UConn holds off Kentucky, advances to title game

Posted: 03/04/2011 in NCAAB
Uconn fends off Kentucky, Butler up next in title game
Connecticut shut down Kentucky’s streaky shooters and did just enough down the stretch to upend the Wildcats, 56-55, to win the anticipated Final Four showdown in ugly fashion. Despite making just one of their 12 three-point attempts, the Huskies (31-9) won their 10th straight game by holding the Wildcats to 34 percent shooting.

They were once again led by Kemba Walker, who totaled 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds to continue his memorable NCAA Tournament run.

“Our defense eventually won it for us, along with the best player in America,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said, referring to Walker.

UConn will try to win a third national title against Butler on Monday at Reliant Stadium. The Bulldogs staved off VCU, 70-62, earlier Saturday to reach the final game for the second straight year.

“It’s going to be a tough game against Butler,” admitted Walker. “They are extremely experienced in this game … I think as long as we play the way we’ve been playing throughout this whole tournament, I think we’ll be fine.”

DeAndre Liggins missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer in the closing seconds for Kentucky (29-9), which made just 4-of-12 from the free throw line.

“You know, it’s disappointing, but it’s been a heck of a year,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who is one of two coaches to take three programs to the Final Four.

Brandon Knight, the Wildcats’ hero in the East Region with late game-winners against Princeton and top-seeded Ohio State, shot just 6-of-23 from the field for 17 points.

With time winding down and Kentucky trailing 54-52, the standout freshman had a chance to put the tough game behind him, but instead of taking his defender off the dribble gave it up to Liggins, whose deep attempt from the right wing fell short.

“I should have drove it … I thought I had the hot hand a little bit. It was a good shot, but it fell short,” recalled Liggins.

Shabazz Napier, who committed a turnover on Connecticut’s previous possession, secured the defensive rebound and was fouled with two seconds left. He sank both a the stripe for a four-point lead, making Knight’s three at the buzzer meaningless.

The frantic finish was just another highlight in a memorable month for Connecticut. The Huskies finished ninth in the Big East regular season standings, won five games in five days to capture the conference tournament title and brought down Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State and Arizona to win the West Region as a No. 3 seed.

Each time the Huskies won the national title (1999, 2004), they came out of the West.

The Wildcats, playing in their first Final Four since they won the title in 1998, came out of the gates tentative, making just five of their first 21 shots from the field.

The cold stretch allowed the Huskies to shake off a sloppy start of their own, as they embarked on a 10-0 run to gain control.

Walker contributed six points and fed Jamal Coombs-McDaniel down low to cap the flurry for a 19-12 lead with a little over eight minutes showing.

Kentucky scored on three straight possessions coming out of a much-needed timeout, but couldn’t stop the Huskies’ balanced attack. UConn wound up shooting 52 percent in the first half, as opposed to Kentucky’s 28-percent effort, and led 31-21 at the break.

As bad as the Wildcats were offensively in the first half, they quickly turned it around in the opening five minutes after the intermission.

Knight and Darius Miller each hit from long range in the early stages, sparking a 14-2 run that Doron Lamb capped with two straight threes to suddenly put Kentucky on top, 35-33.

It remained close and the score was tied, 48-48, following a Lamb bucket with 7:17 remaining. Kentucky went the next five-plus minutes without scoring, however, allowing the Huskies to pull ahead for good.

Napier’s layup with 2 1/2 minutes remaining yielded a 54-48 cushion before Liggins finally broke the drought with a three-pointer.

Jeremy Lamb then missed a runner in the lane, and Liggins went 1-for-2 from the foul line to make it a two-point game in the final minute.

– Steve


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