* Wichita State should have been Connecticut today. You can make the argument that the Shockers did beat UConn in the Maui Classic.
But they didn’t beat Kemba Walker. They barely made Walker, the Huskies’ sensational guard, make a pass. Instead of clamping down on Walker and protecting a nine-point lead in the second half, Wichita State continued with straight up man-to-man defense and Walker Walker scored at will, allowing UConn to come back and win, 83-79.
The Shockers led 60-51 with 9:26 to play and were outscored 32-19 the rest of the way. Walker scored 21 of those UConn points mostly by driving to the basket and either finishing or getting fouled. He scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half after playing only a few minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
Yes, Walker is a great player. But the Shockers allowed him to be greater than he is by not switching up defensively. It was obvious WSU didn’t have a player quick enough to keep Walker from doing his thing and the Shockers’ help defense was non-existent.
I’m sure some people will dwell on the disparity in free-throw opportunities. Connecticut went to the line 44 times; Wichita State only 13. There were a couple of really questionable calls made down the stretch, one on WSU’s Gabe Blair who appeared to get a clean block on a Walker driving lay-up but was whistled and another on an illegal screen by Garrett Stutz.
But the real key to the loss was that WSU’s experience, which was the biggest factor in building that nice lead, went away late. The Shockers played tentative on the defensive end and forced bad shots in the final couple of minutes.
This was such an important game and one WSU had in hand. A win would have sent the Shockers against No. 2-ranked Michigan State on Tuesday, provided the Spartans beat Chaminade later today. That is a formality.
Instead, WSU will play Chaminade, a blah game that will do nothing for its RPI. And when you’re Wichita State and a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, RPI means a lot.
Early returns don’t look great for the Valley, which could easily send only its conference tournament champion to the 68-team NCAA Tournament. The Shockers, though, should be a good enough team to get an at-large spot in the tournament if they don’t win the Valley tournament championship. However, WSU’s at-large resume took a hit Monday and not getting to play Michigan State is another jolt.
On the postive side, how good a tandem are Toure Murry and David Kyles becoming? Both made big shots and appear to be rounding into one of the finest backcourt duos around. They combined for 37 points on 13-of-24 shooting, although Murry did take an ill-advised three-pointer in the final minutes when the Shockers needed to find a much better shot.
Stutz looked slow and out of place while playing only 12 minutes. He has started the regular season slowly and the Shockers need him to help the steady J.T. Durley with frontcourt scoring. Outside of Durley, the Shockers had no consistent inside scoring threat.
UConn had five freshmen on the floor Monday and the Huskies were beatable. But it was a junior, Walker, who decided he was going to beat the Shockers pretty much on his own. And the Shockers allowed it to happen.
* Nebraska coach Bo Pelini issued something that people will say is an apology Monday for his sideline behavior during Saturday’s Huskers loss at Texas A&M.
Really, all Pelini said was that he made his attacks on the officials personal and that he shouldn’t have done that. And he insisted things are OK between himself and Nebraska freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who was the target of one of Pelini’s many tirades.
Still to be heard from is Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, one of the most gentlemanly coaches in college football history. It didn’t seem like Osborne ever raised his voice when he was Nebraska’s coach. I’m curious what he thinks about Pelini’s demeanor, which became the focus of Saturday’s game.
* I’m in Kansas City and will write about Kansas State’s game against Gonzaga tonight in the semifinals of the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.
This should be fun. In all my years of covering the NCAA Tournament, this will be my first in-person look at Gonzaga. The contrast in styles tonight should be stark.
Duke and Marquette meet in the other semifinal and the winners play in the championship game Tuesday night. Of course, Kansas State-Duke is the game everybody here wants to see. Let’s hope that’s the case.