Kemba Walker keeps getting slighted by his Big East brethren — and he keeps making everybody he faces pay for it.
Walker scored 28 points in another stellar performance Wednesday, leading the 21st-ranked Huskies past No. 22 Georgetown 79-62 and into the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Many consider Walker a favorite for national player of the year honors, yet he wasn't even a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection — at least one opposing coach left him off his ballot. And when the conference announced its player of the year Tuesday, it was Notre Dame star Ben Hansbrough who stepped up to the microphone and accepted the award.
"I think someone took a vacation and didn't tell us and has been gone five months. That's one theory of mine," replied UConn coach Jim Calhoun, when asked how Walker could be overlooked among the five best players in the league.
"Whether we have a player of the year or not," Calhoun continued, "I think he's the best player in the country, and that should be more important."
UConn had been struggling coming into New York City, losing four of its last five regular-season games. But with Walker putting together two masterful performances and the Huskies getting some inspired inside play for the first time in weeks, they appear capable of becoming the first team to reach championship Saturday after starting off on Tuesday.
Walker had 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists in their opener against DePaul. He only had 11 points at halftime Wednesday, but dominated the final 20 minutes, eclipsing Richard Hamilton for fourth on the school's single-season scoring list in the process. The league's second-leading scorer has 748 points this season — with at least a couple games still to go.
"We're coming to play it all," said Walker, who also had six rebounds and three assists against Georgetown. "Right now we're in a great situation. Pittsburgh beat us at Pittsburgh, and we want to redeem ourselves, so we're not going to let no fatigue beat us."
Yes, the Huskies get top-seeded Pitt next.
The last three times the two teams met in the Big East tournament, they were playing for the conference championship — including 2004, the last time the Huskies won the title.
"I would hope after these two wins and coming in we have a little momentum going, and we know who we're facing," Calhoun said. "We have a great opportunity to beat a terrific, terrific basketball team in Madison Square Garden. What's better than that?"
Jason Clark had 23 points and Austin Freeman scored 20 to lead the Hoyas (21-10), but the backcourt duo combined to go 2 for 13 from beyond the 3-point arc. They also got virtually no production from Julian Vaughn in the post. He was scoreless in 12 minutes.
"We're still a confident team," Freeman said. "We just need to get back on track."
It would help if the Hoyas get Chris Wright back for the NCAA tournament.
The senior guard spent another afternoon on the bench dressed in a suit, with a brace on his broken left hand. He was hurt Feb. 23 at Cincinnati, and coach John Thompson III has been hoping that Wright will be available for the rest of the postseason.
"We miss Chris, absolutely, 100 percent, both ends of the court, in every way," Thompson said. "The group that's playing now, that played to today, has to be better."
The teams were tied 15-all midway through the first half, before Roscoe Smith scored his only basket to start a 22-7 spurt for UConn. By the time Jeremy Lamb hit a 3-pointer with 3:36 left, the Huskies had pulled ahead 37-22.
The biggest problem for Georgetown in the first half was the inside play of Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu, who gave the Huskies a big advantage on the glass.
It didn't hurt that Walker was his usual dazzling self.
He got Georgetown into early foul trouble with his dribble penetration and slick ball handling, while also making things happen on defense. He blocked a shot late in the first half, gathered in the rebound and went the length of the floor for a layup and a foul.
"He has a lot of weapons," Clark said. "I mean, you can't guard him one-on-one. You have to have help from everybody else on the team and try to get the ball out of his hands."
Something the Hoyas didn't do enough.