Game Notes: Uconn at DePaul
Kemba Walker and the Huskies cruise past the Blue Demons.
by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
Despite their lackluster record, DePaul usually plays hard enough to avoid getting completely blown out of the water. Unfortunately, with No. 10 UConn in town Saturday, such was not the case, and the Huskies made quick work of the Demons, winning 82-62 behind 31 points for Kemba Walker.
“UConn showed us and everybody else why they’re an outstanding basketball team,” Purnell refelected. “Obviously Walker is a very tough player, and we got off to a tough start. We were kind of battling uphill for most of the half.”
Things were lopsided from the outset, when the Huskies wasted no time jumping out to a 10-2 lead. Signs of just how the game would proceed came early on as DePaul (6-11. 0-6) turned it over, UConn (14-2. 3-2) got easy — in some cases wide open — baskets and Kemba Walker led the way.
Looking to ignite his team, DePaul coach Oliver Purnell got hit with a technical at the 13:37 mark in the first half. While it may have worked to an extent, it was not enough to give his team the push it needed. Cutting the deficit to eight, the Blue Demons aggressive mindset and commitment to getting the ball inside put the Huskies in the bonus with 10 minutes left in the half. DePaul failed to capitalize however, missing three straight free throws that could have potentially shrunk the difference to five.
Instead, after several DePaul missed opportunities and empty possessions, Walker responded with a jumper of his own to push the lead back to 10. Immediately, the array of scoring methods that have propelled him to the nation’s leadiong POY candidate were on display. Pickpocket steals for easy breakaway layups; acrobatic finishes; mid-range pull-ups; 3′s off the dribble, 3′s off the catch.
“Their guards were unbelievable in the first half. They shot it well, the handled the ball well,” said Purnell. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a better guard anywhere than Walker. Then Lamb played well, he played one of his better games.”
The positive energy rubbed off on his teammates as well, as the Huskies shot a sizzling 16-for-28 from the field, in the game’s first 20 minutes. On the flip side, the Blue Demons were unable to find the rim with any consistency at all. Much of that was due to stout UConn defense, anchored by Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Charles Okwandu who protected the lane like hungry watchdogs.
Struggling to stay even remotely in the game, Cleveland Melvin almost singlehandedly kept his team competitive. The 6-9 forward, who at one time was set attend UConn before de-committing, has been on a roll lately and didn’t stop Saturday, scoring, rebounding and keeping plays alive for otherwise dormant DePaul.
“He played the way he’s been playing,” Purnell said of his freshman standout. “I don’t think he did anything special. He played that way against Georgetown and West Virginia.”
“I think he really led us in a situation when we were really down. We could have folded the tent, and Cleveland really led us in the effort department.”
As poorly as they played, a Melvin free throw cut the UConnlead to nine, giving the Demons a chance to head into halftime within single digits. But coach Jim Calhoun called a timeout with 5.4 seconds left, and the Huskies resumed by traveling the length of the court, breaking the DePaul press, and Shabazz Napier hitting a cutting Walker for a buzzer-beating layup. 45-34 UConn, at the half.
“The second half, it got a little rough,” said Purnell.
UConn’s big man core that was so effective in the first half on the defensive end, got the job done on the offensive side if the ball, aiding Walker and thrusting the Huskies to a 31-12. Oriakhi led the way, abusing the Demon interior — a task made even easier by with Kris Faber, DePaul’s lone true center.
Essentially, it came down to, being able to make open shots. The While the Huskies did cool down a bit from the field, the Demons woes only worsened, shooting a lowly 28 percent in the second half.
“We’re struggling to score. We had some decent looks from getting the ball inside. We’re just not converting, we’re not finishing inside. It seems like it snowballs a little bit. We’ll miss one, the another will miss it, and you get frustrated and lose a little confidence.”
Pushing the lead to as much as 30, the Huskies cruised through the rest of the afternoon. Scrappy play by DePaul helped them cut the deficit to a more respectable 20 by game’s end.
“Most of our struggles had to do with UConn and good of a team they are, how good of a player he [Walker] is.”
In addition to Walker’s sixth 30 point game of the season, Jeremy Lamb chipped in 13 and Oriakhi added 11. Melvin led the Blue Demons with 25 points and 12 rebounds — his first career double-double. Freshman guard Moses Morgan was the only other Blue Demon in double figures, finishing with nine in the best game of his young career.