Paced by star Kemba Walker, Connecticut has beaten two of the
top four seeds to reach the finals of the Big East tournament. A
victory over another of the league’s best teams would secure the
Huskies a place in tournament history.
The ninth-seeded and No. 21 Huskies look to match a tournament
record with their seventh title while trying to avoid a fifth
consecutive loss to third seed and No. 14 Louisville Saturday night
at Madison Square Garden.
Connecticut (25-9) had lost seven of its final 11 regular-season
games before rolling to easy victories over DePaul and No. 22
Georgetown to open the Big East tournament.
While those wins helped instill some confidence, the Huskies
proved they still might be one of the nation’s elite teams after
Walker sank a last-second shot for a 76-74 win over No. 1 seed
Pittsburgh on Thursday. Walker then scored 33 points and pulled
down 12 rebounds in a 76-71 overtime victory over fourth-seed
Syracuse on Friday.
Now, UConn will try to avenge a pair of regular-season losses to
Louisville (24-8) by winning five games in five days to equal
Georgetown for the most titles in tournament history. The Huskies
have not won the event since 2004.
“It’s tough, but we’re ready for the challenge,” said Walker, a
Bronx native who has averaged 27.8 points in the tournament. “We’re
mentally tough and we’re just going to stay together.”
With Walker leading the way, anything seems possible for the
Huskies. He added six steals and five assists in another gutsy
“Someone must have questioned if he is best player,” UConn coach
Jim Calhoun said. “I think he is the most valuable player on any
college team in America.”
Walker, who totaled 36 points against the Cardinals this season,
was held to 16 in a 71-58 loss at Louisville on Feb. 18.
However, after 6-foot-9 Alex Oriakhi posted 15 points with 11
rebounds and guard Jeremy Lamb added 11 points in the semifinal,
the Cardinals know they must be aware of more than Walker.
Louisville needed double-overtime to win 79-78 at UConn on Jan.
“We’ve played them twice, we know them very well, we know the
Connecticut team very well,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “I
think the mistake we’ve made is trying to stop one key guy and
somebody else beats you.”
While Walker and UConn have been the story of this tournament,
Louisville has posted a pair of impressive victories to put itself
in position for a second title in three years.
After holding Marquette to 29.8 percent shooting in an 81-56
quarterfinal win Thursday, the Cardinals overcame a 16-point
deficit to beat No. 4 Notre Dame 83-77 in overtime Friday, their
fourth consecutive win against ranked opponents.
While neither team shot great, the Cardinals stepped up their
pressure defense to outscore the Irish 40-26 in the second half and
11-5 in the extra session.
“Coach Pitino told us to stay aggressive, play smart and play
the way we play,” said guard Peyton Siva, who had 15 points and
seven assists before fouling out. “He had faith in us and when I
fouled out I had to have faith in my teammates and our bench.”
Leading scorer Preston Knowles scored 20 points. The senior
guard has averaged 17.5 points the last four games, but 8.8 in six
career games versus UConn.
Siva had 19 points and seven assists in the double-overtime
victory over the Huskies.