Walker sees freshmen as key to UConn’s run

Connecticut’s freshmen aren’t showing any signs of nerves headed

into the Final Four, just a quiet confidence.

Junior All-American Kemba Walker says that will be a key to how

the Huskies perform in Houston this weekend on a stage bigger than

freshmen Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith have ever

played.

UConn was back on campus Tuesday, practicing before Wednesday’s

trip to Houston. The Huskies play Kentucky on Saturday.

Walker said once they get to Texas, he will sit down with the

freshmen and tell them about his experiences during the 2009 Final

Four, where UConn lost to Michigan State. He wants to make sure

this class does not get as overwhelmed as he did by the

experience.

”I don’t think anybody could tell them anything right now,”

Walker said. ”They’re on top of the world right now. They’re

playing great basketball, each and every one of them. We’re going

to need these guys big time for us. They got us where we are now,

so hopefully they can keep it up.”

Walker has gotten most of the credit for UConn’s nine-game run

through the postseason, averaging almost 27 points a game in the

NCAA tournament.

But Lamb has been averaging over 18 points, and shooting over 73

percent from 3-point range. His 3-pointer, steal and dunk were keys

to UConn’s win over San Diego State in the regional semifinals. And

his teammates say his calm, almost stoic demeanor, has helped keep

the Huskies from getting too keyed up in key situations.

”He just has that laid-back personality, but trust me no one’s

heart is beating any faster than his,” said coach Jim Calhoun. ”I

think he can be a very special player and he’s starting to become a

special player.”

Smith scored a career-high 17 in the Huskies first-round win

over Bucknell and has been averaging six points and five rebounds.

Nappier averages eight points, and had 10 in the regional final win

over Arizona.

But Walker says Nappier’s biggest contributions have not shown

up on the stat sheet.

”He brings that extra playmaking ability to the team,” Walker

said. ”There’s times when I’m not able to be on the ball the whole

game because maybe I’m a little fatigued. Guys will want to ball

pressure me, and he gives me that extra edge.”

Nappier said the freshmen realized their time had come during

the Arizona game, when during a late timeout, the coaches drew up a

play for Lamb instead of Walker.

”For the whole team to point out a freshman, it showed a lot,”

he said.

Lamb says he’s been inspired by watching video clips of his

father, Rolando Lamb, hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater in the

second round of the 1984 tournament for Virginia Commonwealth. That

shot sent Northeastern and its coach, Jim Calhoun, walking off the

court dejected.

”It’s a good clip,” Lamb said. ”Sometimes I just watch it

over and over again. It’s nice. No, I don’t bring it up with coach;

he might slap me.”

But Calhoun said with the way Lamb has played this tournament,

all has been forgiven.

”I have said to his father,” Calhoun quipped. ”One loss

equals one Final Four? Great trade.”