Scores

Final

(4) Kentucky 55

(29-9, 10-6 SEC)

(3) Connecticut 56

(31-9, 9-9 Big East)

Coverage: CBS

9:08 PM ET, April 2, 2011

1 2 T
#4UK 21 3455
#3CONN 31 2556

Top Performers

Kentucky: T. Jones 11 Pts, 15 Reb, 1 Ast, 4 Stl, 1 Blk

Connecticut: K. Walker 18 Pts, 6 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

UConn nips Kentucky to advance to national championship game

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- When the options boil down to winning or heading home, nobody's better than Kemba and Connecticut.

Kemba Walker scored 18 points Saturday night to lift UConn to its 10th straight victory since finishing off a .500 Big East regular season, a 56-55 win over cold-shooting Kentucky that moved the Huskies a victory away from their third, and most improbable, NCAA title.

Walker, a quick-handed junior from the Bronx, added seven assists and six rebounds to help the young UConn team (31-9) extend a winning streak that started with a five-wins-in-five-nights leg-drainer at the conference tournament and now includes five more at the tournament that really counts.

The third-seeded Huskies -- lowest seed left in a tournament that has been as unpredictable as any in history -- will face No. 8 Butler, a 70-62 winner over 11th-seeded VCU in the first semifinal, on Monday.

"The guys decided they didn't want to go home; this is too much fun," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.

But this win, which improved Calhoun to 5-1 in his four Final Four appearances, was not a work of art on either end.

Fourth-seeded Kentucky (29-9) shot 33.9 percent for the game and went 5:39 without a point late in the second half. UConn wasn't much better, but Walker, Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier all made baskets to turn a 48-48 tie into a 54-48 lead with 2:29 left.

DeAndre Liggins made a 3-pointer for the Wildcats to cut the deficit to three, and Kentucky had its chances. But Brandon Knight, one of John Calipari's three sensational freshmen, barely drew iron on a 3-pointer. After Kentucky got the rebound, Liggins drew a foul but only hit one of two free throws.

Kentucky forced one more turnover and went for the win, but this time, it was Liggins whose 3-pointer was short.

"I should have drove it," Liggins said. "It was a good shot, but it fell short."

Napier made two free throws to make it 56-52, then Knight ended the game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer -- a meaningless make and a cruel close to what has otherwise been a remarkable season for Calipari and Co. -- Kentucky's first trip to the Final Four since winning it all in 1998. The Wildcats, the nation's all-time winningest program, stayed stuck on 105 NCAA-tournament wins in the program history, still tied for first with North Carolina, the team they beat to get here.

"We held a pretty good team to 56 points," Calipari said. "I hate to tell you, we talked about if we defend them this way, they're going to score around 56 points, maybe 60. I just didn't think we'd score 55."

The Huskies have won by one, by two, by three, by five and more on this unexpected postseason run. Before that, Calhoun's roster full of freshmen lived down to expectations by going 9-9 in their conference. But the Huskies haven't lost since falling to Notre Dame to close the regular season on Feb. 5.

UConn wasn't nearly as dominating here in Houston as in its 84-67 victory over Kentucky in November at the Maui Invitational. But a win's a win, and nobody does it better than UConn when it's all-or-nothing. Counting that relatively low-key get-together on the island, the Huskies are 13-0 in tournament games this season.

Next up: A meeting with Butler, the small school from Indianapolis that was last year's runner-up. But after this one, it was UConn sounding like the plucky underdog.

"We gonna shock the world," the Huskies chanted as they sprinted to their locker room.

Nobody's surprised by Walker anymore.

Kentucky did a decent job containing him with its zone, which forced the Huskies to be more patient and look for second options. Jeremy Lamb was the most obvious one. The freshman, whose father Ronaldo made a game-winning shot to knock Calhoun out of the tournament when he was coaching at Northeastern in 1984, had 12 points, including a fancy scooping layup with 2:29 left to put the Huskies ahead by six.

From there, it was a hectic, hard-fought finish that included few baskets and even fewer breaks. The teams played nearly five straight minutes without a whistle, and the 4-minute media timeout didn't come until there was a bit more than 120 seconds left.

The quick pace might have made some legs tired and had something to do with Kentucky coming up short on some of those key shots late. There wasn't much of an explanation, though, for the 9-for-32 shooting in the first half. The Wildcats trailed 31-21 at the break, their lowest first-half output of the season.

"I just think we missed a bunch of open shots," Kentucky senior Josh Harrellson said. "We had good looks, and we just weren't knocking anything down. ... We just couldn't make anything."

Knight finished 6 for 23 with 17 points, Doron Lamb had 13 on 5-for-10 shooting. But the Wildcats made only 21 field goals, only nine from 3-point range and shot 4 for 12 from the free-throw line.

Calipari barely lost this latest matchup against Calhoun -- a showdown between a couple of coaches who haven't hidden their dislike for each other, dating to the day when Calipari was at UMass in the 1990s and moving in on Calhoun's turf.

"We had our chance to win the game, and as a coach, that's all you can ask of these young people," Calipari said. "Give us a chance, and we had an opportunity."

While Calhoun has become a fixture at UConn -- in his fourth Final Four -- Calipari has moved around. This year, he joined Rick Pitino as only the second coach to take three different programs to the sport's biggest stage.

He said he'd prefer talent over experience any day. His ability to bring this group of freshmen this far was remarkable, given that this was considered something of a rebuilding year for the Wildcats, who lost John Wall and four others to the NBA draft after last season.

Calhoun could tell the same story. He wasn't expected to do much this year and was depending mainly on his star, Walker, to shoulder the load. It worked early in the season, but teams figured out how to limit him in the Big East -- as grueling a conference as there is.

Walker has been electric in leading the Huskies this far in the tournament, though, averaging 26 points a game on the road to the Final Four. Did he think something like this was possible?

"Man, probably not in the beginning of the season because I wasn't thinking about it," he said. "As the season went on in the Big East and the first game in the NCAAs, I saw the teams that we could possibly play, I knew we had a chance."

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
UK
CONN
Points 55 56
FG Made-Attempted 21-62 (.339) 23-49 (.469)
3P Made-Attempted 9-27 (.333) 1-12 (.083)
FT Made-Attempted 4-12 (.333) 9-11 (.818)
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 12 (0/0) 13 (0/0)
Largest Lead 3 10

Series

DATEGAMELINKS
» Apr 2, 2011 @CONN 56, UK 55Recap

Research Notes

Kemba Walker has been most effective with Shabazz Napier playing with him in the backcourt. With Napier on the floor, Walker can play more off the ball. When Napier entered the game with 10:47 left in the first half against Kentucky, Walker came off a screen and hit a 3-pointer, his first made field goal in Connecticut's half-court offense. Walker was 5 of 11 from the field against Kentucky with Napier on the court and 1 of 4 with him off the court.
  [+]
Kentucky had been an excellent offensive team in the 2011 Men's Basketball Championship, shooting 47.7 percent against man-to-man defenses. On Saturday, Connecticut held the Wildcats to 32.0 percent shooting in the half court, including 30.0 percent from 3-point range. Connecticut has held four of its five tournament opponents to 36 shooting percent or below in the half court.
  [+]
Kentucky took a timeout with 8:30 remaining in the second half and scored on its first three possessions coming out of that break. The under-8-minute media timeout didn't come until there was 2:09 left, which slowed a Wildcats team that relied primarily on a six-man rotation. Not only did Kentucky go scoreless for 5 minutes, 38 seconds, but the Wildcats also grabbed only one offensive rebound on eight opportunities (12.5 pct). The rest of the game, Kentucky grabbed 14 offensive rebounds on 39 chances (35.9 pct).
  [+]
UConn scored 56 points in the win over Kentucky, the 3rd-fewest points scored by a winning team in a Final Four game in shot clock era.
  [+]
Kentucky becomes the 5th team in the last 15 seasons to shoot worse than 35 percent from the field and the free throw line in a Men's Basketball Championship game. Indiana also pulled off this dreaded feat against Maryland in the 2002 National Championship game.
  [+]
UConn and Kentucky combined for 111 points, the third-fewest combined points in a Final Four game since the shot clock was introduced in 1986.
  [+]
Connecticut won the National Semifinal game vs Kentucky despite making just 1-12 3-pt FG (8.3 pct), the 2nd-lowest 3-point field goal percentage in a Final Four game (min. 5 FGA). Its the lowest by any winning team in a Final Four game.
  [+]

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