WASHINGTON—These were demanding, nerve-racking, season-defining times and Kemba Walker answered them with two contrasting, and equally effective, traits.
First he was calm and cool, swishing a three-pointer with just under four minutes as UConn looked to finally push aside Cincinnati. Then he was a disruptive ball of instincts and energy, stepping into the lane of a Rashad Bishop pass for a steal and feeding Roscoe Smith for a dunk that just about sealed a trip to California.
The longer the game went, the more Walker left his sneaker prints all over it -- just like those sneaker prints all over the UConn record book. Walker scored 33 points and set a UConn single-season record for points as the third-seeded Huskies defeated No. 6 Cincinnati 69-58 in an West Regional game Saturday at the Verizon Center.
UConn (28-9) advances to the Sweet 16 and will face No. 2 San Diego State Thursday in Anaheim.
Walker, who left to an ovation with 11 seconds remaining, scored at least 30 points for the 10th time. Wes Bialosuknia did it nine times in 1966-67.
The Huskies, who also won the regular season meeting with Cincinnati, have won seven in a row and are two victories from the Final Four.
Walker made all 14 of his free throws, 8 of 20 field goals and had six rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes. Jeremy Lamb added 14 points and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel 10. Bishop had 22 points for Cincinnati (26-9).
UConn played well toward the end of both halves, and it was more than enough. And Walker was just too much.
The Huskies led 36-28 at halftime but started the second half even worse than they had started the first. A Jim Calhoun timeout came before a UConn point, and Cincinnati opened with an 11-2 run. Bishop made a three-pointer for a 39-38 lead.
Then it became a tug-o-war. Each team made a few brilliant plays. Each made a few inexplicable errors. Lamb, Walker's only consistent help, took a pass from Walker and made a three-pointer to give UConn a 45-43 lead. Cashmere Wright quickly tied it with a pair of free throws with 11:26 remaining.
Now there was urgency on both sides. The crowd was more into every possession. And Walker shifted into another gear. He drew a foul and made two free throws. Next, he got a little out of control driving from the right -- Cincinnati wanted a travel called -- and got the ball to Lamb, who quickly got it back to Walker for a three-pointer for a 50-45 lead.
After Bishop scored, Walker made a difficult scoop shot on a drive, and Charles Okwandu then made a free throw to give UConn a six-point lead with 6:32 left. Bishop made a three, pulling the Bearcats to 53-50, but Shabazz Napier answered with a pull-up jumper to get the lead to five.
Next, Walker made a three, giving UConn a 58-50 lead with 3:49 left. And then after a put-back by Darnell Wilks, Walker made his steal. Smith dunked and the trip to California was all but sealed.
UConn came out flat, appearing a little frazzled. A couple of steals by Wright led to a five-point Bearcats spurt that made it 12-5. Calhoun burned an early timeout. The Huskies wouldn't really start clicking until ignited by Walker, who scored eight UConn points in a row -- three jump shots and two free throws earned with his signature juke and up-fake.
Gates converted a three-point play to give Cincinnati a 20-15 with 10:24 remaining, but UConn would own the rest of the half. The Huskies scored the next eight points, taking their first lead on an Alex Oriakhi free throw with 7:16 left. It was 23-20 after Lamb made a steal and raced in alone for a dunk. Sean Kilpatrick made a scoop layup but Walker responded with a three-pointer to give the Huskies a 26-22 lead and enter the UConn record book.
That basket gave Walker 855 points this season, tying the record Donyell Marshall established in 1993-94. With 4:25 left, Walker went in alone and attempted a dunk but was hit on the arm by a closing Justin Jackson. Referees issued an intentional foul and Walker hit two free throws to pass Marshall and make it 28-22. Okwandu soon scored to push the lead to eight.
A couple of baskets by Gates closed the gap to four, but Lamb and Coombs-McDaniel each made three-pointers down the stretch.