for this game

5 days, 5 wins: UConn captures Big East title

Mar 13, 2011 - 7:01 AM New York, NY (Sports Network) - Kemba Walker finished with 19 points and came up big in the final minute, as 21st-ranked Connecticut pulled out a 69-66 win over No. 14 Louisville to complete its long road to the Big East Tournament championship.

The Huskies won five games in five days to capture their seventh tourney title, matching Georgetown for most all-time. They opened with victories over DePaul and the Hoyas before taking down top-seeded Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals.

An overtime win against Syracuse on Friday put the Huskies (26-9) in the title game, and they prevailed thanks to their star guard, who assisted on Jeremy Lamb's go-ahead basket with 33.4 seconds left and followed with two key free throws.

Walker earned the tournament's MVP award, while Lamb finished with 13 points and seven rebounds for UConn.

"For me it's special because I'm home, playing in front of the greatest fans in the world, my family, my friends," said Walker, a native of the Bronx. "It's -- I can't -- words can't describe it, honestly."

The Cardinals (25-9) erased a 14-point first half deficit, but weren't able to win the title for the second time in three years. Preston Knowles had 18 points to lead Louisville, though missed a pair of potential game-tying three-pointers in the final moments.

Knowles canned a three with under four minutes left to cut into a four-point deficit, and sank a jumper on Louisville's next two possessions to give the Cardinals a 64-63 edge with two minutes to go.

They got an opportunity to extend their lead after playing shut-down defense on UConn's next possession. Louisville hounded Walker, preventing him from setting up the Huskies' offense and denying a path to the lane.

At one point during the possession, Walker bounced off a Louisville player, though no foul was called. Walker recovered and dribbled to the right side of the court, hoisting up a jumper as the shot clock ran out and a referee called him for an offensive foul.

But Louisville couldn't take advantage -- Knowles' jumper in the lane bounced off the glass, never touching the rim.

Connecticut called a timeout with 45.9 seconds left to regroup, and again Walker had the ball in his hands. Despite drawing multiple Cardinals defenders, he bulled toward the basket as though he would try to score himself.

It wouldn't have been an unusual thing for Walker to do. His buzzer-beater in UConn's victory over Pitt provided one of the tourney's most memorable moments.

But instead, Walker jumped and passed around Louisville big man Terrence Jennings to Lamb, who finished with a layup for a 65-64 edge.

Louisville started to fall apart after that, thanks to the Huskies' defense. They surrounded Jennings on the Cardinals' next possession, forcing Louisville to call a timeout and reset its offense following the inbound pass.

Only the Cardinals never got the chance to do that, as UConn disrupted the inbound play twice. The Huskies deflected the ball on Louisville's second attempt to get the ball in play, leading to Knowles' foul on Walker with 16.4 remaining.

"We didn't get in it and we didn't screen," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said of the inbound play. "The interesting thing is I told the guys I once lost a similar situation, and I warned them in practice that if you don't get into your box and screen ... you're going to lose a crucial game, and it happened to us in the biggest game we've played."

Walker sank both tries to give his team a 67-64 edge, and at the other end, Knowles missed a three from the right side.

The rebound was batted out to Mike Marra, who had drilled six three-pointers in Louisville's quarterfinal rout of Marquette. Walker rushed over to guard the shot but collided with Marra, sending him to the line for three free throws.

But Marra made only two of them, sinking the third when he intended to miss, leaving the Cardinals down by one. UConn's Shabazz Napier hit both of his foul shots with 3.3 seconds on the clock, leaving Louisville with one final chance to tie.

Knowles accepted a short pass and hoisted up the three, which bounced off the rim to secure Connecticut's first Big East tourney championship since 2004.

The Huskies became the first team to complete the 5-for-5 feat -- they were the first team to even play five games in five days in this tourney.

And they did so after going 1-4 in their final five regular season games, a stretch that left UConn's chances for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth in danger. They don't have to worry about that anymore. They have their berth, guaranteed, after five incredible days at Madison Square Garden.

Game Notes

UConn held a 38-32 halftime lead...Walker scored a record 130 points during the tourney. Syracuse's Eric Devendorf set the previous mark of 84 in 2009...Peyton Siva finished with 13 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for Louisville, while Jennings had 11 points...Roscoe Smith added 12 points and seven rebounds for UConn, while Alex Oriakhi had 10 and eight.