POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 23, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 04:23 a.m. HST, Nov 23, 2010
LAHAINA » Every time he got beat, Kemba Walker remembered how and why.
No one was beating the Connecticut guard yesterday. Go back to late in the summer, when Walker was humbled by the stars of Team USA in training sessions. It was the best possible thing to happen to him, as Wichita State could attest after suffering an 83-79 loss to Walker and the Huskies in the first round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Walker torched the Shockers for 29 of his 31 points in the second half after playing 4 minutes in the first period because of two quick fouls.
He scored 13 of UConn's final 14 points on a series of hard takes to the basket, pull-up jumpers and clutch free throws. All eyes gravitated to him on every play, even on the rare occasions when the ball wasn't in his hands.
Someone in the postgame press conference told the 6-foot-1, 172-pound junior that it looked like he went "NBA Live" on the Shockers.
Walker just smiled.
He's already had a taste of the NBA life. For four days in mid-August, he and nine other collegians of the USA Select team went against the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry to help the all-stars prepare for the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
In his mind, no way would yesterday's outburst have been possible without some punishment at the hands of some of those elite players.
"Nah. Not at all, not at all," Walker said. "I think me going to the different camps and the USA thing, it helped me big-time. ... It helped me slow my game, learn how to change pace.
"They (the NBA players) were coming at me every play. They played extremely hard and it just showed that you don't have to be a regular guy to play hard. Superstars play hard, too. Those guys brought it every possession."
After halftime, so did he. Walker's final line: 24 minutes, 31 points, 8-for-16 from the field, 14-for-15 from the stripe. Three steals, two assists, no turnovers.
On a team with six freshmen that was picked to finish 10th in the Big East, the junior is counted on by UConn coach Jim Calhoun to provide leadership.
"He was the conductor. The maestro. He took over the game," Calhoun said. "They tried matchups, big, small, couldn't find an answer for him."
Walker came in averaging 30 points per game in two wins this season, up from 14.6 as a sophomore. Even reaching the latter seemed unlikely after his two-point first half.
Then came the stunning scoring binge. The Shockers were shocked.
WSU led 60-51 with 9:54 left, a comfortable advantage that wouldn't last. Walker walked all over the favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference, breaking down WSU with his quickness and getting to the rim again and again, either finishing or absorbing contact and getting to the line.
"He's a veteran," Shockers guard David Kyles said. "He knows a lot of things that most guards don't even know in the game, as far as coming off ball screens and where he can dribble. He can tell when you're relaxing on defense."
"Kemba Walker's very hard to stop," said deflated WSU coach Gregg Marshall, whose team led the whole game except for the final moments of both halves. "You can't guard the foul line, like David said. We gotta do a better job of staying in front of the kid."
Walker, a 2008 McDonald's High School All-American, went for 42 points in the Huskies' lead-in game to the tournament against Vermont.
To Calhoun, this was more special.
"He showed those kids what will and competitiveness are all about," the coach said.