Walker propels UConn past Cincinnati, into Sweet 16

March 20, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — One game after dishing out 12 assists, Kemba Walker decided to become a scorer again. Circumstances demanded it.

Walker, a Player of the Year candidate, led a decisive late surge and scored 33 points to push No. 3 seed Connecticut past Cincinnati, 69-58, Saturday night and into the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

The Huskies (28-9) next face No. 2 seed San Diego State on Thursday in the West Region.

Walker, a 6-foot-1 junior, had scored just six points in the first half of Connecticut's victory over Bucknell on Thursday, finishing with 18 points and 12 assists. But his team needed his scoring Saturday, and he frequently penetrated into the lane or drove the baseline. He made all 14 of his free throws.

"I try my best to force the issue and get fouled," Walker said.

The game was tied at 45 when Walker hit two free throws, then drained a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 50-45 with 9:21 left.

Moments later, his 3-pointer made it 58-50, and the Huskies never trailed after that.

Walker hurt his wrist in the game, then took a knee to the thigh and came up limping on a second-half drive. He played all but the last minute and said he decided to "deal with all the bruises later."

Connecticut was trying to sustain the momentum and energy of its Big East tournament championship run -- a five-games-in-five-days period that was both draining and invigorating.

"It was our seventh game in 12 days," coach Jim Calhoun said. 'We're playing our best basketball obviously right now."

Cincinnati (26-9) was returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years. The Bearcats are rebounding from probation and an NCAA-mandated scholarship loss, and had not been in the tournament since 2005.

"Hopefully, they can carry the Big East banner," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said of the Huskies after the meeting of Big East schools. "We've got six seniors. They helped me rebuild the program."

Cronin said free throws made the difference. Connecticut made 25 of 30 to Cincinnati's 10-for-14.

The Huskies led 36-28 at the half behind 15 points from Walker. Cincinnati was led by forward Rashad Bishop's 22 points.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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