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Jeff Eisenberg

Kemba Walker bolsters player-of-the-year resume at Texas

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

In the span of a brilliant final three minutes of overtime in Saturday's 82-81 victory at Texas, UConn's Kemba Walker erased the memory of the 42 inefficient minutes that preceded it.

First Walker flipped up a one-handed 35-footer at the shot-clock buzzer that somehow found all net to give UConn a three-point lead with just over two minutes remaining. Then he rescued the Huskies a second time after Texas had rallied to regain the lead, sinking a go-ahead pull-up jumper with five seconds left to propel UConn to a critical 82-81 victory.

The two memorable shots to beat Texas give Walker another signature moment to strengthen his player-of-the-year case. The junior point guard is averaging 26.1 points per game, though both his 3-point percentage and overall shooting percentage had tailed off dramatically since Big East play began.

Walker again shot poorly in regulation against Texas, a product of the Longhorns sending two and three defenders at him each time he touched the ball to force one of UConn's other players to beat them. He still finished with 22 points but didn't score in the first 17 minutes and finished just 8 of 27 from the floor.

Keeping UConn in the game in regulation was Walker's much-maligned supporting cast. Guard Shabazz Napier had 15 points, forward Roscoe Smith had 13 and big man Alex Oriakhi had 11 and 21 rebounds.

UConn might have won the game in regulation were it not for a memorable gaffe from Smith after the Huskies came up with a defensive stop with 11 seconds left in a tie game. Instead of dribbling up court to set up a final play, Smith heaved the ball at the other rim from 80-feet away, apparently confused at how much time remained in regulation.

Surviving that brain cramp thanks to another defensive stand and Walker's overtime heroics was huge for UConn's season. The Huskies now add a win at Texas to previous marquee victories in Maui over Kentucky and Michigan State.

Even if UConn finishes in the middle of the pack in the Big East as was predicted before the season, those nonconference wins will ensure the Huskies return to the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus last season.

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