Is it UConn vs. Arizona that's the top-billed part of the West Region's Elite Eight matchup on the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket, or is it Kemba Walker vs. Derrick Williams? Those two stars have led their teams to within one game of the 2011 Final Four, but only one can shine again in Houston. We'll find out whether it's Walker and UConn or Williams and Arizona that move on to the Final Four when their 2011 Elite Eight game tips at 6:55 p.m. this Saturday from Anaheim: according to the 2011 NCAA Tournament schedule, Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery will have the call. (There is ample "ONIONS!" opportunity for both players.)
UConn basketball begins and ends with Kemba Walker for most fans, and that's fine. Walker's been sensational this season and absurdly good of late, with more 30-point games than games under 20 points in his last nine outings and a healthy 27.1 points per game since the Big East Tournament began. But Walker isn't the only really good player on this team: Jeremy Lamb is smoother than most satin on the court, and his developing shot has made him a second perimeter threat, while Alex Oriakhi does unsung work down low in grinding for rebounds. Win or lose, Walker will get the credit or blame, but it's not as if he's carrying a team of schlubs to greatness; more fairly, Walker's the veteran star of a young team just starting to come into its potential. And if both Walker and the Huskies' talented pups are peaking now, there's no reason Connecticut can't cut down the nets both in Anaheim and Houston.
Arizona's greatest asset thus far has been Derrick Williams, but their relative anonymity to most East Coast viewers probably obscured how good he is. It's no stretch right now to call him college basketball's most talented player, and while that may not make him the best, he is no worse than superb, scoring at a fantastic rate and doing so with great efficiency. The question Arizona must answer: can Williams' supporting cast show up and throttle another team like it did against Duke? The Wildcats got double-digit points from Solomon Hill and Lamont Jones — you know him as MoMo Jones — in that game, and it would seem likely that Arizona basketball needs to be more than The Derrick Williams show to survive a Connecticut team that is now an absurd 11-0 at neutral sites this season.
Star Watch: Sure, Kemba is fantastic, and probably the National Player of the Year. But Williams may be having the best NCAA Tournament of any player: he's averaging a double-double over three games against Memphis, Texas, and Duke — no slouches there — and his insane performance in the Sweet 16 outstripped Kobe Bryant's 81-point outburst in terms of efficiency. If Arizona's going to get past the only team it has played this year with a better player than Williams, it's likely going to take Williams outplaying Kemba Walker.
Prediction: This will be the Walker vs. Williams duel the nation wants, and America will get to see Kemba Walker win another one late: he'll hit a game-sealing shot in the last two minutes and lift Connecticut to a 78-73 win.
More Reading: SB Nation's The UConn Blog has tons more on Kemba Walker and UConn basketball, while SB Nation Arizona and Arizona Desert Swarm are all over the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament success. And check out the SB Nation NCAA Tournament hub for more on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.