Walker’s dagger sinks Pitt

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Remind us, who’s supposed to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament? Who’s supposed to be the most balanced team in the Big East? And who’s supposed to be the conference’s best player?

After yesterday’s 76-74 upset of top-seeded Pittsburgh, all those answers point in the direction of Connecticut and Kemba Walker.

The Huskies’ guard, who somehow wasn’t a unanimous choice for the All-Big East first team and was passed over for Player of the Year, schooled Gary McGhee in an epic mismatch on the game’s final possession. He backed the Panthers’ center off, crossed him over and then nailed a game-winning jumper at the buzzer to send Pitt packing from the quarterfinals for the third straight season.

Walker led the Huskies with 24 points and five assists but was just as active defensively, as they forced seven first-half turnovers. UConn’s transition game really took off after the first 12 minutes, as it picked pockets and intercepted passing lanes to go the other way. The up-tempo attack that dominated wins over DePaul and Georgetown in the first two days at the Garden erased an 11-point first-half deficit.

It was the bigs, namely Alex Oriakhi, who provided interior support for Walker and the guards. The UConn center had 13 points, much of it coming on put-backs where he outmuscled the usually dominant Pitt front line. McGahee picked up his fourth foul with 11:44 left and UConn took advantage with back cuts and second-chance putbacks inside.

Ahston Gibbs seemed to match Walker blow for blow, finishing with 27 points and going 6 of 7 from beyond the arc. His 3 tied the game with less than a minute left but he wouldn’t get another look.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon still expects his Panthers to grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and rightfully so. After all, UConn is  playing like a top seed and could find itself as a two or three seed with a win in Friday night’s semifinal against either St. John’s or Syracuse.


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