ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was the Mountain West-Big East moment laying right there on the floor. The instant when East Coast attitude met West Coast upstart. Been-there-done-that vs. just-hope-to-do-it.
Shoulder to shoulder.
Kemba Walker was going to get up after getting knocked flat by San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin with 9:19 left in Thursday's West Regional semi. That was the sure thing. The question was who was going to respond.
You had the answer at about the same time Walker's body hit the court. Half the UConn bench had cleared during a timeout and was headed to the opposite end of the floor for their teammate, the Aztecs or both. The "hit" -- no matter how much Walker may have embellished it -- was not going to go unpunished. Thank goodness for the zebras, who quickly calmed things down.
Thank Kemba for getting up -- and carrying the Huskies with him. Again.
Franklin's contact proved once again that you never provoke a New York point guard. Not when he is backed up by a Big East giant that continues to feed off being unloved and unranked at the beginning of the season. UConn's 74-67 win over the Aztecs pushed the Huskies into the Elite Eight for the 10th time. It also proved they weren't going to be pushed around. When Walker went down, manhood was at stake.
In the end, Kemba and UConn had most of it.
"Definitely, I felt they were trying to frustrate me," said Walker, also known as the living, breathing, beating heart of the Huskies.
Properly provoked, Walker scored 14 of his 36 points after Franklin's foolishness. The incident started after there was contact following a whistle with San Diego State leading 53-49. After that, things get a little fuzzy. Franklin was walking toward his bench and, in his words, "brushed" Walker.
"He flopped a little bit," Franklin said. "I didn't think it was going to be a tech."
Flopped? That's an accusation that Walker wouldn't let stand.
"The contact was definitely enough to go down," Walker said.
It's also an accusation that shows Kemba is maybe more ready for the NBA than we thought. Talented and savvy.
"He got the call, so I can't really say nothing," Franklin said. "It was a real, good veteran move."
After huddling, the officials decided the contact indeed was worthy of a technical, San Diego State's second of the game. The pace of the game almost dictated it. The Aztecs weren't going to leave the building feeling they had gotten outmuscled.
Forget their No. 2 seed and 34 victories, they were the newbie in this regional. They were the ones with something to prove. Arizona, UConn and Duke came into Thursday with a combined seven championships and 187 tournament victories. San Diego State had two. Before winning, it had to assert itself. The team's best player, Kawhi Leonard, had been slapped with a technical less than four minutes into the game for yapping with a UConn player after a foul.
"Both teams fed off each other," said Aztecs' guard D.J. Gay said. "When one team threw a punch, the other team threw a punch. As the game went on, it got more physical -- us not backing down and them not backing down."
What did you expect from UConn? It won five games in five days in the Big East tournament. The Huskies are almost catching a breather in the NCAA tournament. Thursday marked their eighth game in the last 16 days. Why stop now?
San Diego State seemed to be bothering Walker early by trying guard Chase Tapley and forward Billy White on him. But as Kemba usually does, he warmed up -- 14 at halftime, 22 in the second half, 12 consecutive points for UConn down the stretch. Walker is now averaging 28.3 points in three tournament games.
"He's just an amazing player," White said. "He's almost impossible to stop."
The same can be said for UConn. Freshman Jeremy Lamb might be the next one for the Huskies when, not if, Walker leaves after his junior season. He scored 24 and made a key steal with 25 seconds left. Facing a hostile Honda Center crowd and a team stocked with seniors, a UConn roster populated with seven freshmen responded again. Lightly regarded at the beginning of the season, 9-9 in the mighty Big East, the Huskies find themselves chasing a third national championship under Jim Calhoun, now 68 years young.
"I know one thing," he said, "We're 40 minutes away from where we want to be."