Kemba Walker puts on one-man show in Hartford
Hartford - Junior Kemba Walker looked exhausted Wednesday.
Sitting on the XL Center floor under the basket late in the first half, Walker tried to catch his breath after getting knocked down.
"I was just tired," Walker said. "My stomach started to hurt and my back started to hurt but I was good."
Walker was more than good. He was spectacular.
The Kemba Walker Show started early and ran late, as the dazzling point guard finished with a career-high 42 points, carrying UConn past Vermont, 89-73.
"We struggled just about the entire game," coach Jim Calhoun said. "But Kemba's performance was pretty special. Every time we needed something, he got it. He also led us in rebounding. He played with great determination.
"He got stomach cramps and had them right off the bat. Thank God, he recovered."
No Husky - not Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler or Ben Gordon - has scored more points in Calhoun's 25 years in charge. Donyell Marshall (1993-94) and Cliff Robinson (1987-88) also scored 42 points. The point total also tied Robinson's building record in Hartford.
Walker can rest at least until UConn (2-0) plays Wichita State in the Maui Invitational opener Monday in Hawaii.
The Huskies have no other reliable offensive options right now. Freshman Roscoe Smith scored 15 points but several points came with the Huskies in control. Sophomore Alex Oriakhi had 11 points to go with seven rebounds and five blocks.
Even with Walker scoring 21 points in the first half, the Huskies trailed 36-33 at the break and didn't seize the lead for good until freshman Tyler Olander converted two free throws for a 45-43 lead with 15:41 remaining.
"Even though Walker had 21, I was like, 'Hey, that's fine. He can get his 40 if we can just stay in the game,'" Vermont coach Mike Lonergan said.
The game changed when UConn applied ball pressure, forcing 12 of Vermont's 19 turnovers after intermission. Freshman Shabazz Napier was a pest, finishing with five steals.
Walker played the starring role, sparking a game-changing run by sinking a variety of shots all over the court. He showed off his improved midrange jumper. He drained three free throws to surpass his previous career high of 29 points against Villanova last Feb. 15. He floated in a runner and grabbed a loose ball off a rebound and scored.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Walker said. "That's what I did and I was fortunate enough to get baskets."
Walker energized the struggling Huskies, who suffered through defensive lapses, especially inside, poor shot selection and unforced errors. The Vermont duo of Evan Fjeld (26 points) and Matt Glass (24) led the Catamounts, who shot 47 percent from the field.
His teammates admired the Kemba Walker Show but realize they need to play a supporting role instead of a spectator's role.
"He really just put us on his back and he was scoring at will," Oriakhi said. "That's kind of what we expect from him. I didn't think he was going to get 42. If he can do that, why not? But he's going to need help."
Walker has faith in his young teammates but will take over when necessary this season.
"I just want to do what it takes to win," Walker said.
By the way, Walker has had higher scoring games in his playing career. As a 15-year-old, he scored 88 points in an outdoor tournament in his Bronx neighborhood. His best scoring output at Rice High School was 39 points.