March 11, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) - Connecticut didn't need six overtimes. One was enough.
Kemba Walker had 33 points and 12 rebounds in another phenomenal performance and the No. 21 Huskies held off No. 11 Syracuse 76-71 in overtime Friday night in the Big East tournament semifinals - two years after the teams played a six-overtime game for the ages.
The Huskies (25-9) improved to 10-3 in Big East semifinals with their fourth win in four days and will play fourth-ranked Notre Dame or No. 14 Louisville on Saturday night for their first tournament championship since 2004.
Scoop Jardine had 20 points for the Orange (26-7), including a pair of 3-pointers at the end of regulation that sent the game to overtime.
The first shot came with 21 seconds remaining and drew Syracuse within 68-65. After freshman Shabazz Napier missed a free throw with 15 seconds left, Jardine came down and hit another 3 with 4.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Alex Oriakhi had 15 points and 11 rebounds for UConn before fouling out with 51 seconds left in overtime. The Huskies led 72-71 at that point, and freshman Jeremy Lamb calmly hit a pull-up floater from 15 feet that pushed the lead back to three moments later.
This time, Jardine couldn't hit the deep shot.
Walker pulled down the rebound with 13 seconds left and made both free throws, finally putting the game away about five overtimes shy of what many fans stuffed inside Madison Square Garden - including former President Bill Clinton - had probably come to expect.
Kris Joseph also finished with 20 points for Syracuse, which had won the last four meetings between the teams in the Big East tournament. Rick Jackson added 12 points.
The game certainly didn't look as though it would be another classic in the first half.
Connecticut missed all eight of its 3-point attempts and was 8 for 30 from the field, only getting to the foul line twice and struggling mightily against Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense.
The Orange, meanwhile, shot just 27 percent from the floor (10 of 37).
Walker didn't make his first field goal until about 12 minutes were gone, but he ended the first half with 10 points, allowing him to eclipse former Syracuse star Eric Devendorf's Big East single-tournament scoring record of 84 points set in 2009.
Walker has 111 points and counting - without a six-overtime game to help him along.
He was among several players who were also on the court at Madison Square Garden two years ago, when these two programs played a college basketball game for the ages.
It was Walker whose tying basket with 1.1 seconds remaining in regulation kept what turned out to be the second-longest Division I game going. The teams went back and forth until the wee hours of the next morning, four players from each side fouling out, in a 127-117 victory for Syracuse that has been immortalized on T-shirts that many fans were wearing Friday night.
Maybe the UConn fans will make some shirts commemorating this one.
They could start with a giant picture of Walker, who has turned New York City into his own personal playground this week.
Passed over for Big East player of the Year in favor of Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough, Walker opened with 26 points in a first-round game Tuesday against DePaul. He followed it up with 28 points in a win over No. 22 Georgetown and had 24 in an upset of third-ranked Pittsburgh.
He saved his best - so far - for Friday night against Syracuse.