Timely returns for UConn, Arizona

Arizona's Derrick Williams enjoys regional semifinal win over Duke.
Arizona's Derrick Williams enjoys regional semifinal win over Duke.
Posted: March 26, 2011

ANAHEIM - Lamont Jones spent last spring break staring at his dorm room walls in Tucson, fuming over Arizona's failure to make the NCAA Tournament after 25 straight trips.

Kemba Walker had a few similarly sleepless nights in Storrs when Connecticut also missed the tournament.

"It happens to all great programs from time to time, but I just decided I wouldn't go through that again," Walker said.

So did Jones, Walker's friend since junior high school. Two dynamic guards from New York have played major roles in getting two perennial powers back to the brink of the Final Four just 1 year after they fell out of the field.

Arizona (30-7) and UConn (29-9) will meet in the West Regional final tonight.

"This is the kind of game you expect to play when you go to a school like Arizona or UConn," said Jones, known as MoMo. "These are the teams that play for championships, and it's good to get Arizona back on top."

The Wildcats are back in the national title hunt after missing the tournament in coach Sean Miller's debut season. With a roster built around California talent with an East Coast pugnacity, Arizona won the regular-season Pac-10 title before taking apart defending national champion Duke in Thursday's regional semifinal.

Derrick Williams believes Arizona grew into its talent down the stretch, and nobody did it better than the high-flying forward from La Mirada, Calif., who scored a career-high 32 points during the Wildcats' wipeout of Duke.

"It was only a matter of time before we bought into what the coaches were selling us," Williams said. "It's a chain reaction, and you can believe in what they're saying when you're at a winning program like ours."

UConn scuffled through a .500 regular season in Big East play before winning five games in 5 days to take the conference tourney, followed by this remarkable cross-country NCAA run. Not much in basketball can surprise 68-year-old coach Jim Calhoun, but he's pleasantly thrilled by Walker's ability to take charge.

Walker scored 36 points in UConn's win over second-seeded San Diego State on Thursday, his seventh game with at least 24 points in the Huskies' last nine outings.

"It's never unexpected to me. It's joyous to me," Calhoun said. "It's always going to have a special place for me because of the group, because of the way we started the season. Nothing seems to get them down."

"It's a matchup of two hot teams," Walker said. "I know we've got a good chance. It might depend on how many shots I make."

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