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March 31, 2011

Notes: Walker, Knight set to meet again

HOUSTON -- They have become two of the biggest shots of the NCAA tournament – Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Kentucky's Brandon Knight.

Competition between the talented guards will loom large in helping to decide Saturday's national semifinal at Reliant Stadium.

Walker, a junior, has averaged 26.8 points during the tournament in sparking the third-seeded Huskies to victories over Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State and Arizona.

His diverse offensive and defensive skills have been the bedrock as UConn (30-9) has put together a nine-game winning streak that has it two wins from the national championship.

"He's a great competitor," Knight said of Walker. "Great scorer, great player. He's come up big for his team in big-time situations."

Then there's Knight, a freshman, suddenly knocking down the most important looks of the season for the fourth-seeded Wildcats (29-8), championing their march past Princeton, West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina. Knight is averaging 15.8 points over than span.

Most impressive have been game-winning shots on otherwise off nights to finish the Tigers and the Buckeyes. Knight piled up 30 points against the Mountaineers and 22 against the Tar Heels.

"You can tell how much he has matured as a player and a leader and is playing great basketball now," Walker said of Knight, who chose UK over UConn in the recruiting process. "He can do anything. He can score, he can get his teammates the basketball."

The two met earlier this season with Walker getting the upper hand in the Maui Invitational. The UConn guard struck for 29 points in an 84-67 Huskies rout. Knight struggled to six points on 3-for-15 shooting.

Much has changed since that November meeting and the stakes are much higher now. UK's DeAndre Liggins will draw the task of guarding Walker.

"[Maui] has nothing to do really with [Saturday's] game unless there's revenge on their minds," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "I don't think John Calipari or his team worry about revenge, they just want a championship.

"Brandon Knight was not Brandon Knight then. He's a terrific player. Doron Lamb wasn't the same player by any stretch of the imagination. Josh Harrellson wasn't even a factor. ... This is a young team that grew."

CAL ON RIVALRY WITH CALHOUN

Much has been made of the relationship between UConn coach Jim Calhoun and UK leader John Calipari that dates back to the days when Calipari was the coach at Massachusetts in the 1990s.

Calipari did his best to downplay the rivalry.

"It's fine," Calipari said of the feelings between the coaches. "Everyone is making a big deal out of it. After our game in Maui, I grabbed him and said 'you did a great job and really outcoached me and made me look bad.'

"We're both competitors. We're both going to want to win the game. But this isn't about us. I'm not on the court and neither is he. It's about how we get our teams to play. He takes great pride and so do I and we'll see what happens."

Calhoun has a record of 853-367 with four Final Four appearances and two national championships. Calipari is 509-151 with national semifinal appearances with UMass and Memphis, both later vacated by the NCAA, and this year's run by UK.

A PAIR OF LAMBS

There will be two dynamic freshman guards in the UK-UConn game, and they share the same name.

UConn's Jeremy Lamb, a 6-foot-5 wing player from Norcross, Ga., said he doesn't know Kentucky's Doron Lamb, a 6-4 shooting guard from Queens, N.Y., but people wonder whether they're family members.

"Every now and again people say, 'Are you related?,'" Jeremy Lamb said. "But, no, we're not related. My teammates joke around like, 'That's the real Lamb,' and stuff like that."

Both Lambs have helped shepherd their teams to the Final Four.

Jeremy Lamb has averaged 11.1 points per game for the Huskies, coming on strong in the postseason. He scored 19 points in last week's West Regional final victory over Arizona, and had 24 in the win over San Diego State in the regional semi.

Calhoun said the long, lanky player reminded him of former UConn great Richard Hamilton and the late Reggie Lewis, whom Calhoun coached at Northeastern.

Meanwhile, Doron Lamb has averaged 12.3 points this season for the Cats.

Calhoun said in his session with the media that he recruited Doron Lamb in high school, and Calipari said that he recruited Jeremy.

ORIAKHI PRAISES HARRELLSON

Count UConn sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi among those who have taken notice of the emergence of UK center Josh Harrellson in the postseason.

Harrellson's play in NCAA tournament victories against North Carolina (12 points, eight rebounds), Ohio State (17 points, 10 rebounds), West Virginia (15 points, eight rebounds) and Princeton (15 points, 10 rebounds) has been a far cry from the way he played against the Huskies during the Maui Invitational in November.

Oriakhi helped hold Harrellson scoreless during the Huskies' 84-67 win in Hawaii.

"I remember playing him, but I don't think he did much or scored much," said Oriakhi, who had 18 points and 11 boards in that game. "It just shows you he's made a turnaround. I watched some of his games against Ohio State and West Virginia, and he played great for them.

Oriakhi said Harrellson has been a catalyst for the Cats in their march to the Final Four, and having a productive big man makes UK a tough team to beat.

"He's definitely been tremendous, and it just goes to show what confidence can do for a player," Oriakhi said. "From Maui to now, he's just been playing tremendous and helping his ballclub win games. Hats off to him. He's playing with a lot of confidence and rebounding the ball at a high level."



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