March 25, 2011
Huskies, Wildcats winners in West
When Kemba Walker led Connecticut back into a very hostile gym for the second half of its eighth game in 17 days, Jim Calhoun wondered whether this frenetic March run finally had drained the fight out of his team.
With resilience and brilliance to spare, these Huskies just keep thrilling their veteran coach — and their lead dog is turning into the biggest star of the NCAA tournament.
Walker scored 22 of his 36 points in the second half of yet another dynamic postseason performance, driving UConn through a tight second half Thursday night for a 74-67 victory over second-seeded San Diego State in the West regional semifinal in Anaheim, Calif.
Freshman Jeremy Lamb tied a season high with 24 points as the third-seeded Huskies (29-9) advanced to face fifth-seeded Arizona, a 93-77 winner over Duke in the other semifinal, in Saturday’s championship game.
After making a regional final for the 10th time by ending the best season in San Diego State history, UConn will go after its fourth trip to the Final Four — much to the pleasant surprise of a coach who thought he had seen everything.
“This run has been sensational, and I haven’t yet been able to put it in perspective,” Calhoun said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than this team, and then we get this. I don’t remember anything quite like this. This is different. This team genuinely believes in themselves and each other. I hate to say this, but this is an old-fashioned team.”
With a newfangled scoring star who doesn’t allow his 6-foot-1 stature or his opponents’ defense to stop him.
Walker scored 12 consecutive points down the stretch in his duel with Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay. He hit four 3-pointers, led the Huskies in assists and even drew a momentum-killing technical foul out of Jamaal Franklin by falling to the court when the two bumped shoulders on the way to their benches with 9:19 to play.
Walker wasn’t hurt, and he certainly wasn’t tired.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can do,” Walker said. “Whether it’s scoring, talking, getting their confidence up or giving an assist, I’m just trying to do whatever is possible to enhance this team.”
UConn has been streaking ever since its regular season ended with four losses in five games. Walker, their fearless playmaker from the Bronx, drove them to the Big East tournament title with five wins in five days.
The Huskies then knocked off Bucknell and Cincinnati in the first two NCAA rounds to earn a trip into the backyard of the Aztecs (34-3), who hadn’t lost to anybody but BYU all year long.
“We won five games in five days in the Big East tournament, and everybody said we were going to be tired,” Walker said. “After that, everybody said it was going to affect us in the second and third round of the tournament, and it hasn’t yet. We’re playing great basketball as a team. We have something huge in front of us, and we’re not going to let fatigue beat us. We’re going to overcome it.”
Gay scored 16 points for the Aztecs, whose balanced veteran lineup couldn’t corral Walker long enough to take a late lead. Kawhi Leonard had 12 points and nine rebounds, but got an early technical foul and never dominated inside, while Billy White added 14 points.
Arizona 93, Duke 77: In barely more than four minutes, the damage was done and so was Duke. Arizona hit the defending national champions with an offensive barrage so swift and surprising that the Blue Devils had no answer.
Derrick Williams scored 25 of his career-high 32 points in the first half, then his teammates carried the Wildcats the rest of the way to victory.
Showing no fear of the top-seeded Blue Devils or their pedigreed history, the Wildcats shot 58 percent in the second half. They put on a 4-minute, 13-second dunking and driving display that led to the decisive 19-2 run.
“Nobody really believed in us and that put a chip on our shoulder, like nobody in the world thought we could win this game,” Kevin Parrom said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Fifth-seeded Arizona (30-7) will play Connecticut (29-9) on Saturday in the West Regional final, the Wildcats’ first such appearance since 2005. The third-seeded Huskies defeated No. 2 San Diego State 74-67 in the other semifinal.
“The Elite Eight is great, but we’re not looking to stop right there,” Williams said. “One of our team goals this season was not only to get in the tournament, but to make a run in the tournament, and so far we’re doing that.”
Down by six points early in the second half, the Wildcats unleashed a scoring rampage that left the Blue Devils wondering what happened.
Williams scored just two points during the 19-2 run that seemingly came out of nowhere, while five of his teammates did the rest in putting the Wildcats ahead for good, 66-53.
The Blue Devils were 1 of 7 from the field and committed two turnovers at the same time Arizona had its fans high-fiving and exploding in cheers.
The top-seeded Blue Devils (32-5) were sent packing from a regional semifinal for the second time in three years. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, with 900 wins, will have to wait until next season to resume his pursuit of Bob Knight’s record as the winningest men’s coach in Division I history.
Solomon Hill added 13 points for the Wildcats, who made 9 of 15 3-pointers, including five by Williams, who also had 13 rebounds to help his team dominate the boards, 40-27, while playing 15 minutes from his hometown of La Mirada.
Duke’s Kryie Irving scored 28 points in 31 minutes, his most since returning at the start of the NCAA tournament after missing 26 games with a toe injury.
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