UConn advances to Final Four, defeating Arizona 65-63

The UConn Huskies advanced to their fourth Final Four, and second in three years, defeating the Arizona Wildcats 65-63.

Kemba Walker led the Huskies with 20 points.  Jeremy Lamb scored 19, and was clearly the go-to guy late in the game as the Huskies pulled away.

Despite early foul trouble, Derrick Williams led the Wildcats with 20 points.

The Huskies have now won nine games in a row after staggering through the last part of the Big East schedule, and have as good a chance as any to take the title.

Last night’s game figured to be a real struggle for the Huskies, and indeed it was.  The Wildcats were coming off of a demolition of #1 seed Duke, a game in which the Wildcats, who trailed by 7 at the half, just absolutely ran by the Blue Devils in the second half – something I don’t recall ever seeing happen to Duke.  Derrick Williams in particular was unstoppable, and figured to give the Huskies fits.

The game played according to a familiar Huskies pattern: start slowing, claw their way into the lead late in the first half, blow the lead early in the second half, fight their way to a big lead, lose the lead, then find a way to way to win.  The Huskies trailed 9-1, 14-6 and 18-10, then, with Derrick Williams on the bench with two fouls, went on a 9-0 run as part of a 22-7 to close the first half up 32-25.  The Huskies were flying.

The lead lasted about 4 ½ minutes into the second half.

After extending the lead to 34-25, the Huskies went cold, and the Wildcats took advantage, going on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 34.  Arizona took the lead briefly at 37-36, before the Huskies pulled ahead with an 11-2 run to take a commanding 47-39 lead.  They would extend the lead to 50-41 with about 10 ½ minutes remaining, and seemed in control.  But the Wildcats came back, outscoring the Huskies 13-2 in less than 3 ½ minutes to take the lead 53-52.  Arizona took advantage of UConn turnovers and questionable defense, scoring 8 of their points on dunks, and extended their lead to 55-52.  It seemed as if the Huskies were done.

But Connecticut, incredibly, had one last run, outscoring Arizona 10-0 to take a 62-55 lead with about 3 minutes remaining.  In the end, the Huskies survived two Arizona 3-pointers, poor execution on their last possession as they tried to bleed the clock, and two missed Arizona 3’s in the last seconds, holding on for the 65-63 win.

My take on the game:

Great, great win for the Huskies, who once again showed poise and determination and pulled out a close win.  If only they could stop the seeming mental lapses that have them starting slow in each half, and giving up big leads during the second half.

Jeremy Lamb continues to impress, scoring 19 points and being the go-to guy down the stretch.  It seemed for a while as if Kemba Walker was gassed, and he started to feed the ball to Lamb, who continued to score in the clutch.

Two years ago the Huskies were in the Final Four, maintaining their position as one of college basketball’s elite programs.  Last year it all came crashing down, and many, including myself, wondering if the UConn program was slipping.  Many questioned Calhoun’s ability to recruit, and wondered if the issues of age, sanctions, shakeup of the coaching staff and recent recruiting failures had turned this into a program on the decline.  But the Huskies have responded, reestablishing themselves among the game’s elite.

This season has come as a huge surprise to me.  I thought the recruiting class would turn out to be decent, in time.  I thought that the personnel losses from last season would turn out to be addition by subtraction.  I just didn’t think that team depending on this many new players, none of them blue chip recruits, could be this good this fast.  Young Jim Calhoun teams tend to struggle for a season, then come together.  This team, led by Kemba Walker, has come together much earlier.



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