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UConn continues postseason run with win over Arizona

The third-seeded Huskies, winners of nine games now in 19 days, edge the fifth-seeded Wildcats, 65-63.

March 26, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Arizona forward Derrick Williams drives to the basket against Connecticut forward Roscoe Smith in the first half of their NCAA West Regional final on Saturday at Honda Center in Anaheim.
Arizona forward Derrick Williams drives to the basket against Connecticut… (Alex Gallardo / Reuters )

About a month ago, Connecticut had lost four of its last five games in the regular season and headed into its conference tournament as the ninth-seeded team.

But after Saturday, when the Huskies defeated Arizona, 65-63, in the NCAA West Regional final in Anaheim's Honda Center behind another clutch shot from Kemba Walker, the Huskies are bound for the Final Four.

"Our march in these past nine games, I haven't experienced anything like it," UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said. "Our kids, day after day after day, have found an answer to win."

The third-seeded Huskies (30-9) have won nine games in 19 days and head to Houston for their fourth Final Four appearance since 1999, when they also came out of the West Regional. UConn was also in the Final Four in 2004, when the Huskies last won the title, and 2009.

"We're the ninth place team in the Big East, by the way," Calhoun said.

They'll face the winner of Sunday's NCAA East Regional final between fourth-seeded Kentucky and second-seeded North Carolina. The Final Four games will be held April 2, with the championship game on April 4.

"For us to get to this point, to get to the Final Four when everybody didn't' expect us to get here, it's a special feeling," said Walker who scored 20 points and was selected the regional's most outstanding player.

As is the Huskies style in recent weeks, it came down to the end and it wasn't until two Arizona three-point shots rimmed out before the buzzer that UConn could celebrate.

Walker nailed a jumper with 1 minute 18 seconds left to put his team up by five.

But following a three-pointer from Arizona's Jamelle Horne with 1:02 left, UConn missed a shot and fifth-seeded Arizona had a chance to win it with 18.2 seconds left.

Derrick Williams, the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year, fired a three-pointer from the top of the key but missed. Arizona's Kyle Fogg tipped it back out and Horne got another long-distance look, but it was no good.

The Huskies, who didn't advance to the tournament last season, were the last Big East team in the tournament after a record 11 advanced this year. UConn improved to 12-0 in neutral site games this season.

Arizona (30-8) finished with its fourth 30-win season in school history and its ninth regional final appearance only one season after missing the tournament for the first time after 25 consecutive appearances.

The Wildcats could return nine of the 10 players in its rotation next season if Williams, a sophomore forward, decides not to enter the NBA draft. Williams declined to comment on that subject after the game.

Along with the big game from Walker, who had seven assists, UConn also got 19 points from freshman guard Jeremy Lamb.

Williams, playing only 15 minutes from where he grew up in La Mirada, shook the building with a heart-stopping two-handed slam dunk over two UConn defenders with 7:48 left in the second half.

That slam brought Arizona to within one, and then Jesse Perry's one-handed slam on the Wildcats' next possession gave them the lead.

Williams padded it with a pair of free throws a few seconds later, but UConn answered with a 10-0 run.

The Huskies were able to hang on from there.

"One of the things I learned about coaching against UConn for the first time today is you can't underestimate their poise," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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