Men’s Big East Notebook

Player of the Week: Jeremy Lamb, freshman wing, Connecticut

Junior guard Kemba Walker may have led the Huskies in scoring against San Diego State and Arizona, but Lamb’s stellar supporting numbers were just as crucial to Connecticut over the weekend.

The freshman wing matched his season high with 24 points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown in a 74-67 Sweet 16 win over the Aztecs last Thursday.

Lamb then chipped in 19 points to help the Huskies edge Arizona in the Elite Eight 65-63 on Saturday.

Game of the Week: Connecticut vs. Kentucky, April 2, 7:49 p.m.

This matchup will determine which storied program will face either VCU or Butler in the national championship game.

The Huskies will have their hands full in the paint with Kentucky’s 6-foot-10 senior forward Josh Harrellson, who has averaged 14.8 points and nine rebounds per game in the tournament.

Connecticut will look to its 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi and 7-foot senior center Charles Okwandu to win the battle of the boards, as junior guard Kemba Walker will battle Kentucky’s freshman guard Brandon Knight on the perimeter.

Supporting Cast, Stamina Key Final Four Run

Everyone had heard of Kemba Walker heading into the NCAA Tournament. The junior guard made his name known after high-scoring performances against Michigan State and Kentucky at the Maui Invitational in November.

He spent most of the year near or at the top of the NCAA scoring leaders list and has averaged 23.9 points per game up to this point. Despite his efforts as an individual, the Huskies lost nine games in Big East play and finished in a three-way tie for ninth place in the conference.

Connecticut still garnered a three seed in the “Big Dance” after winning the Big East Championship tournament, but many wondered if this one-man show would be able to hang with the more complete teams in their bracket.

Fast-forward to Saturday, when the Huskies punched their ticket to the program’s fourth Final Four appearance with a 65-63 win over Arizona. Walker was clutch, burying a game-clinching fade-away jumper with 1:15 left, but how the Huskies arrived at that moment is another story.

As key as Walker has been, it’s the rest of his squad and its unprecedented resilience that has helped Connecticut outlast the 10 other Big East teams that entered the field of 68.

After a disappointing finish to the regular season with a 70-67 loss to Notre Dame, in which Walker scored 34 points, the Huskies headed into the Big East tourney with a massive task: win five games in five days to take home the crown.

In a stunning display of endurance, Connecticut did just that, defeating DePaul, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville. This great achievement was considered a weakness by “bracketologists,” with many predicting the Huskies’ exhausting stretch would lead to an early NCAA exit.

Just like it had in the Big East Tournament, however, Connecticut stunned the non-believers. After a first-round 81-51 dispatching of 14th-seeded Bucknell, Connecticut found itself in a dogfight with sixth-seeded Cincinnati.

Though Walker led in scoring with 33 points, it was the late-game performances of freshmen wing Jeremy Lamb and guard Shabazz Napier that helped the Huskies pull away from the Bearcats in the 68-59 win.

Next up were the highly touted second-seeded San Diego State Aztecs and their balanced offensive attack. Walker astonished again with 36 points, but sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi and freshman forward Roscoe Smith’s 17 combined rebounds helped control the boards in the 74-67 win.

Lamb established himself as another go-to scorer with 24 points, helping Connecticut develop its own multi-faceted attack, which it needed desperately against Arizona in the Elite Eight.

Walker only picked up 20 points against the Wildcats, but Lamb’s 19 and Napier’s 10 off the bench were enough to pace Connecticut’s guard play.

Over its last nine games, Connecticut has shown that it’s more than the Kemba Walker Express. The Huskies, as a complete roster, have risen to the occasion and are set to fight for the program’s first national title since 2004.