Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Roscoe Smith spent the afternoon in his hotel room watching Louisville get upset by Morehead State and Kentucky nearly get taken out by Princeton.
“That’s what happens when you don’t have the mindset and the determination of going hard,” Smith said.
Smith and No. 3 UConn were determined not to get bitten by the upset bug, and they succeeded by annihilating No. 14 Bucknell, 81-52, in a second-round West Regional game at the Verizon Center.
Kemba Walker (18 points), Smith (17) and Jeremy Lamb (16) combined for 51 points as UConn moved ahead to face No. 6 Cincinnati, a 78-63 winner over No. 11 Missouri in the late game
Having played an unprecedented five games in five days to win the Big East tournament Saturday night over Louisville, the Huskies showed now signs of fatigue in blowing out the Patriot League champs.
“Everybody’s trying to say that this team is tired from those fives games in five days but there’s no way we can be tired,” Walker said. “This is the best tournament on the collegiate level and we just want to play basketball and get as far as possible.”
Walker dished a program-record 12 assists for an NCAA Tournament game, often hitting Smith and Lamb for wide-open 3-pointers. The two freshmen went 6 of 10 from beyond the arc, while the rest of their teammates shot 3 of 14.
The previous UConn assist mark was 11, held by Marcus Williams and current Huskies assistant Kevin Ollie.
“To have Kemba who’s been our scorer become our initiator of almost everything,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
“No one else had meaningful NCAA minutes so it was important for him to get his teammates involved in the game.”
Having watched Walker dominate the Big East tournament last week with his heroics, including a game-winner at the buzzer over top-seeded Pitt, Bucknell came into the game focused on containing him.
Guard Bryan Cohen tried his luck defending Walker, but to no avail.
“[Walker] had 12 assists tonight,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “He didn’t shoot as many shots. We felt we were going to have to pick our poison to some degree.
“You’re going to have to make some choices.”
The Bucknell fans made the questionable choice of chanting “Over-rated” at Walker as he shot free throws with UConn up 59-25.
“That’s why we were able to get a great lead because we came out aggressive with a lot of intensity and a lot of enthsiasm and we made them fear us from the jump,” Walker said.
Lamb and Smith benefited from Walker’s passes as UConn raced out to a 39-22 halftime lead.
Smith’s first basket was a baseline drive and dunk and he said that relaxed him on a night when the Baltimore native had 20-25 family and friends in the building.
“For me to get that and I pointed at all my friends and my family, that kind of boosted me up,” Smith said.
“And playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, I was kind of very excited about that and playing close to home.”
Smith continues to play with blood filling up his right eye, the result of a collision last week with 6-11 Pitt center Gary McGhee that required eight stitches. The stitches were supposed to come out Thursday, but Smith had to wait.
“My eye is still kind of black and I still got a blood clot, but the swelling is going down, so I’m fine,” he said.
And if he keeps scoring like this, UConn will be fine, too.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.