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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Jeremy Lamb, Kemba Walker combine for 60 to lead UConn

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — In the hallway outside the victorious UConn locker room, the two heroes of the Huskies' 74-67 victory over second-seeded San Diego State embraced and then reenacted the most important shot of the game.

"I was like, 'Lamb, Lamb, Lamb,'" Kemba Walker said to Jeremy Lamb, making a motion as though he was catching a pass. "And you were like, 'No, No, No.'"

That Lamb had the confidence to take a kick-out from big man Alex Oriakhi, shake off his All-American point guard and bury a game-changing left-wing 3-pointer is one of the biggest reasons UConn is now one victory away from Jim Calhoun's fourth Final Four. The freshman's shot with 1:42 to go halted a 7-0 San Diego State spurt, quieted a roaring pro-Aztecs crowd and gave UConn a four-point lead that it never relinquished.

Whereas Lamb had been content to be part of UConn's supporting cast most of the season, the 6-foot-5 guard sensed Thursday's final two minutes were his time to step to the forefront because Walker was showing fatigue late in a 36-point performance. Lamb responded by scoring seven of his 24 points in the final two minutes and also stealing a telegraphed D.J. Gay pass to set up a transition dunk.

"Kemba was amazing tonight and he hit a lot of tough shots, but I could see he was getting tired," Lamb said. "They key on Kemba so much that it takes pressure off me. I try to stay calm and knock down shots and I was able to do that today."

If missing the NCAA tournament made last season one of the most disappointing of Jim Calhoun's storied coaching career, then advancing to the Elite Eight makes this year one of the UConn coach's most rewarding. Many thought the Huskies lacked the talent and experience around Walker to return to the NCAA tournament this season, yet UConn captured the Maui Invitational, won five games in five days at the Big East tournament and will play fifth-seeded Arizona on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four. {YSP:MORE}

"I've had a team with five pros on it and we went to the Final Four, but this is a team that truly plays together," Calhoun said.

"Could I imagine this? Yeah, because we had talent. There were times we looked like it and a couple when we didn't, but we came together in the tournament and we're on an eight-game streak of playing good basketball."

What makes the Huskies' latest victory even more impressive is they did it in a rare hostile NCAA tournament environment.

Busloads of Aztecs fans made the 90-minute drive north to Anaheim, some wearing red-and-black face paint, others wigs and others in full costume. They unleashed their trademark "I believe that we will win" chant before tipoff of both halves and roared for every San Diego State basket or defensive stop.

While the Aztecs roared back from a nine-point halftime deficit behind the interior play of Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas, and scratched back from a late eight-point deficit behind Gay's 3-point shooting, it was not enough to extend a dream season two more days. The Aztecs won 34 games, earned their first-ever top-25 ranking and captured their first two NCAA tournament victories, but their season ended two victories shy of their goal of taking Steve Fisher back to the Final Four.

"We all became a family and for this to be our last game, it really does hurt," San Diego State point guard D.J. Gay said. "You never want it to come to an end. We had a lot of success this year and a lot of accomplishments, but at the end of the day, we wanted it all."

San Diego State's best chance to seize control of the game appeared to come midway through the second half when Jamaal Franklin swiped an inbound pass and fed teammate Billy White for a transition layup that gave the Aztecs a 53-49 lead. Instead, referees whistled Franklin for a technical foul for knocking over Walker on the ensuing inbound pass, a disputed call that subdued San Diego State's crowd and momentum.

Asked about the sequence involving he and Franklin, Walker said, "The contact was definitely enough to go down. That's why I was able to get the free throws."

Fisher downplayed it as well, acknowledging only that it cost San Diego State free throws.

Ultimately, what truly cost the Aztecs was they couldn't stop Walker and Lamb.

They couldn't keep Walker out of the lane or get a hand in his face when he curled around picks. And even though they rarely double-teamed Walker on ball screens, they still couldn't prevent Lamb from erupting.

Moments after the final buzzer, Lamb staggered down the hallway to the UConn locker room, eyes glazed, head bowed and legs wobbly. He was still feeling the after effects of a hard screen on San Diego State's second-to-last possession.

"I feel OK, I've just got a crazy headache right now," Lamb said. "I was running, I didn't see the screen and I got whacked pretty good. Yeah it hurt, but it don't feel as bad because we got the W. It would feel worse if we got the loss."

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