Jan. 8, 2011: Heave, Ho Huskies. Walker Hits 28-Foot Miracle, 14-Foot OT Winner
On Jan. 8, 2011, Kemba Walker made the game-winning shot in an 82-81 win over Texas. But it was his three-pointer from nearly halfcourt with a second left on the shot clock was the lasting memory that gave the Huskies an 80-77 lead. "I threw it up and God was on my side," Walker said. (Patrick Raycraft, Hartford Courant / January 8, 2011)
It was two hours of emotional exertion in front of a raucous crowd, incredible playmaking and even mind-boggling snafus. Through it all, there stood UConn and Texas, right down to one buzzer and then the next, fighting to produce the final dagger, the lasting highlight.
The No. 8 Huskies and No. 12 Longhorns didn't need overtime to make this a wildly entertaining game - only to produce a winner. Finally, with 5.1 seconds remaining, Kemba Walker drove the lane and hit a pull-up jumper from about 14 feet, pushing UConn to an 82-81 victory before a sellout of 16,734 at the Erwin Center.
"Our best win of the year," coach Jim Calhoun said. "Far and away."
Walker struggled mightily, scoring 22 points while making just 8 of 27 shots. Still, there was never a doubt he would be the player called upon. He had missed a layup attempt in transition but UConn maintained possession and called timeout with 18 seconds left, Calhoun drawing up the play.
"His favorite place, and then spinning, and a little fadaway jump shot," Calhoun said. "I've always believed - be it Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Caron Butler, Ben Gordon - your best player should shoot the shot at the end, because that's why they're your best players."
Texas rushed past half court and called timeout with 2.4 seconds left. J'Covan Brown inbounded to Cory Joseph in front of the Texas bench. But as Joseph began to pull up, Shabazz Napier slapped the ball away. Joseph regained control, but his desperation three-pointer was well off.
Calhoun opted to double-team Jordan Hamilton and not guard the inbounder on the play.
"I thought, play five on four," Calhoun said.
When it was over, the Huskies (12-2) walked off, arms raised, Calhoun slapping hands. The deflated Longhorns (12-3) lined up on the court - their arms raised, too - saluting the student band as it played "The Eyes of Texas."
This game - at times a fiasco, then a work of art, then a test of wills - had a little bit of everything. UConn trailed by nine points in the first half and led by nine in the second before the Longhorns charged back.
Alex Oriakhi, emerging from a recent funk, led a bruising UConn inside game with 11 points and a career-high 21 rebounds. Brown and Hamilton (11 rebounds) each had 20 for Texas, and Gary Johnson had 16.
Napier had 15 points and Roscoe Smith 13 points and six rebounds for UConn, which had a 52-42 rebounding edge to make up for 38.1 percent shooting.
"That was definitely a crazy game," Oriakhi said. "They started doubling Kemba and we showed we can help him. We didn't just watch Kemba."
Getting to overtime was a journey.
Trailing 71-70, Walker converted a layup while fouled, flexing his muscles afterward, then made the free throw to give UConn a two-point lead with 1:14 left. Brown made two free throws to make it 73-73. Walker missed with 18 seconds left, then Johnson had his shot blocked by Oriakhi with 10 seconds left. The loose ball came to Smith, who immediately and inexplicably heaved it about 80 feet.
"I've seen a lot of things in my life," Calhoun said. "I've never seen that. I never have, really."
UConn players stood in disbelief, then regrouped to play defense as Brown went the length of the court. His jumper was off to the left, sending the game to overtime.
A miracle occurred with 2 minutes left in the OT and the score tied. The Huskies were stifled on a crucial possession. But Walker picked up the loose ball about 28 feet from the basket and flung it from his hip. It went in.
"God was on my side," Walker said.
"One of those days," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
UConn's 80-77 lead quickly evaporated, though. Joseph and Hamilton made jumpers to give the Longhorns a one-point lead with 1:15 remaining. The Erwin Center went wild. Both teams failed to convert on their next possessions, and ultimately the ball was in Walker's hands with time running down, his previous struggles on no one's mind.
He drove on Dogus Balbay, spun and knocked it down, adding this to the similar clutch shots he made down the stretch against Wichita State and Michigan State.
"I felt like I owed it to my team," Walker said. "I felt like, 'I'm going to get my shot, and I'm going to make it.' "