Men’s Big East Notebook

Player of the Week: Alex Oriakhi, sophomore forward

The obvious choices for this distinction are Connecticut junior guard Kemba Walker and freshman forward Jeremy Lamb.  But don’t forget about the contributions of Alex Oriakhi. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward stabilized the interior for Connecticut while Lamb and Walker did likewise on the perimeter throughout the NCAA tournament.

In the championship game Butler only had two points in the paint and Oriakhi deserves some credit for that.  Butler senior forward Matt Howard was one of many Butler players that struggled offensively as he scored seven points and added only six rebounds after averaging 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game prior to last night.

Against Kentucky Oriakhi posted a near double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds.    Kentucky senior forward Josh Harrelson was held to three rebounds and four points after posting 12 points and eight rebounds against North Carolina in the Elite Eight, in part because of Oriakhi inside.

Connecticut ends season as national champions

The perfect season.  Not quite.

But the Connecticut Huskies posted an undefeated record in tournament play (14-0) that climaxed in a 53-41 victory over Butler for the national championship last night — Connecticut’s third national championship in school history.

It wasn’t easy early for Connecticut, as both teams struggled offensively in the first half to a score of 22-19 in Butler’s favor at the break– the lowest scoring national championship game since 1949.

But in the second half Connecticut outscored Butler 34-19 in part because of its defense which held Butler to 18.8 percent shooting (12-of-64) for the game – the lowest field goal percentage in the history of the national championship.

Junior guard Kemba Walker led the way again for Connecticut with 16 points and nine rebounds, in what might have been his last college basketball game.

Connecticut’s “perfect” season started at the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Nov. 22 when it was an unranked team battling against Wichita State.

That tournament opened people’s eyes as the Huskies prevailed 83-79 against a Witchita State team that won the National Invitational Tournament and two top-10 foes in Michigan State, 70-67, and Kentucky – which they defeated in the Final Four 56-55.   And everyone knows about Connecticut’s five games in five days to win the Big East Championship tournament.

In the game against Kentucky, Walker continued to make his case to be considered the nation’s best player, despite the fact he did not win the AP Player of the Year Award – that honor was given to Brigham Young senior guard Jimmer Fredette.

Walker had 18 points and seven assists and continued to impress with his hustle – saving balls from going out of bounds and diving on the floor for loose balls – in that victory against Kentucky.

With that game on the line, Kentucky went for the win with a 3-pointer and came up short with the score 54-52.  And it was freshman guard Shabazz Napier, who only had two rebounds for the game, who came up with the missed shot rebound.

He was fouled, went to the line and hit the two biggest free throws of his career to put Connecticut up 56-52 with two seconds left.  Those two free throws became all the bigger when Kentucky freshman guard Brandon Knight drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired.

Connecticut’s victory in the national championship should do wonders in changing the minds of those who say the Big East didn’t deserve the 11 bids it received for the NCAA Tournament or for those who say that the Big East was overrated. Actions speak louder than words.