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UConn's Jeremy Lamb lifts a generation hex on Coach Jim Calhoun

In 1984, Rolando Lamb hit a buzzer-beater that knocked Jim Calhoun's team out of the NCAA tournament. Now Rolando's son, Jeremy Lamb, has helped lead Calhoun's UConnsquad to the Final Four. 'He's paid me back tenfold,' Calhoun says.

March 28, 2011|By Ben Bolch

This Final Four could be about the father, the son and the holy-cow spirit of a 27-year-old buzzer-beater.

Rolando Lamb's last-second prayer, a turnaround jumper in the first round of the 1984 NCAA tournament, propelled Virginia Commonwealth past Northeastern and a coach by the name of Jim Calhoun.

Now at Connecticut, Calhoun has taken the Huskies to the Final Four with the help of his own not-so-little Lamb.

Jeremy Lamb is a freshman swingman who plays Robin to Kemba Walker's Batman, joining UConnonly after Calhoun famously told Rolando Lamb — yes, that Rolando Lamb — during a recruiting call that he owed the tormented coach something: his son.

If you can't beat them, enjoin them to send their sweet-shooting offspring your way.

"They just always joked around and said, 'Now you have to do this because your dad did this to me,'" Jeremy Lamb said after scoring 19 points Saturday in the West Regional final during the Huskies' 65-63 victory over Arizona.

"It's just a 'coinkydink' that I'm doing this right now."

Asked whether he was square with Jeremy's father, Calhoun said, "He's paid me back tenfold. That was just one game."

Calhoun could get the ultimate redemption at Houston's Reliant Stadium if UConn and fellow Final Four participant VCU both win national semifinals Saturday and meet in the championship game Monday. That would entail the Huskies beating Kentucky and the Rams getting past Butler.

UConn wouldn't have made it out of Anaheim had Lamb not produced a season's worth of shining moments in victories over San Diego State and Arizona.

"Honestly, we needed everything that he did for us," said Walker, whose 56 points in the two games were not enough to single-handedly carry the Huskies.

Lamb matched his career high with 24 points against the Aztecs, making nine of 11 shots. With San Diego State still within four points in the final 30 seconds, Lamb intercepted a D.J. Gay pass for a game-sealing dunk.

Against Arizona, Lamb was the go-to guy during UConn's game-turning 10-0 run late in the second half. Trailing by three points, the Huskies called a play for Lamb in which he came off two screens for a baseline floater.

Lamb then made another jumper to give UConn the lead before stealing a pass from Derrick Williams and going in for a dunk that gave the Huskies a 62-55 advantage.

"It seemed like he made a big play every minute that went past," Arizona guard Lamont Jones said.

Lamb finished with 19 points, the ninth consecutive game in double figures for a player who averages 11.1 points. Only after he had climbed the ladder underneath a basket at Honda Center and snipped a strand of net did the mostly monotone, matter-of-fact native of Norcross, Ga., finally exhale, breaking into a wide grin.

"When you win," Lamb said, "you have to smile."

In the jubilant UConn locker room, Lamb was as big a topic as the more ballyhooed Walker.

"Jeremy Lamb, he really stepped up for us," freshman guard Shabazz Napier said.

As Napier spoke, Walker momentarily eavesdropped, plopping a pair of flip-flops on the floor at the adjacent locker and sticking his feet in them.

"Tell 'em," Walker said, his voice trailing off as he walked away. "Tell 'em, tell 'em."

Long and slender, the 6-foot-5 Lamb has a seemingly effortless grace to everything he does on the court. Not that it came easy.

Lamb spends hours perfecting his shot after games. Even when the Huskies play on the road, he will come back and shoot in UConn's arena. Once he did it at 4 a.m.

"I'm not even going to put in the paper how long I stay; other people might try," Lamb said.

He often visualizes making big, end-of-game shots. Much like the one his father converted against Northeastern and Calhoun.

There were only two seconds left when Rolando Lamb took an inbounds pass from the baseline to the left side of the free-throw line, about 17 feet from the basket. Lamb caught the ball, turned and fired.

The shot went in and March mayhem ensued, Lamb getting swarmed by teammates, coaches and cheerleaders.

A YouTube clip shows Calhoun, his hair much darker than it is today, turning briefly to look back at the celebratory scrum as he walked off the court.

This weekend, another Lamb could give him reason to linger.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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