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Sweet 16 Recap West Regional - (3) Connecticut 74, (2) San Diego State 67

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The San Diego State Aztecs didn’t go out like a lamb, but they did go out of the NCAA Tournament because of one. Indeed, when an up-and-down West Regional semifinal hung in the balance, Jeremy Lamb answered the call for a team that doesn't want this month of March to end.

The Connecticut Huskies defeated the San Diego State Aztecs in Sweet 16 competition from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on Thursday night. Kemba Walker continued his mesmerizing play, scoring 36 points, including 12 straight during the final minutes of the second half. Walker, who almost singlehandedly led UConn to five wins in five days at the Big East Conference Tournament two weeks ago, has continued to deliver the goods in a March run that is rapidly acquiring all-time-great status. Nevertheless, for all of Walker’s signature heroics, it was a Lamb that ultimately stopped the Mountain West Conference’s co-champion near its home base in Southern California.

Just when most of America thought this game was done and dusted, with Connecticut owning a 65-57 lead at the four-minute mark of regulation, San Diego State made one more push in this game of runs. Aztec guard D.J. Gay hit a three-point shot and was fouled with 3:41 left, making the score 65-60 and giving SDSU a chance at a four-point play. Gay missed the foul shot, but teammate Billy White grabbed the offensive rebound and set up teammate Malcolm Thomas for a close-in opportunity that led to two foul more free throws. Thomas made only one for an Aztec team that hit just 6 of 13 free throws (one of the game’s most defining stats), but the second seed had still crafted a four-point trip and had catapulted itself into contention once again. When Gay – following a defensive stop – nailed a triple with 2:57 to go, the Aztecs were down by only one at 65-64. Connecticut has been living so close to the vest during its Big East run. After coasting through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies once again lived on the edge. Would they be able to do the kinds of things they had done two weeks earlier in New York?

Sure they would.

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As had happened so many times during that five-day joyride at Madison Square Garden, Connecticut got an offensive rebound from big man Alex Oriakhi in a key situation. Oriakhi rebounded a miss by Walker and passed the ball to the left wing, where freshman Jeremy Lamb finished off the Aztecs with a dagger of a three-pointer at the 1:39 mark of regulation. Lamb finished the game with 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 conversion rate from three-point land. Walker’s massive point production certainly deserved top billing in this game, but in many ways, it was the Huskies’ Lamb who drove a nail into Montezuma’s coffin and finished off the Aztecs.

SDSU couldn’t score on its next two possessions after the defining Lamb triple, and although the Aztecs did pull within three, at 70-67, on a Kawhi Leonard three with 21 seconds left, Walker drained two foul shots with 14 seconds left to give UConn a 72-67 cushion, ultimately sealing the win for a team that looked like a first-round NCAA Tournament loser three weeks ago, just before the Big East Tournament was set to begin.

San Diego State finished the season at 34-3. Connecticut, meanwhile, will face Arizona on Saturday for a chance to punch a ticket to the Final Four. The tip-off time is slated for 7:05 p.m. Eastern time.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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