Saturday, March 12, 2011
Rapid Reaction: UConn 69, Louisville 66
By Ian Begley, ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- A quick take on Connecticut's 69-66 win over Louisville in the Big East tournament championship game on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
What it means: The Huskies won the Big East title in spectacular fashion on Saturday night, becoming the first team in NCAA history to win five games on consecutive nights to win a league championship. The Huskies held off a tough Louisville team late in the second half and Kemba Walker (19 points) had his fingerprints all over the win.
The ninth-seeded Huskies matched a tournament record with their seventh title, tying Georgetown. It was the Huskies' first conference championship since 2004.
Walker, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, had a sensational week. He sank a last-second shot against top-seeded Pittsburgh on Thursday, then dropped 33 points and had 12 rebounds in an overtime win over Syracuse on Friday. He scored 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting to lead UConn to its first win over Louisville in three tries this year.
The skinny: Walker picked up his second foul at the 7:15 mark and was replaced by Shabazz Napier. UConn was up 12 at the time but led by six at the half as Walker sat out all but the final 13 seconds. He went scoreless over a 14:40 stretch between the end of the first and beginning of the second half.
The Cardinals, who trailed Notre Dame by 14 at the half in their semifinal win on Friday, showed great second-half resolve once again. Preston Knowles hit a jumper with 1:58 to go to give Louisville a 64-63 lead, but Walker fed Jeremy Lamb for a layup on a sensational drive and dish with 33 seconds left. Walker then hit two free throws following a Cardinals turnover to put the Huskies up 67-64 with 16.4 seconds to play.
Mike Marra made it interesting by drawing a foul on a pump-fake from behind the arc with 3.9 seconds to go. But he hit just two of three. Nappier sealed it with two free throws.
By the numbers: UConn, the No. 9 seed, is 25th in the country in field goal defense (39.9) and eighth in blocked shots (5.8). Louisville shot 45 percent from the field but just 28 percent from beyond the arc.
Connecticut has now appeared in 10 Big East tournament title games, trailing only Syracuse (13) and Georgetown (11).
Over five games, Walker has scored 130 points, the most in a single Big East tournament. He also passed Armon Bassett, who scored 117 points for Ohio in 2010, for most points in a single conference tournament in the past 15 years.
Star watch: Besides Walker, Lamb had 13 points and seven rebounds, including the layup on a feed from Walker. Roscoe Smith had 12 points and five offensive rebounds, crushing the Cardinals.
Knowles finished with 18 on 7-of-17 shooting. He shot 4-of-11 from 3-point land. Peyton Siva, who seemed to battle an ankle injury in the second half, had 13 and seven rebounds.
What's next: UConn will find out just how much this run boosted its stock on Sunday evening when the selection committee announces seeding for the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals and Huskies will be among an expected group of 11 Big East teams to earn a bid to the Big Dance.