Connecticut ends San Diego State’s sweet season
Had Connecticut guards Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb missed the bus, called in sick, or both fouled out with 38 minutes left, San Diego State might have won Thursday’s West Regional semifinal game by 30.
But that didn’t happen.
You talk about a two-man game.
Walker and Lamb combined for 60 points to lead Connecticut to a 74-67 win over the Aztecs at the Honda Center to advance to Saturday’s regional final game.
Walker scored 36 and Lamb added 24, which amounted to 81.1% of the Huskies’ offense.
Connecticut (29-9) survived and advanced.
“We’re 40 minutes away from where we want to be,” Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun said.
San Diego State’s dream season came to a screeching halt, with the Aztecs losing for the first time this year to a team other than Brigham Young.
“Don’t be afraid to cry,” Coach Steve Fisher said after finishing the season 34-3. “Don’t be ashamed to shed a tear.”
That wasn’t going to be a problem.
The winner moved on to Saturday and the loser moved on to the postmortems.
The game-changing moments will be hard to shake.
“So many factors,” Fisher said, “especially when you don’t move on — especially when it’s a relatively close game.”
Kawhi Leonard will remember the open three-pointer he missed in the final two minutes that would have given San Diego State the lead.
“I thought when he shot it it was going to go in,” Fisher said. “He’s a money player.”
The Aztecs then got back on defense, forced Walker into a missed shot but then allowed Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi to get the offensive rebound.
He flipped the ball out to Lamb, who, with 1:42 left, hit the kind of three-point shot that stings for years.
San Diego State outrebounded Connecticut for the game, 37-35, but didn’t get the board it needed most.
The Aztecs also made only six of 13 free-throw attempts.
“Free throws can advance you or send you home,” Fisher said.
San Diego State will have to reconcile two costly composure issues.
Leonard, the Aztecs’ star player, was forced to the bench with 16:12 left when he picked up his second foul, a technical, for verbally joisting with Oriakhi.
“We were just talking and they called the T,” said Leonard, who finished with 12 points.
Leonard played only 13 minutes in the first half, one reason why Connecticut led by nine.
A technical in the second half, a freshman mistake by freshman Jamaal Franklin, swayed the game’s momentum.
Franklin had been a spark in rallying the Aztecs back from the deficit. He took a charge on Walker, had a put-back basket and forced the steal that led to a Billy White basket.
San Diego State led, 53-49, with 9:25 left.
A few second later, at a 30-second timeout break, Franklin bumped Walker near the scorer’s table.
Walker fell to the ground.
How hard was he bumped?
“The contact was definitely enough to go down,” Walker said.
Franklin saw it differently.
“I really didn’t do anything,” Franklin said. “I was really surprised to get the technical coming out of the timeout, but I don’t think it really played a part in the outcome of the game.”
Actually, it played a huge part.
Walker made both technical shots and Connecticut went on a 16-3 run.
How big were the two technical fouls?
“The first one put Kawhi Leonard on the bench and we need him out there,” Aztecs guard D.J. Gay said. “The second one, with the momentum we did have, that one hurt as well.”
The way Walker and Lamb were playing, maybe none of it would have mattered.
Walker has led Connecticut on an epic late-season charge. Starting March 8, the Huskies won five games in five days to win the Big East tournament and now three in the NCAA tournament.
Wasn’t fatigue supposed to set in?
“Hasn’t yet,” Walker said. “We have something huge in front of us.…We can’t let fatigue beat us.”
San Diego State had the home-crowd advantage, with thousands making the trek up Interstate 5 to Anaheim.
But Connecticut had the “Kemba” advantage.
Fisher assigned Chase Tapley the duty to start the game, and then switched to the taller White.
“Didn’t matter who was guarding him,” Fisher said. “He was pretty effective today.”
Afterward, White could only shake his head.
“He’s just an amazing player,” he said. “He’s almost impossible to stop.”
San Diego State might have survived 36 points from Walker had Lamb not chipped in with his 24.
But that’s the way it all unraveled.
“When it ends,” Fisher said, “it’s hard.”
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