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Kemba Walker, Connecticut stay hot

3/20/2011

WASHINGTON -- Kemba Walker likes to say his Connecticut Huskies are "shocking the world."

Except when does this become less stunning?

When does Connecticut’s run, now seven games strong after topping Cincinnati 69-58 to advance to the Sweet 16, become expected rather than unexpected?

"I think people still don’t really believe what we’re doing," Alex Oriakhi said. "People have been underestimating us since the preseason, but we like it this way."

The underdog role seems to suit the Huskies just fine. They have won seven games in 11 days, a whirlwind run that took UConn first to a Big East tournament title and now to the Sweet 16. Connecticut will travel to Anaheim, where it'll face 2-seed San Diego State on Thursday.

UConn beat Cincinnati much like it has in every game during this run. The Huskies road the coattails of Walker, who continues to play on a different level. With his 33 points against the Bearcats, Walker is now just 25 points short of 900 for the season.

That’s a career for ordinary folks.

“I’ve had some amazing leaders, but I’m not sure I ever had one quite like him,’’ UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.

The Huskies also called on their defense against UC. Connecticut didn’t score at a blistering pace, somewhat limited by the physical play of Cincinnati. But it didn’t matter. The Huskies went tough for tough, edging a bigger team in rebounding 34-22, and containing big man Yancy Gates, who had a quiet 11 points and could never establish the inside presence Cincinnati needed.

“We know he’s their best player,’’ said Oriakhi, who finished with 11 critical boards. “So we tried to front him and do the best we could.’’

The best was pretty good, as it has been for two weeks now. Oriakhi admitted that before the Huskies departed for New York, their confidence had wavered. UConn lost on senior day in Storrs to Notre Dame, failing to send off its senior class in the manner they would have preferred.

But two spirited practices before the Big East tournament lifted their spirits and a win against DePaul got them back into the zone.

Connecticut is playing with a swagger and confidence. These guys are young enough to not realize what they are doing is impossibly difficult and brazen enough to believe that they can do more.

"We’re a family. We believe in each other and we don’t care what anyone else thinks,’’ Walker said. “We’re not done shocking the world. Not yet."