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Depth helps UConn reach NCAA title game
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, played solid defense, grabbed 10 rebounds and hit the shots when he got them, going 4 of 6 from the floor for eight points.
“Alex just brings the energy, he brings that presence in the post, in the paint,” Walker said. “As long as Alex is having a big-time game rebounding the ball, stopping the other team’s best big men, we always seem to come out on top.”
Napier shot just 1 of 7 and had three turnovers, but played great defense throughout and had the clinchers, sneaking in among the giants to snare a rebound after DeAndre Liggins’ last-second 3-pointer clanged off the rim, then calmly sinking two free throws with 2 seconds left to get the Huskies into the title game.
“I thought Shabazz missed shots, but played terrific,” Calhoun said.
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 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 and mixing in some lane-clogging zones.
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.
Walker still finished with 18 points and helped in other ways, getting seven assists, six rebounds and a big blocked shot from behind, but was drooping over the final few minutes.
“Fatigue was definitely a factor at that point,” said Walker, who finished 6 for 15 from the floor. “I usually won’t tell you guys I was tired, but I actually was.”
He’s got one day to rest before the biggest game of his career, thanks to a lift from his teammates.
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