So this clip has been going around Twitter the past few days and it has me thinking how special that run was. I lived in Connecticut when I was little and neither of my parents went to big schools so I was a UCONN basketball fan growing up. I was always a big NFL and NBA fan though and had never gotten that into college basketball. But back in those days, the Big East Tournament was must-watch television so naturally, I was tuned in. This was the seeding in 2011:
UCONN being the nine seed meant they were one game away from getting a first-round bye. So they would have to win five games in five days to win the Big East Tournament and make the NCAA Tournament.
Game 1- Depaul
DePaul was a cake walk. UCONN scored 97 points, the highest point total of any team in any game that tournament, and won by 26 points. Kemba went for 26-5-7 in this one. But DePaul was reallyyyyy bad so that didn’t mean too much.
Game 2- #22 Georgetown
This was a huge matchup. Georgetown was #22 in the country and led by Jason Clark, Austin Freeman, and Hollis Thompson. However, Kemba decided he didn’t even want this one to be close. He put up 28 points and UCONN cruised to the quarterfinals with a 17-point win.
Game 3- #3 Pittsburgh
It had been a fun run for Cardiac Kemba and his Huskies but Pitt was the #3 team in the country and #1 seed in the Big East. They were led by Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker and they were a dominant physical team. But once again, Kemba had other plans. He went for 24-5-5, Jeremey Lamb stepped up and had 17, and some freshman named Shabazz Napier came off the bench and scored a big 10 points. But of course, this game was the shot. It had been a grind and a back and forth battle all game. UCONN had the ball last and everyone knew where it was going. Jim Calhoun drew up the perfect little pick and roll to get a big switched on to Kemba and then he did the rest.
What an unbelievable shot. To this day I think this is the best buzzer beater of all time in the fact that it was not a miracle shot or a prayer. It was a perfectly executed play followed by a filthy step-back crossover that made the defender fall and the shot was SPLASHED. Cardiac Kemba made history with that shot, but he was far from done.
Game 4- #11 Syracuse
UCONN was coming off of that huge emotional victory, while Syracuse was coming off a tight win over St. Johns. The difference was UCONN has played three games in three days and Syracuse had only played one as they had a double bye. This Syracuse team was STACKED. They had Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche, CJ Fair, Fab Melo, and Dion Waiters. With that talent and Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, this was a daunting task for the Huskies and this game was a grind. It was back and forth all night and then Scoop Jardine hit a three to tie the game with 4.6 seconds left and sent the game to OT. But once they were there UCONN clamped up and Cuse only scored 3 points in OT. UCONN was on to the Big East Final behind Kemba Walker’s ABSURD 33 points. 5 assists, 12 rebounds, and 6 steals. Dominated the game in every single fashion for their fourth win in four days.
Game 5- The Final- #14 Louisville
UCONN’s magical run reached its fifth game in as many days against their fourth consecutive ranked opponent. This Louisville team had Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, and Gorgui Dieng all on the roster. Kemba actually had his worst game of the tournament in the finals, only going for 19 points and getting himself in some foul trouble. But luckily UCONN also played their best defensive game of the tournament and took the Cards down 69-66.
5 wins in 5 days against 4 ranked opponents. Kemba obviously took home the MVP of the tournament, but he was not content with only two trophies.
Despite their unprecedented run, UCONN was only a 3-seed in the tournament. The rest is history. Kemba continued to dominate everyone in sight and UCONN took home the National Title against Brad Steven’s Butler Bulldogs.
I didn’t want to stretch this out and get into every game of the tournament, but here’s just a list of players that Kemba beat along the way: Kawhi Leonard, Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Enes Kanter, Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, Darius Miller, and Shelvin Mack. Not too shabby.
That 11 win run will forever be one of the greatest runs by any team. However, what Kemba did during that run is THE greatest run by any individual player. I’ve never seen anything like it. To this day that #15 UCONN jersey is the only college basketball jersey I own.
Cardiac Kemba forever.