Everyone loves a good underdog story. No matter the sport, the athletes and teams who overcome ridiculous odds to find success make us all feel good. Nothing proves that quite like the NCAA Tournament and no one team has ever made a postseason run in college basketball history like the Connecticut Huskies.
Back in 2011, with the season starting to show some promise in the first month of Big East Conference play, the Huskies looked like a team poised to earn an at-large bid in the Big Dance, which is something the program had become accustomed to under head coach Jim Calhoun. However, that proved to be far from the case.
UConn spiraled down a path of disaster in the final set of league games, going 4-7 in the final 11, including losses in four of the last five games of the regular season. The Huskies needed a huge boost to even participate in the thing we love to call March Madness.
Then, a junior guard named Kemba Walker from Bronx, New York gave us the run of a lifetime. The UConn Huskies won five games in five days in the Big East Tournament and then six more in the NCAA Tournament to cut down the nets for winning the national championship.
It still sounds like a fairytale, but the most impressive stretch in college basketball history actually happened.
There are great Cinderella stories in college basketball, and then there is this. Seriously, no postseason run has ever been more impressive and it will likely never be topped again.
All of it is thanks to a future NBA All-Star in Kemba Walker. Sure, he had future NBA players in Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi on the team as well, but the 6-foot-1 fearless point guard was the undoubted superstar and leader of that basketball team that made it happen.
As the No. 9 seed in the Big East Tournament, the Huskies didn’t even get a first-round bye. That would be just fine, though, because Walker treated Madison Square Garden in New York City like his own amusement park for the entire week.
Walker, who now plays for the Charlotte Hornets, started it off by dropping 26 points in a blowout win over the DePaul Blue Demons and came back the next day to score 28 points against the Georgetown Hoyas. The legend was just getting started.
The next day, Walker went for 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a quarterfinal victory over Pittsburgh, which featured the nastiest step-back, game-winner alive.
“Cardiac Kemba” didn’t just torch Pittsburgh. He went off for 33-12-5 in an overtime win against the Syracuse Orange in the semifinal and scored 19 to win the Big East Tournament over Louisville.
Connecticut won five games and five days, including four against ranked teams, and Walker scored 130 points in five games. None of that had ever happened before in conference championship history.
The Huskies ultimately earned the No. 3 seed in the West Region of the 2011 NCAA Tournament and the run continued. Walker scored 18 in an easy win over the No. 14 Bucknell Bison and then exploded for 33 more against the No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.
Then, Walker’s biggest scoring game of the entire run came against No. 2 seed San Diego State Aztecs, which had a pretty special player in forward Kawhi Leonard.
The future NBA Finals MVP would score just 12 points, while Walker torched the nets for 36 points and earned a trip to the Elite 8 against No. 5 seed Arizona Wildcats at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. UConn would take down Arizona behind 20 points and seven assists from Walker.
At the Final Four, UConn and Jim Calhoun took down the Kentucky Wildcats in the national semifinal at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, before defeating the Butler Bulldogs in the championship game to win the 2011 national title.
It was an incredible ending to an improbable run. Eleven wins. Four states. Both coasts. Two big-time men’s basketball tournament wins.
So who was the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player? Who else? Junior guard Kemba Walker, who averaged 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in both games.
If anyone ever questions who had the greatest postseason run in college basketball history, you now have the answer. It was the 2010-11 Connecticut Huskies and Kemba Walker. It’s really not even close.