UConn Beats San Diego State; To Face Arizona In Elite Eight

The Hartford Courant

Kemba Walker, the spellbinding star who otherwise owned a two-hour period UConn fans will always cherish, would actually miss early and miss late.

Yes, what became one of the most impressive individual performances in UConn's storied NCAA Tournament history was bookended with Walker's tacit demands for some assistance in allowing this captivating season to live on.

That help came mostly from Jeremy Lamb, who eased the burden in the first half and rose above the pressure-packed moments down the stretch.

Walker so dominated this game that San Diego State players afterward essentially called him unstoppable, but the Huskies couldn't exhale until Lamb's clutch plays sealed a stirring 74-67 victory in the West Regional semifinals on Thursday night before 17,890 at the Honda Center.

"I don't remember being through anything quite like this," Calhoun said of this postseason magic carpet ride, which is now one victory from the Final Four. "This is a team that truly plays together. I hate to say this, but they're an old-fashioned team. Kemba and Jeremy, they're old-fashioned kids, which gives you pleasure, because you aren't coaching egos."

The third-seeded Huskies (29-9) are onto the Elite Eight, where two days after silencing thousands of fans who made the 90-minute drive to support the third-seeded Aztecs, they will put on their white jerseys and try to navigate a 40-minute marathon to Houston. Fifth-seeded Arizona defeated top-seeded and defending national champion Duke 93-77 in the other West semifinal.

"We won five games in five days in the Big East tournament, and everybody said we were going to be tired," said Walker, who made 12 of 25 shots but missed his first four and his final three. "After that, everybody said it was going to affect us, and it hasn't yet. We're playing great basketball as a team. We have something huge in front of us. We have a huge goal, and we're not going to let fatigue beat us. We're going to overcome it. We have a team that is extremely mentally tough, and that's going to get us over the hump."

UConn led by nine at halftime and by nine after Walker capped a 16-3 run with a three-pointer to make it 65-56 with 4:49 left. San Diego State, which had its own magical season end at 34-3, raced back with eight consecutive points, and its sea of fans bounced and cheered as it had since well before tip-off.

After Lamb leaped high to intercept a pass by D.J. Gay, he got the ball back from Shabazz Napier and waltzed in alone for a dunk to push the UConn lead to six with 23 seconds left, and when Lamb dunked again with three seconds left for the final points, the building was silenced and the Huskies went skipping off the court, closer to their basketball dreams.

Lamb tied a career high with 24 points, making 9 of 11 shots and all three of his three-pointers. His performance was needed support for Walker, who scored 36 to tie Ben Gordon (2004 vs. Alabama) and Ray Allen (1995 vs. UCLA) for the most points scored by a UConn player in an NCAA game.

"He's just an amazing player," said Billy White, one of a few Aztecs who tried to guard Walker. "Almost impossible to stop."

The Huskies had trouble with a hulking frontline, but held their own on the backboards (out-rebounded 37-35), shot 50 percent in the second half and made 8 of 16 three-pointers.

Gay, a guard, scored 16 points, all in the second half, for the Aztecs, who couldn't make free throws (6-for-13), were whistled for two key technicals and couldn't match Walker, whose assault on the UConn record books — and dreams of opponents — continued. He scored 30-plus for the 10th time, a UConn record he already held. A handful of players tried to defend Walker, big and small.

"It didn't matter who was guarding him," coach Steve Fisher said.

Said Lamb: "I'm still amazed by stuff he does, but I'm not surprised."

Lamb hit a couple early threes as Walker started 0-for-4. He hit another three with 1:41 left for a four-point lead, refusing to let the opportunity get away as Walker began to miss.

In between? Walker put on a show. Before Calhoun even left the court he was talking about the greatness of his junior guard. A couple of ill-advised technicals, particularly one on Jamaal Franklin for knocking Walker to the ground after San Diego State led by four with about nine minutes left, helped change momentum.

Still, as UConn continues to show — like Walker — it doesn't need all that much help.

"Right before your eyes," said Calhoun, who has the Huskies in the Elite Eight in search of his third national title, "you're seeing a bunch of young guys who truly believe in each other."

Copyright © 2018, CT Now