- Associated Press - Saturday, April 2, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - Legs tired, chest heaving, Kemba Walker labored through the closing minutes. He got his points, but it wasn’t easy.

What Walker also got was plenty of help, a combination that gives Connecticut a chance at its third national title.

Jeremy Lamb provided a lift with his shooting, Alex Oriakhi did the dirty work inside and Shabazz Napier hit the clinching free throws, helping the Huskies and their tired star beat Kentucky 56-55 Saturday night in the national semifinals.

A one-man show throughout the postseason, Walker looked dead tired in the closing minutes against Kentucky, catching his breath in the corners on offense, taking a moment to gather himself with the ball near midcourt.

Kemba’s contributors made sure their All-American teammate didn’t have to carry the load himself, hitting big shots and staving off the won’t-quit Wildcats to send Connecticut (30-9) into Monday’s NCAA title game against Butler.

Inconsistent early in the season _ he played eight minutes when UConn faced Kentucky in Maui _ Lamb has become a clutch shooter over the past month, his biggest points coming during a decisive run that pushed the Huskies past Arizona in the West regional.

Lamb’s emergence has given his coach a bit of payback for his father, Rolando, who knocked Jim Calhoun’s team from the 1984 NCAA tournament with a last-second shot for Virginia Commonwealth.

Lamb played the sidekick role nicely again, spotting up for jumpers and driving hard to the basket, scoring eight points in the first half. He had just four in the second half _ two on a nifty reverse in traffic that put the Huskies up 54-48 _ but also grabbed nine rebounds and had four assists.

Oriakhi has become a different player late in the season as well.

The powerfully built sophomore forward frustrated Calhoun with his inconsistency during the regular season, but has transformed into a dirty-work demon over the past month, boxing out hard for rebounds, setting big screens, scrapping for loose balls.

Oriakhi was at it again, shaking off a bloodied elbow and sore hip from a hard fall in the first half to knock the Wildcats around inside. He set massive screens for UConn’s shooters throughout the game, grabbed 10 rebounds and hit the shots when he got them, going 4 of 6 from the floor for eight points.

Napier had the clinchers, sneaking in among the giants to snare a rebound after Liggins’ last-second 3-pointer clanged off the rim, then calmly sinking the free throws with 2 seconds left after being fouled to get the Huskies into the title game.

Walker got the Huskies to this point by putting on one of the best carry-the-team shows in recent history, leading a bunch of underclassmen who were picked 10th in the Big East into the Final Four.

Starting with his single-handed dismantling of a strong Maui Invitational field, the jet-quick junior has been nearly unstoppable despite facing nearly every kind of defense imaginable.

Walker started his final remarkable run with a virtuoso performance in the Big East tournament and has been just as electrifying in the NCAAs, accounting for 37 percent of UConn’s points and over half its assists through it first four games.

The junior All-American had his way with Kentucky the first time these teams met in Maui, leading a spirit-crushing run just before halftime on his way to 29 points in UConn’s 17-point win.

Kentucky and DeAndre Liggins, who took the brunt of Walker’s outburst in Maui, looked forward to getting another shot at Walker and figured to have a better game plan to stop him with more time to prepare.

The Wildcats did, with Liggins and Doron Lamb taking turns single-covering him, while getting plenty of help when he got to the lane or off a screen at the arc. Walker fought for nine points in the first half and tried to take over the game after Kentucky trimmed away a 10-point deficit in the second, but couldn’t quite get it going.

He ended up with 18 points, but had to work hard for them, finishing 6 for 15 from the floor to go with seven assists and six rebounds.

But one of the reasons UConn has been able to make this late-season run is the contributions from Walker’s helpers.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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