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Kemba Walker leads Huskies to Jim Calhoun's third national title.
With a 53–41 victory over Butler in the national title game, Kemba Walker joined Richard Hamilton (1999) and Ben Gordon (2004) among the pantheon of Connecticut champions. In the process, the 6'1" junior from the Bronx helped define what it means to be a scoring guard at UConn more than anyone since Ray Allen.
Although he went just 5-of-19 from the floor for 16 points on the final Monday in Houston, it was Walker who led the way for the Huskies — in every tournament (and game) they played in this season.
Jim Calhoun’s go-to guy first made a splash in the Maui Invitational, then won five games in five nights in the Big East Tournament and ultimately carried UConn on his back — past Bucknell (81–52), Cincinnati (69–58), San Diego State (74–67), Arizona (65–63), Kentucky (56–55) and finally Butler (53–41) — all the way up the ladder to cut down the nets, capping a 14–0 three-tournament record this year.
Walker averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals over 41 games this season, including 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.5 steals over six games in the NCAA Tournament. But it was his never-say-die attitude that mattered most in Coach Calhoun’s third national championship run.
With his third national title, Calhoun joins UCLA’s John Wooden (10), Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp (4), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (4) and Indiana’s Bob Knight (3) as the only coaches in NCAA history to win three or more national championships.
“It may be the happiest moment of my life,” said Calhoun, who at 68 became the oldest coach in history to win it all.
Unlike previous champs Hamilton — who had Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl and Co. — and Gordon — whose right-hand man was Emeka Okafor — Walker was a one-man show for much of the season, averaging 32.5 percent of the team’s points on the year and 35.4 percent during the NCAA Tournament.
But it was Connecticut’s defense — or possibly the lack of a Butler offense — that decided the national title game.
Despite playing in the final for the second straight season, the Bulldogs showed the nerves of a first-time contender — making just 12-of-64 shots (18.8 percent), including 9-of-33 from 3-point range, and scoring only 41 points, which was the lowest championship-game total of the shot clock era. Worse, Butler cornerstones Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack combined to shoot 5-for-28 in their second title game appearance.
“Without question, 41 points and 12-of-64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship,” said coach Brad Stevens, who carries a 117–25 record over four seasons at Butler, including a 11–4 mark and two national runner-up finishes in the NCAA Tournament.
But Walker, freshman wing Jeremy Lamb (12 points, seven rebounds) and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi (11 points, 11 boards, four blocks) made just enough shots to lead UConn to a title. The Huskies survived a dismal 19-of-55 shooting night from the field, which included 1-of-11 from 3-point range and a terrible 6-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio.
But no one will remember the clanked threes or low score. All that matters is the result. Connecticut is the last team standing and a deserving national champion — as the best team, with the best player, in the country.
After a season dominated by Jimmer mania and freshman sensations, and a Big Dance full of Shaka-ing upsets — including No. 11 seed VCU making the Final Four after barely making the bracket as one of the original “First Four” — and Cinderella stories, the No. 3-seed Huskies took down the No. 8-seed Bulldogs in the final.
“It’s unreal. It’s surreal,” said Walker after the game. “I’m so happy right now.”