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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - The legend of Kemba Walker is growing bigger with eachpostseason feat for the Connecticut Huskies, who are on the brinkof another trip to the Final Four.
Walker scored 22 of his 36 points in another dynamic second-halfperformance, relentlessly driving UConn down the stretch in a 74-67victory over San Diego State in the West regional semifinalsThursday night.
Freshman Jeremy Lamb added 24 points and hit a clutch 3-pointerwith 1:43 left for the third-seeded Huskies (29-9), who won fivegames in five days to capture the Big East tournament and now aregoing to an NCAA regional final for the 10th time.
Walker, the fearless playmaker from the Bronx generously listedat 6-foot-1, scored 12 consecutive points for the Huskies down thestretch.
UConn advanced to Saturday's regional final against the winnerof top-seeded Duke's meeting with Arizona later at HondaCenter.
With four 3-pointers and a little veteran savvy to draw arun-stopping technical foul against San Diego State's JamaalFranklin in the second half, Walker outdueled Aztecs point guardD.J. Gay, who scored 16 points and trimmed UConn's second-half leadto 65-64 on a 3-pointer with 2:53 to play.
Lamb replied with his 3, and his emphatic last-second dunk setoff a celebration in the section of thoroughly outnumbered UConnfans at Honda Center, just 90 minutes up the interstate from SanDiego.
Gay scored 16 points for the second-seeded Aztecs (34-3), whocouldn't quite catch up to the Huskies down the stretch. KawhiLeonard had 12 points and nine rebounds but never dominated inside,while Billy White added 14 points and Malcolm Thomas had 13 pointsand eight rebounds.
Walker scored 14 points in the first half to stake UConn to a36-27 lead during a 19-5 run, but the Aztecs replied with an 11-2surge early in the second half. Thousands of San Diego State fanswho sold out every home game on campus this season turned the HondaCenter into Montezuma Mesa North, singing along to their favoritepep-band songs and thoroughly drowning out the UConn cross-countrytravelers.
Walker's layup put UConn up 40-32 early in the second half, butthe Aztecs finally remembered they're bigger and taller than theHuskies, repeatedly using their advantages to set up open shotswhile keeping Walker's teammates from getting comfortable.
Gay's free throws put the Aztecs ahead 43-42 with 13 minutesleft, and back-to-back buckets put San Diego State up 53-49 with9:19 to play -- but Walker even managed to turn that to theHuskies' advantage.
After Franklin made a steal and fed White for a layup, Franklinand Walker exchanged a little trash talk. On the way back to theirbenches moments later, Franklin and Walker bumped shoulders -- andWalker went crashing to the floor, drawing a technical foul andhitting both free throws.
Except for two regular-season meetings with BYU, the Aztecs wereperfect throughout the winningest season in school history. SanDiego State obliterated the school record for victories and won theMountain West tournament before knocking off Northern Colorado andTemple for its first two NCAA tournament victories.
But UConn's road was rockier, with a 9-9 regular-season mark inthe Big East. With three freshmen in their starting lineup, mostexpected the Huskies to need another year before contending for bigprizes.
UConn has been streaking ever since its regular season endedwith four losses in five games. After Walker drove them to the BigEast tournament title in dramatic fashion, and the Huskies knockedoff Bucknell and Cincinnati in the first two rounds behind Walker,who already has obliterated the single-season school scoringrecord.
The West Coast vibe suits the Huskies, who also came out of thisregion during their runs to the 1999 and 2004 national titles,along with their trip to the 2009 Final Four.
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