HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)—Kemba Walker had the ball at about the free throw line and he was being covered after a switch by a player 9 inches taller than him.
He had quite a list of possible plays in front of him. He could have faked and faded for a jumper. He could have put his head down and drove and then either tried to score or pass.
What he finally did isn’t on the list of options for almost every basketball player in the world.
Walker did fake to his left, then threw the ball hard off the backboard and since he was the only player who had any inkling of the play, he grabbed the ball and flipped it in from about 4 feet, just one of his many highlight-reel plays in No. 13 Connecticut’s 78-70 victory over No. 9 Georgetown on Wednesday night.
“I just seen the lane open and at the time it was the only play available so I went for it,” said Walker, who had 31 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. “I did it a lot in pickup over the summer but I never did it in a game. I don’t know what Coach would have done if I missed it.”
Since he did make the shot, we know that Huskies coach Jim Calhoun laughed about it after the game.
“I haven’t seen the bank play in quite some time, as in never,” Calhoun said. “A kid from West Virginia tried it against us one time and it was unsuccessful. That one was him. Obviously he was wonderful.”
And what did his teammates think?
“He’s done it in pickup but never in a game,” forward Alex Oriakhi said. “I thought `What are you doing?’ Then he put it in and we all went crazy.”
The win ended Georgetown’s eight-game winning streak and was a huge boost for Connecticut, which had lost three of five, including two at home.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel had 23 points in his second straight big game for the Huskies (20-5, 8-5 Big East).
Coombs-McDaniel is on a two-game run nobody could have expected. On Sunday, he had 25 points in a win over Providence, 14 above his career high entering the game. Even with that he came in averaging 5.4 points, and had his 23 this time on 8-for-11 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.
“Jamal came off the game he dreamed of two years ago when he came here,” Calhoun said, “and now he’s done it back-to-back and we need it.”
The sophomore forward said he “feels real confident.”
“My teammates have confidence in me and I’ve just been knocking down shots,” he said.
Chris Wright had 19 points for the Hoyas (20-6, 9-5), who went on their winning streak after starting conference play 1-4.
“They put the ball in Kemba’s hands and let him make plays,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.
Wright had an explanation for what happened to the Hoyas.
“We got two very good looks (at the end of the game). The ball didn’t go,” he said. “The offensive end was not the issue, it was the defensive end. As a team we didn’t play our usual defense and that’s what led to a lot of easy shots for Kemba and his teammates.”
A few of Walker’s shots were far from easy.
Walker had a highlight reel full of incredible drives to the basket, with the 6-foot-1 junior going under, around and sometimes it seemed through bigger defenders.
Georgetown’s last lead was at 70-69 on a basket by Austin Freeman with 4:01 left. But that was the Hoyas’ last field goal of the game as the Huskies closed on a 9-0 run with Walker scoring the first three points of it.
The game was a matchup of two of the top candidates for conference player of the year in Walker, who is second in the league in scoring at 22.8, and Freeman, who is third with an 18.5 average. This one went to Walker in a walkaway.
“Kemba was Kemba. His offense is instantaneous,” Calhoun said of Walker, who had a triple-double earlier this season against UMBC.
“He is fifth in the Big East, a pretty good conference, in defensive rebounding. He is second in assists. Third in steals. And he averages 22 points a game while leading a lot of young people to some awfully good places and right now we are 20-5. You hear he can’t be Big East player of the year. They’re right. He should be national player of the year.”
It wasn’t just the points Walker scored, it was how he scored them.
His off-the-backboard play came with 13 minutes to go and the sellout crowd of 16,294 at the XL Center was suddenly alive because of Walker and he didn’t let them down.
A minute later he drove through two defenders and flipped the ball in to give the Huskies a 57-48 lead.
His third amazing move came with 8 minutes left, just after a technical foul was called against Calhoun.
Walker went past the basket, turned, and with his back to the rim, flipped the ball over and in for a 63-57 lead. Each of the moves had the crowd going crazier, but the Hoyas stayed within striking range and took the lead on Freeman’s basket after a give-and-go for their last lead and field goal. Georgetown missed its last seven shots and saw its longest winning streak since an 11-game run in 2006-07 end.
“We didn’t execute at the end and he kept getting to the basket and we didn’t do enough to make him force it out,” said Freeman, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, including missing all four of his 3-point attempts.
Wright finished 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.