Connecticut, one of two Big East teams remaining in the NCAA tournament will play San Diego State on March 24 in the Sweet 16.
How Connecticut got there: Kemba Walker’s amazing championship season continues. Walker scored 16 of his 33 points over the final 10 minutes of the game as the Huskies defeated Big East rival Cincinnati 69-58 for their seventh straight win. After leading Connecticut to five wins in five days in the Big East tournament, Walker has continued his show into the NCAA tournament and has now passed Donny Marshall for first place in Connecticut’s history for the most points scored (875) in one season.
How San Diego State got there: To put it bluntly, it wasn’t pretty. San Diego State won a battle of attrition with Temple in their round of 32 matchup, prevailing in two overtimes, 71-64. The two teams combined to shoot 33 percent in the second half, and Temple scored just three points in the second overtime. Khalif Wyatt and Lavoy Allen each missed a jumper down 65-63 with around 2:30 left and the Aztecs’ Billy White capitalized by hitting a fade-away jumper to put San Diego State up 4 and put the game out of reach. White’s 16 points and 13 rebounds led the way.
Husky to watch: Aside from Walker, Alex Oriakhi has been on a nice roll recently on the glass. Over the past four games, he’s averaging 10.5 rebounds a game. Jeremy Lamb is also averaging 14.4 points over the Huskies’ seven game win streak.
Aztec to watch: Kawhi Leonard leads San Diego State with 15.6 points per game. The forward shot 5 for 14 against Temple to get his 16 points, but that was an aberration. In the previous four games, Leonard averaged 18 points on 55.3 percent shooting from the field.
Key to the game (SDSU): For San Diego State, it’s obvious — stop Kemba Walker, stop Connecticut. Of course, that’s much easier said than done. Seven different coaches have tried and failed recently. The trio of D.J. Gay, Chase Tapley and Billy White will all get cracks at guarding Walker.
Key to the game (UCONN): The Aztecs have a supremely athletic front court with Kawhi Leonard and center Malcolm Thomas. Thomas is a beast down low, averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game. The recent emergence of Billy White gives coach Steve Fisher another option to go to on offense. Dealing with the Aztec front court will be Charles Okwandu and Alex Oriakhi among others. They are serviceable players, but Emeka Okafor they are not.
Prediction: Besides BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who else has had a more electric season than Kemba Walker? When a player like this gets hot, there’s little anyone can do to stop him. San Diego State will be no exception. Connecticut 71, San Diego State 65.