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Aztecs can’t keep UConn’s Walker down

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Kemba Walker sliced up San Diego State’s defense for 22 points on shots from all angles and distances in the second half of Connecticut’s West Region semifinal.

The Aztecs kept the junior guard down only once: A shoulder bump from Jamaal Franklin sent Walker crashing to the Honda Center floor, drawing a technical foul and two momentum-killing free throws.

Walker denied doing any acting on the play. He’s still the star of these resilient Huskies’ remarkable production.

Walker scored 36 points in yet another dynamic postseason performance, driving UConn down the stretch Thursday to a 74-67 win that put the Huskies on the brink of another Final Four.

“Whether it’s scoring, talking, getting their confidence up or giving an assist, I’m just trying to do whatever is possible to enhance this team,” said Walker, who scored 12 straight UConn points in the final minutes.

Freshman Jeremy Lamb added a season-high 24 points, including a clutch 3-pointer with 1:43 left for the third-seeded Huskies (29-9), who are headed to an NCAA regional final for the 10th time after beating the second-seeded Aztecs (34-3) and a building full of hostile fans 90 minutes from San Diego.

The Huskies will meet fifth-seeded Arizona (30-7) for the West title Saturday.

UConn has been streaking since its regular season ended with four losses in five games. Walker, their fearless playmaker from the Bronx who’s generously listed at 6 feet 1 inch, drove them to the Big East tournament title with five wins in five days.

The Huskies then knocked off Bucknell and Cincinnati in the first two NCAA rounds to earn a trip into the backyard of the Aztecs, who hadn’t lost to anyone but Brigham Young during the best season in school history.

Walker and his teammates didn’t flinch.

“This run has been sensational,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than this team. I don’t remember anything like this.”

Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay trimmed UConn’s lead to 65-64 with a 3-pointer with 2:53 to play. Lamb replied with his 3, and his emphatic last-second dunk set off a celebration in the section of thoroughly outnumbered UConn fans.

“When your season comes to a screeching halt, like it will for every team with one exception, it hurts,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. “It should hurt, regardless of when, where and how. For our team this year, for what they’ve accomplished, it hurts exponentially more. I could not be more proud of how hard we played, and unfortunately we came up a bit short.”

Gay scored 16 points. Kawhi Leonard had 12 points and nine rebounds but didn’t dominate inside for the Aztecs, and teammate Billy White added 14 points.

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