Bucknell stopper faces the ultimate test against UConn's Walker
In each of his three seasons at Bucknell, Bryan Cohen's scoring average has fallen. But that's fine with Bison coach Dave Paulsen, especially since the production decrease has accompanied an increase in victories.
From 7-23 and last place in the Patriot League two years ago, to 25-8 and first place this season, Bucknell has made the most dramatic transformation of any team in the NCAA tournament.
Much of the credit goes to Cohen, a 6-5 junior, who traded shots for stops, becoming the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Patriot League. Thursday night at Verizon Center, Cohen faces the most daunting challenge of his career - Connecticut quicksilver guard Kemba Walker.
|No. 3 UConn vs. No. 14 Bucknell|
|When » Thursday, 7:20 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » TNT|
"It's the best opportunity you can get -- one of the best players in the country, on a national stage," Cohen said.
Cohen's challenge mirrors that of his team Thursday night as No. 14 Bucknell takes on No. 3 UConn (26-9), which won the Big East title last week. In one of the greatest individual performances in tournament history, Walker hit a buzzer-beating game-winner against Pittsburgh and averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in five wins in five consecutive days.
On Selection Sunday, Cohen compared Walker to Allen Iverson
"He looked like he was playing at a different speed from everybody else," Cohen said.
In the Patriot League, Cohen never sees a player as electric as Walker. In two games against 6-9 Vlad Moldoveanu of American, Cohen held the senior to his two lowest-scoring games of the year on 5 of 20 shooting. In two games against conference scoring leader, C.J. McCollum of Lehigh, Cohen limited the 6-3 sophomore to 11 of 33 shooting.
"He gets guys to take a lot of tough shots, a lot of shots they're not really comfortable with," Bucknell senior G.W. Boon said. "I think we have a really good chance of slowing down Kemba a little bit with [Bryan] on him."
Cohen averages 7 points per game, down from the 11.8 figure of his freshman year, before he bought in to Paulsen's transformation.
"We sat him down after his freshman year. We tried to say, 'Is there something you can do, that you can be the best in the league at?'" Paulsen said. "For our league, for our level of play, he's got a great mix of size, to bother shooters. He's pretty athletic. He's got decent strength. And he's in good defensive posture all the time."
But will those attributes be enough Thursday night.
"Clearly his task tomorrow night is the biggest one he's faced," Paulsen said.