HARTFORD -- Kemba Walker stirred up the XL Center and shook up Georgetown Wednesday night, turning the packed downtown arena into an electric stage for some wonderful playmaking.
More creative as he went, moving assertively around one defender and then the next, Walker was a showman - sometimes a magician, it seemed - and UConn followed its breathtaking guard to a rousing victory.
Walker had 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting, 10 assists and seven rebounds as the 13th-ranked Huskies defeated the No. 9 Hoyas 78-70 before a sellout crowd of 16,294.
"I've never seen a guy be able to do those things," coach Jim Calhoun said.
With Walker as the featured act, this was pure entertainment. It was back-and-forth, pulse-racing basketball between teams thriving under pressure, embracing tests of stamina, continually going at each other until one team, UConn, mustered the final answers.
The Huskies led by nine in the second half but trailed 70-69 after Austin Freeman pushed a Georgetown run to 10-1 on a layup with 4:01 remaining. The Hoyas would not score again. Walker quickly drove for a layup high off the glass, and the crowd remained on its feet as the Huskies reached 20 victories for the 19th time under Calhoun.
"It was just a giant win for us in 100 different ways," Calhoun said.
Walker didn't provide the only highlights for UConn (20-5, 8-5 Big East) - just most of them. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel had 23 points in 38 minutes, the second consecutive where-did-that-come-from performance from the sophomore guard/forward who scored a career-high 25 Sunday against Providence.
Alex Oriakhi had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Huskies, who play Friday at Louisville. Chris Wright scored 19 points for Georgetown, which had won eight in a row. Jason Clark had 13 and Austin Freeman 12 points and seven rebounds for the Hoyas (20-8, 9-5).
Georgetown showed why it is the best shooting team in the Big East, making one after another to keep pace with surging UConn in the second half. But, finally, needed jump shots started clanking off the rim.
After Walker made a pull-up for a 73-70 lead, Clark missed a three-pointer. Roscoe Smith was bottled up in the right corner and UConn committed a shot-clock violation. Wright then missed in the lane, Oriakhi grabbing the rebound. Walker was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws with 37.5 seconds remaining. Wright then missed another jumper, the ball going out of bounds to UConn.
"The offensive end was not the issue," Wright said, noting that the Hoyas earned desirable shots in crunch time. "As a team, we didn't play our usual defense so there were a lot of easy layups and easy shots for Kemba and his teammates."
Well, not all were easy. Walker just made them look easy. Take this sequence: With UConn leading 41-40, Walker zig-zagged around the perimeter and was met by Henry Sims, a 6-foot-10 center. Walker stopped his dribble, dipped low, flung the ball off the backboard, jumped to retrieve it and laid it in from a couple of feet.
"I thought he was throwing it too hard," Coombs-McDaniel said. "I had no idea what he was doing. It was a great play by a great player. He's playing out of his mind right now."
Coombs-McDaniel was the sidekick. His scoring (8-for-11 from the field) helped UConn successfully navigate both a zone and man-to-man defense. Again he was the beneficiary as Walker was swarmed, and he did a nice job finding space in the zone.
At one point, Walker and Coombs-McDaniel scored 25 consecutive UConn points, taking over a game in which the Huskies trailed by 10 in the first half.
"I thought they were pretty consistent the entire game," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "They put the ball in Kemba's hands and let him make plays. ... Our defense was horrible."
The Huskies, who shot 54.2 percent, cracking 50 percent for the fifth time, built a 57-48 lead on a scoop shot by Walker that awed the crowd. But Georgetown players kept silencing it, and when Calhoun picked up a technical for barking at referee Michael Stephens, Freeman made two free throws to cut UConn's lead to 60-57.
Wright made a three with 4:38 left and then Freeman scored to put the Hoyas ahead - and put the game back in Walker's hands. Walker reached 30 points for the seventh time this season.
"He basically put us on his back and led us to victory and scored every way possible," Oriakhi said. "When a guy is playing that well, it rubs off on the whole team."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun