If you had any doubts before, you shouldn't now: UConn is one of the best teams in the country. The Huskies destroyed a talented Kentucky team last night on the way to a 84-67 victory. They played better, smarter and harder. Kentucky was outcoached, outran and outclassed.
The Huskies owned the paint, with Alex Oriakhi grabbing 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
They controlled the wing too, with Niels Giffey coming out of nowhere to score 14 points and repeatedly make the type of ball-saving clutch plays that can't be measured on a stat sheet.
The Huskies also came out on top in a battle of freshman guards, as Shabazz Napier once again proved invaluable, scoring 12 points and playing a hyperactive, harassing defense to help shut down Brandon Knight, who had just six points on 3-15 shooting.
And that's all before you get to the incomparable Kemba Walker.
Walker, for the third day in a row, looked like the best player in the country. He has 29 points, six assists and went 3-4 from behind the arc. He was a joy to watch as he guided his younger teammates, smiling the whole time and by all reports after the game he did his best to turn the focus from him to the team.
"We wanted to show the world we're still UConn and that Coach Calhoun can still coach a team," he Walker.
Indeed, and make no mistake, the world knows about UConn now. In the course of three days they battled back to defeat a scrappy Wichita St. team, fought off the No. 2 team in the country and obliterated a top-ten Wildcat squad that has as much pure talent as anybody.
This was UConn basketball at it's best too. The Huskies played smart team basketball with a ton of heart and hustle. There is so much to say about this team and its performance, but it's Thanksgiving, so I'm going to keep it short and give it to you in bullet form.
- I was really happy to see Walker get six assists last night to go with his 29 points.
- Alex Oriakhi really was a beast inside the paint. We talked a lot early in the season about how Kemba's ability to lead the team to victory would depend on him getting some measure of help from inside the paint. It looks like Oriakhi is up to the task.
- I've seen him play all of five games, but Shabazz Napier is all ready one of my all-time favorite UConn players to watch. He looks like he's about 115 pounds soaking wet, but he plays with incredibly intensity. His defensive pressure is off the charts and he's a great complement to Walker. The only glaring weakness in his game right now is his shot selection, but even then, half of his bad shots somehow find the bottom of the net.
- How about Niels Giffey? He came out of nowhere last night and now I can see why Calhoun adores him. He's the perfect "intangibles" guy that seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He hit a pair of clutch 3s yesterday and made an incredible play to save a loose ball that kept UConn's 21-2 run going in the first half.
- It's a testament to how impressive this team is that I'm almost done with this and I haven't felt the need to mention that run yet. Yes, it came once Terrence Jones was on the bench, but it was among the most impressive stretches of UConn basketball I've ever seen.
- I love this team's resiliency. They erased two 9-point deficits against Wichita St. on Monday. On Tuesday they held off an experience MSU team down the stretch. Last night I was worried Kentucky might come out of the half red hot, and they did. In the space of one minute the Wildcats hit three 3s and looked ready to make a run. UConn cranked up the defense, kept Kentucky from scoring for the next three minutes and the Wildcats never challenged again.
- Finally, the man at the heart of this deserves boatloads of credit. Jim Calhoun has taken a team with one star, an emerging sophomore and a freshman class that was discounted by most experts and quickly made it into one of the best squads in the country. This team hustles, it is disciplined and it doesn't crack under pressure. Plus, in the past two days Calhoun has straight-up outcoached Tom Izzoand John Calipari, especially Calipari, whose team had no answers for the young Huskies. There is a reason the man is in the Hall of Fame, and you saw it this week.