- Associated Press - Sunday, April 3, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - Dribbling the ball near midcourt, Kemba Walker lingered for a few seconds. Legs tired, chest heaving, he looked at the Kentucky defenders almost as if he was trying to convince himself to go on.

After all those carry-the-team moments during an improbable run to the Final Four, Walker was worn out. He got his points, was a pretty good facilitator, too, but none of it came easy.

That’s where his teammates came in.

In the background for good chunks of Walker’s scene-stealing season, Kemba’s contributors made sure their star teammate didn’t have to carry the load himself in the brightest spotlight, giving Connecticut a chance at its third national title with a 56-55 win over Kentucky in the national semifinals Saturday night.

Freshman Jeremy Lamb provided the shooting, Alex Oriakhi did the dirty work inside and Shabazz Napier hit the clinching free throws after grabbing the game’s biggest rebound, sending the Huskies (31-9) into Monday’s NCAA title game against Butler.

“It’s just different guys every day doing big things for us and that’s what we need,” said Walker, who played all 40 minutes.

Walker had been a one-man show for most of the season, carrying Connecticut to its fourth Final Four by scoring in bunches, hitting the big shots seemingly every time the Huskies needed one.

But one reason UConn has made it this far is the contributions it’s gotten from Walker’s helpers over the final month of the season.

And they came up big when it mattered most.

Inconsistent early in the season _ he played eight minutes when UConn faced Kentucky in Maui _ Lamb has turned into a clutch shooter, 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.

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

“I had a good first half,” Lamb said. “I knocked down a couple of shots.”

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.

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