Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lamb's leadership shines in UConn victory

The press conference following UConn's 81-67 win over DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament didn't last more than 45 seconds before Kemba Walker's name was mentioned for the first time.

Roughly 365 days after Kemba Walker started one of the greatest postseason stretches in recent memory with a 91-77 first round win over DePaul, the Huskies were back in the familiar No.9-seed and against a familiar No.16-seed foe.

But replacing Kemba, who finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the 2011 first round game against the Blue Demons, was Jeremy Lamb, who finished with 25 points, five rebounds and four assists on Tuesday afternoon.

So maybe there was just reasoning for bringing up a former-player so quickly in the press conference.

(Source: AP Photo)

"I'm not trying to be Kemba." Lamb said during the post-game press conference. "Of course everybody wants to lead their team to championships, but I'm just trying to do what's best for this team. The whole team knows, we've got five great players, Boatright, Shabazz, Roscoe stepping up. We also got great big men, so it's a great team effort. "

Lamb did have a very "Kemba-esque" game though. He hit a bevy of 3-pointers, took his man off the dribble, and hit a number of tough shots each with a higher degree of difficulty than the last.

Ever since the beginning of the school year, Lamb had been anointed as "The Next Kemba", and while that may be unfair to both Lamb and Kemba, the biggest knock on the Huskies this year was there lack of leadership and energy, which was the calling card of Kemba's success.

But on Tuesday afternoon, this looked like a different UConn team. A team with energy. A team with a leader. Alex Oriakhi attacked the glass on every possession, and displayed a a level of energy he struggled to play with on a consistent basis this season.Shabazz Napier was looked to find open teammates instead of looking for open shots. He finished with only five points, but had six assists and zero turnovers.  Andre Drummond was a force on the low block, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks.

But it was Lamb who led it all. He scored 15 of the Huskies first 30 points of the game. He did the big things and the little things. Just by watching the ebbs and flows of the game, you could tell that Lamb was the leader. He wasn't overly vocal or demonstrative, but he led by example, and his teammates followed.

Or maybe it was just  deja vu. Tuesday afternoon just seemed all too familiar.  Noon start time. Tuesday afternoon.  No.9 Huskies vs. No. 16 Blue Demons. "Yeah, it's a coincidence," Lamb said at the press conference. "But it's a whole new year."

Lamb is right, this was a brand new year, yet he was tagged as a new version of a former-player. This UConn team is different than last year. Sure they have a lot of the same parts, but some of those parts have different roles.

Napier has taken a full season to fully adjust to primary ball-handling responsibilities. Oriakhi had a difficult time adjusting to the addition of future-lottery pick Andre Drummond, and Lamb had to adjust from being the sidekick to the superhero. Even Jim Calhoun had to adjust to not having a full fledged "player-coach" on out the floor for 40-minutes a game.

But adjustments are made during the regular season,  if Tuesday afternoon is any indication, UConn has made those adjustments, and could be primed to replicate their postseason success.

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