By Stacey Kilpatrick
Which animal is stronger, a husky or a bearcat? After Saturday night’s NCAA third-round Big East matchup in Washington D.C., a city known for wild elephants and untamed donkey’s, the husky has proven himself to be the more vicious predator.
The #3 Connecticut Huskies — who have won seven games over the past 12 days — defeated the #6 Cincinnati Bearcats 69-58 on Saturday and are moving onto the Sweet Sixteen to face the San Diego State Aztecs on March 24 in Anaheim.
Now I don’t mean to make this recap immediately focus on one particular, rather popular (for good reason) Husky, but let’s be honest, it should start off that way.
Kemba Walker, the Connecticut junior, had another high-achieving March Madness game, as he scored 33 points, pulled down six rebounds, as well as recorded five assists and one steal, all with an injured wrist (from an aggressive intentional foul by Justin Jackson that threw him to the floor) and a seemingly sore thigh (he was grimacing after the play).
Walker scored six of UConn’s final eight points, moving them ahead from 62-54 to 66-54.
The Bearcats came out from the start and made an impression that they were hungry for some “sweet advancement.” Rashad Bishop, (22 points, one rebound, one steal, one block) put two on Cincy’s scoreboard at 19:46 after being fouled by UConn’s Roscoe Smith, (two points, one rebound). By 14:26 the Bearcats were up 12-5 after two Connecticut turnovers.
But Walker, starving as well, wasn’t going to allow the Bearcats to continue their streak. Walker scored seven more for UConn, closing the gap to 17-15 at 12:19. Alex Oriakhi, (four points, 11 rebounds) then added an additional three points, Jeremy Lamb, (14 points, five rebounds) scored a jumper, bringing the Huskies behind, 20-19, and Oriakhi gave the Huskies their first lead, 21-20, at 8:15, with another free-throw.
Lamb added a dunk roughly two minutes later after stealing from Cincy’s Dion Dixon and Walker made a 3 at 5:12. At 4:29, Walker was fouled by Jackson after the Bearcats’ outstretched arm tangled with Walker’s as he attempted a left layup. Walker fell on his wrist, but scored the two ensuing intentional foul shots. Charles Okwandu added a jumper at 4:10 and gave the Huskies their largest lead so far, 31-22, going on a 21-5 run.
Yancy Gates, (11 points, six rebounds) and Jaquon Parker gave the Bearcats six more points, but the first half eventually ended with UConn on top, 37-28.
Just as Cincy took off and slowed down while Connecticut dominated the latter half of the first, the Bearcats were re-energized in the second as they came back to tie it 41-all after a Bishop basket with Kilpatrick assisting at 13:24.
But, while an impressive stride, the Bearcats never moved out in front and at 10:58 Ibrahima Thomas recorded his fourth personal foul for Cincy to coach Mick Cronin’s frustration.
Walker increased UConn’s lead after a foul by Gates that saw a colliding of Gates’ knee in Walker’s left thigh. Walker looked to be in pretty bad pain but he managed through it. He mentioned after the game that he’s always getting hurt, but he wants to win so there’s really no stopping.
At 8:36 Thomas’ collegiate career came to an unfortunate finish after he fouled out, earning six points and all of Cincy’s five fouls. UConn had eight.
The Huskies pretty much solidified their win at 60-52 with 1:31 left. Walker stole from Bishop and passed to Smith for a dunk. Walker was then fouled three times from 50.7 to 25 seconds, nailing all six points.
Cashmere Wright made a last attempt layup with 13 seconds left for Cincy, but Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, (10 points, three rebounds) put two more on the board for UConn after a Jackson foul and it was over at 69-58.
The Huskies travel West to Anaheim to play second-seeded San Diego State on the 24th and with this being SDSU’s first ever trip to the Sweet 16, there’s no knowing what can happen on the court.