- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2011

Plenty of talented teams bow out of the NCAA tournament because of bad bounces or bad matchups. But those teams don’t have Kemba Walker.

The third-seeded Connecticut Huskies do, and it was behind Walker that they managed to hold off Big East rival Cincinnati 69-68 Saturday night at Verizon Center to advance to the Sweet 16.

“I just try to take whatever the defense gave me. That’s what I did,” a modest Walker said. “It was just times where my team just needed a spark and I wanted to be the one to give it.”

He gave it – a lot, finishing with 33 points on 8-for-20 shooting from the floor and 14-for-14 shooting from the free throw line.

“Kemba had to carry us on his back and the rest of team just had to build onto that,” said Baltimore native Roscoe Smith.

But because of Walker’s two performances in Washington – including his 18-point, 12-assists, eight-rebound night against Bucknell Thursday – UConn is starting to wonder if the Final Four could be in its future.

“We start thinking that,” Smith admitted. “We just keep having fun, man. Keep having fun and playing basketball.”

The Huskies are a confident bunch as they now sit four wins away from the first national title in the program’s history – and first for the Big East – since 2004. They’ve won seven in a row, and as improbable as that seems, Walker said he could have foreseen this run coming.

“I would’ve believed it,” he said. “Just this team – we’re a family. We love each other and we’d do anything for each other and we show it on the court.”

The next chance to show it comes against second-seeded San Diego State in Anaheim, Calif. Walker, Smith and their teammates watched a little of the Aztecs’ double overtime win over seventh-seeded Temple on Thursday evening and complimented San Diego State on its athleticism.

And while experts may think UConn has a better shot at a national title than the Aztecs, and oddsmakers might make the Huskies the favorite in the Sweet 16 showdown, the Huskies will continue to consider themselves the underdog.

“It’s working for us,” Walker said. “I always feel that we’re the underdogs and I’m gonna keep thinking that way.”