Wright, Nova Set For Big East Showdown With UConn
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright can fast-forward the video and put the scouting report in his junk mail pile.
For a few weeks last summer, Kemba Walker was his guy.
Wright had a daily inside look at the UConn guard who is dominating his way toward player of the year honors. Wright’s summer break from coaching Villanova included a stint as co-coach of the USA Select team — college stars picked to scrimmage against the USA National team before their trip to Turkey for the World Championships.
No player wowed Wright last summer quite like Walker. No player concerns Wright this week quite like Walker.
Walker stands in the way of No. 7 Villanova escaping Storrs, Conn., with its biggest road win of the season. The Wildcats (16-1, 4-0 Big East) have won 11 straight games entering Monday’s matchup at No. 10 Connecticut (14-2, 3-2).
“I know what he did for us against Kevin Durant, so now we have to go against him,” Wright said. “It’s scary.”
Walker’s 31 points in Saturday’s win against DePaul means he has led the Huskies, who vaulted into prominence with a Maui Invitational championship, in scoring in every game this season. He leads them in scoring (25.6 ppg), assists (3.8) and is even third in rebounds (5.4).
He’s aggressive, can change speeds and blow by defenders, and has carried the Huskies even as he’s been badgered and bullied and absorbed his lumps on the court as teams try all kinds of tactics to slow him down.
Wright saw Walker’s excellence during practices and scrimmages in Las Vegas and New York.
After the initial training session in Las Vegas, the team was scaled back to 10 players for the New York slate. Wright picked two point guards to head east: Butler’s Shelvin Mack and Walker.
“Offensively, they couldn’t press us,” Wright said. “He had a day there where he went for 26 against those guys. On the offensive end, he’s not just a shooter. He’ll come off screens, he’ll play off the ball and he’ll find teammates.”
Walker’s helped UConn develop into one the surprise teams in the Big East a year after Jim Calhoun’s health issues and an NCAA investigation stained a season that finished in the NIT.
He also wants to keep the Huskies’ dominance over the Wildcats going — UConn has won 16 of the last 24 meetings dating back to 1996. Wright is 4-10 vs. UConn.
“I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to it,” Walker said. “I think we’re going to come with a lot of effort and intensity.”
The Wildcats have that double-double going for them in just about every game. Need proof? Ask Maryland, which blew a 12-point lead in the second half on Saturday once Corey Fisher started making shots for the Wildcats. Fisher scored eight of his 17 points during a 19-0 run in a 74-66 win over the Terps.
Fisher, and the rest of the senior class, started the rally at halftime with a pep talk.
“They just called us together and were like, ‘Yo, listen. It’s time to get going,”‘ said guard Maalik Wayns.
Fisher and Walker are close friends, growing up minutes away in the same Bronx neighborhood. They attended the same junior high school before attending different high schools and each expect family in the stands for the holiday matinée.
Barring foul trouble or injury, Fisher’s family will see No. 10 all over the court for almost 40 minutes. The Wildcats are thin off the bench and their starters have logged heavy minutes — three played at least 36 minutes against the Terps.
Forward JayVaughn Pinkston is out for the season after he was charged with assault, and guard Dominic Cheek sprained his left knee against Maryland and will not play Monday. Guard James Bell is working his way back into shape after offseason surgery on stress fractures in both legs.
“Coach kept asking me, ‘Are you tired?’ I was like, no,” Fisher said. “I wanted to do it for (my teammates) and just for the young guys to see that, that we can play through anything.”
The Wildcats gutted out the comeback win right as they head into a grueling part of their schedule. Unlike the Huskies, Villanova hasn’t exactly racked up frequent-flier miles as it built its gaudy record. There was a trip to New York in November for the NIT Season Tip-Off, and games at Monmouth and South Florida — not exactly hostile environments.
The other “road” games were city series games at Penn and La Salle.
Up ahead after UConn is a Jan. 22 game at No. 4 Syracuse and Jan. 26 at Providence. The Wildcats don’t return home until Jan.29.
“I’m excited about going up there, getting away because when things are going well and you’re on campus, the hype, it can get crazy,” Wright said.
AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)