April 2, 2011
STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut's freshmen aren't showing any signs of nerves headed into the Final Four, just a quiet confidence.
Junior All-American Kemba Walker says that will be a key to how the Huskies perform in Houston this weekend on a stage bigger than freshmen Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith have ever played.
UConn was back on campus Tuesday, practicing before Wednesday's trip to Houston. The Huskies play Kentucky on Saturday.
Walker said once they get to Texas, he will sit down with the freshmen and tell them about his experiences during the 2009 Final Four, where UConn lost to Michigan State. He wants to make sure this class does not get as overwhelmed as he did by the experience.
"I don't think anybody could tell them anything right now," Walker said. "They're on top of the world right now. They're playing great basketball, each and every one of them. We're going to need these guys big time for us. They got us where we are now, so hopefully they can keep it up."
Walker has gotten most of the credit for UConn's nine-game run through the postseason, averaging almost 27 points a game in the NCAA tournament.
But Lamb has been averaging over 18 points, and shooting over 73 percent from 3-point range. His 3-pointer, steal and dunk were keys to UConn's win over San Diego State in the regional semifinals. And his teammates say his calm, almost stoic demeanor, has helped keep the Huskies from getting too keyed up in key situations.
"He just has that laid-back personality, but trust me no one's heart is beating any faster than his," said coach Jim Calhoun. "I think he can be a very special player and he's starting to become a special player."
Smith scored a career-high 17 in the Huskies first-round win over Bucknell and has been averaging six points and five rebounds. Nappier averages eight points, and had 10 in the regional final win over Arizona.
But Walker says Nappier's biggest contributions have not shown up on the stat sheet.
"He brings that extra playmaking ability to the team," Walker said. "There's times when I'm not able to be on the ball the whole game because maybe I'm a little fatigued. Guys will want to ball pressure me, and he gives me that extra edge."
Nappier said the freshmen realized their time had come during the Arizona game, when during a late timeout, the coaches drew up a play for Lamb instead of Walker.
"For the whole team to point out a freshman, it showed a lot," he said.
Lamb says he's been inspired by watching video clips of his father, Rolando Lamb, hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater in the second round of the 1984 tournament for Virginia Commonwealth. That shot sent Northeastern and its coach, Jim Calhoun, walking off the court dejected.
"It's a good clip," Lamb said. "Sometimes I just watch it over and over again. It's nice. No, I don't bring it up with coach; he might slap me."
But Calhoun said with the way Lamb has played this tournament, all has been forgiven.
"I have said to his father," Calhoun quipped. "One loss equals one Final Four? Great trade."