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UConn's Walker always seems to find a way

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

HOUSTON -- The night for Kemba Walker began weirdly. When Connecticut players gathered as a team at halfcourt minutes before the game against Kentucky, a confused Walker turned his back, and headed to the locker room. Teammate Jeremy Lamb whistled loudly.

"Where are you going?" Lamb yelled.

Walker sheepishly joined his teammates. When the game started it was as if Walker's head was elsewhere. His shots? Off. His passes? Sloppy. There were two early turnovers.

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Then slowly, it happened. Walker began to make his imprint. It wasn't a perfect one. It wasn't a flawless portrait, a Bird-Magic moment, but it was definitely unquestionably Walker, and the end result was a tired, imperfect player making a tangible, credible mark.

Connecticut beat Kentucky 56-55, but the real story was Walker's strange, brilliant, and hallucinogenic night in which he was frustrating, smooth and remarkable all-in-one game.

Please, remember the following moment, because it is essential Walker. There were about 13 minutes left when Kentucky's Darius Miller fell onto Walker's right ankle. For a moment, the stadium was mostly hushed, as Walker grabbed the ankle and rolled in pain.

Walker sat up, tied his shoelace and slowly jogged back down the court. He was still clearly hurting but it didn't matter. When Kentucky guard Doron Lamb broke open, alone, on a fast break it looked like an easy score but behind Lamb was Walker. He swatted Lamb's shot, pained ankle and all.

"Get that s--- out of here," Walker said to Lamb.

The Big East tournament was Walker's. In many ways, the NCAA tournament has been Walker's. And now, the Final Four might be his, as well.

There's a great chance for the Huskies to beat Butler because they have Walker and the only thing that's been able to slow him are tired legs and even that is debatable. Walker played 40 minutes against Kentucky and was hip checked, tripped and nearly elbowed in the face -- twice -- and he still scored 18 points and had seven assists.

Some of what Walker did was outrageously skilled. He threw one pass from near halfcourt about 15 feet to Shabazz Napier who threw it to Jeremy Lamb for the layup. There was one scoop-under-the-basket score that was Dwyane Wade-like.

Walker wasn't perfect. As the game wore on you could see the fatigue dragging on him, wearing down his normally slick aerodynamics, as the mistakes -- he finished with four turnovers -- and bad shots came with more frequency. One of the problems was Walker spent extensive periods chasing Lamb off numerous screens. Not to mention it seems like Connecticut has been playing this year since the state of Connecticut signed the Declaration of Independence.

"I usually won't tell you guys I was tired," he said, "but I actually was."

Coach Jim Calhoun said, "I thought he was fatigued, quite frankly, for most of the game."

"You could see that Kemba was tired," teammate Alex Oriakhi said. "I was exhausted. I guess all those games are definitely kicking in because fatigue was definitely set in place in that game. I think both teams were tired because we couldn't make a shot and they couldn't make a shot."

This is how it works with Walker. It was there against Kentucky and will be against Butler. The Wildcats slowed his offensive game, so he passed more. When they attacked his passing, he hustled on defense. When Walker's heart came into question with a hurt ankle, he batted away an easy layup.

When he's drained, he finds a way. When he's hurt, he finds a way. This is what he does.

This is his Final Four unless Butler can do something few have. Stop him.


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