 134-169 (79%) 3.9 4.2 23 117 640 17.3

    Shelvin Mack

    36 189-467 (40%) 78-229 (34%) 116-148 (78%) 4.3 3.6 30 88 572 15.9

    Joey Rodriguez

    39 125-358 (35%) 68-200 (34%) 93-114 (82%) 3.3 5.1 59 89 411 10.5

    Kemba Walker

    39 305-705 (43%) 74-218 (34%) 247-302 (82%) 5.3 4.5 74 87 931 23.9

HOUSTON — This NCAA Tournament has been a story of upsets, and the main authors have been four point guards who have provided winning plot twists for their teams time after time.

There's Kemba Walker, Connecticut's 6-foot-1 junior All-American who's been the Huskies' alpha dog.

There's Shelvin Mack, Butler's 6-3 junior from Lexington who lit up Pittsburgh for 30 points and Florida for 27.

There's Joey Rodriguez, VCU's 5-foot-10 (on tip-toes) senior who's orchestrated the Rams' improbable run, including a toppling of Kansas.

Then there's the new kid, Kentucky's 6-3 freshman Brandon Knight, who had game-winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State.

Will one of them write a final chapter about victory in this weekend's Final Four?

Walker, who won the (Bob) Cousy Award as the nation's best point guard, is considered the one guy most capable of carrying his team to the championship.

Walker has Final Four experience. He played 20 minutes and scored four points in UConn's loss to Michigan State in the 2009 semifinals. A role player then, Walker's a star now. Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun flatly calls him "the most valuable player in the United States."

Calhoun said when he recruited Walker out of the Bronx, "I thought I was getting a quick New York City point push guard, defender, all that type of thing.

"He's evolved into even more than that."

Knight has noticed.

"(Walker's) a great scorer, a great player and has come up big for his team in big-time situations. He's gotten better throughout his career and is playing his best basketball right now."

That's a scary thought for UK, considering Walker had 29 points in the Huskies' romp over UK in the Maui Classic

When Walker was asked how he could best be defended, he quipped: "How would I stop myself? I wouldn't be able to."

Knight has been tough to collar, too, especially in late-game situations.

His driving layup in the closing seconds lifted UK over Princeton in the first round of the tournament, and his 15-foot buzzer-beating jumper felled Ohio State in the region finals.

"It's hard to describe," Knight said of his penchant for heroics. "It's just something you do in the spur of the moment.

"At the end of a game when you're tired or down, you just have to focus and do your best to make sure your team is in a position to win."

Calhoun described Knight as "one of the most cerebral" freshman in the nation. "Not just the fact that he's intellectually gifted, but he's cerebral in the sense of focus.

"He's not the best athlete point guard here, but he's tough, focused and he has found what he does really well — his three-point shooting particularly.

"Bottom line, he's one of the best players in the country."

UK Coach John Calipari said Knight has matured from a quiet high school kid into a take-charge leader. Calipari remembered watching Knight in AAU settings when he never spoke.

"He just played. Well, you can't lead a team unless you're speaking.

"Now you come into practice and you hear his voice above all others."

Mack has developed in much the same way. The former Bryan Station star is quiet by nature, but he's opened up more in three years at Butler, especially on the court.

He was an integral part of Butler's national runner-up team last year, but when Gordon Hayward jumped to the NBA, Mack became more of a leader.

"I think my role changed a lot," Mack said. "Last year Gordon had the ball a lot late in the game. This year coach has trusted me more in those situations."

VCU guard Brandon Rozzell is sold on Mack.

"He's an outstanding player, out there with the best in the country — like Kemba Walker," Rozzell said. "He's aggressive, strong and can do anything on the court.

"I know we'll not be able to stop him. Hopefully we can contain him and make him uncomfortable."

Butler Coach Brad Stevens is Mack's biggest fan, on and off the court. "I think he tries to play well, be a good person and student," Stevens said. "He's 3-for-3."

If there is an overlooked star in this quartet of Final Four point guards, it's Rodriguez.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart think people don't give Rodriguez the respect and recognition he deserves.

When Rodriguez said he's the Rams' go-to-guy late in games, Smart wasn't surprised.

"Joey always says it's him, and that's the best thing about him. That's why he's here. He has a terrific belief in himself.

"I saw something that rated the point guards in the Final Four, and he was fourth out of four. I just smiled."

VCU teammate Jamie Skeen said Rodriguez is the heart and soul of the team.

"He's a great leader, he's the guy who runs us.

"...Without him, I feel like there's no us and we wouldn't be here right now."

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