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Walker comes up big off bench as UConn avoids upset

Nov 22, 2008 - 5:26 AM ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands (Ticker) -- Kemba Walker's coming-out party helped No. 2 UConn avoid a major upset.

Walker scored a season-high 23 points off the bench and Jeff Adrien added 22 and 14 rebounds as the Huskies pulled away late for an 89-81 victory over La Salle in the opening round of the Paradise Jam Tournament on Friday.

Walker, a highly touted point guard, shot 7-of-11 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. The Bronx native's arrival has allowed A.J. Price to move to the two-guard at times.

Price scored 12 points in his return from a sprained ankle - including five during a key second-half run - and Jerome Dyson added 17 for UConn (3-0), which converted 29-of-40 free-throw attempts.

The Huskies will play former Big East foe No. 17 Miami in the semifinals on Sunday.

Rodney Green had 25 points for the Explorers (1-2), who shot 50 percent (34-of-68) from the floor.

It was a back-and-forth game until the Huskies opened up a cushion with a 10-2 run that was capped by a jumper from Adrien that made it 72-63 with 6:28 left.

Green's layup had helped La Salle put to within one at 62-61 with 8:28 left, but Dyson hit a pair of free throws and Price came up with a big steal that led to an intentional foul. He hit both free throws and Hasheem Thabeet added another on the ensuing possession for a 67-61 edge.

Price then nailed a 3-pointer and Adrien made it an 11-point game with his jumper. Vernon Goodridge's layup made it 73-67 with 3:52 to play, but Walker hit a pair of free throws Adrien hit a jumper to help stem the tide.

Thabeet was limited to nine points and seven rebounds, but his dunk stretched the lead to 80-72 with 1:07 to play. Walker then hit four of the Huskies' nine free throws in the final 47 seconds to help seal the win.

UConn had all it could handle from the Explorers in the first half. Ruben Guillandeaux's 3-pointer tied it at 40-40 with 1:17 left, but the Huskies used a 6-0 spurt to take a 46-40 lead into the break. Adrien scored 13 points in the opening 20 minutes, while Walker added nine.

The Explorers were able to hang with the second-ranked team in the country by beating UConn at its own game. La Salle scored 12 fast-break points and recorded seven steals.

In the second half, the Huskies were able to slow the Explorers by switching to a 2-3 zone, something they rarely do.

Thabeet finished with five blocks for UConn, which was just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc.