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A look at what to expect from the starting perimeter players Saturday at approximately 4 p.m., Tucson time, at Anaheim between No. 5-seed Arizona (30-7) and No. 3 seed Connecticut (29-9) in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament:
What’s going right: Arizona must be very concerned about Kemba Walker because look at what Jimmer Fredette, a similar point guard with a scorer’s mentality, did for BYU against the Wildcats the last two seasons. Moreover, San Diego State’s only three losses this season were to BYU and UConn. Fredette scored 49 points in McKale Center last year and 33 this season in Salt Lake City. The Cougars outscored the Wildcats 99-69 and 87-65 in those games, respectively. Walker can break down the defense like few other guards, and he has the flair for spectacular (See: Game-winning plays in Big East tournament). Defensively, Walker is a stud as well, with a team-leading 73 steals. When he draws double-team defenses, Walker generally kicks it out to shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, who has good size (6-5, 185) to shoot over defenders. Lamb was a deadly shooter against San Diego State, making 9 of 11 field goal attempts, including all three from three-point range.
What’s going wrong: Similar to his former Harlem (N.Y.) Rice High School teammate, Lamont “MoMo” Jones, Walker is a scorer who is required to make plays for others. Walker had only three assists and four turnovers against San Diego State in 40 minutes, but the Huskies won 74-67 because Walker set a UConn scoring record in the NCAA tournament with 36 points. Overall, however, Walker has a respectable 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with 170 assists and 85 turnovers. A glaring stat is Lamb’s scant 49 free-throw attempts all season (he’s made 39). That shows that Lamb can be sheepish with the ball, not being the aggressor and settling for the pull-up shot or three-pointer.
Walker said Thursday: “We won five games in five days in the Big East tournament, and everybody said we were going to be tired. After that, everybody said it was going to affect us in the second and third round of the tournament and it hasn’t yet. We’re playing great basketball as a team. We have something huge in front of us. We have a huge goal as a team, and we’re not going to let fatigue beat us. We’re going to overcome it. We have a team that is extremely mentally tough, and that’s going to get us over the hump.”
What’s going right: Jones did not take a backseat to former UA point guard greats like Mike Bibby and Damon Stoudamire with his 16-point, 6-assist and zero-turnover performance against Duke Thursday night. The 6-foot sophomore matched a season high with six assists (also against WSU on Feb. 17), had no turnovers for the fourth time this year. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was so impressed he embraced Jones and patted him on the head after the game. An example that Jones played within himself: He didn’t attempt a three-pointer, only the fifth time this year that’s happened. In fact, he has not attempted a three-pointer in his last two games.
What’s going wrong: Kyle Fogg played adequately against Duke with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting but he is still mired in somewhat of a shooting/scoring funk since posting 20 points against Oregon on March 5. Fogg is shooting 29.4 percent (5 of 17) from three-point range in the six games since the game against the Ducks at McKale Center. His three-point percentage has dipped from 41.7 percent last year to 34.1 this season.
Jones said Thursday: “It’s always going to be love (in terms of relationship with Walker). That’s like my brother. That’s off the court. When you on the court you’re enemies. I got to go with my teammates. He got to go with his teammates. That’s basically the bottom line. We’re going to come out and play two great games and try to lead our teams to the win, to the Final Four. You know, off the court is off the court. On the court, I run with my teammates all the time.”
Who has the edge? Connecticut. Aside from the decisive loss to BYU and Fredette, the Wildcats also lost two of three games to Washington and point guard Isaiah Thomas. They came a blocked shot away by Derrick Williams from going 0-3 against the Huskies. Walker is in the same mode as Fredette and Thomas because he demands attention, which should open possibilities for others. The Wildcats’ help-side defense and awareness will be put to the test perhaps more so by Walker than Fredette and Thomas because he has speed, athleticism and no fear going to the basket (his 296 free-throw attempts are only 23 fewer than Williams).
NEXT BLOG: MATCHUP PREVIEW OF THE STARTING FRONTCOURT PLAYERS FOR EACH TEAM