It was an ending almost too corny for Hollywood. The hometown kid playing in his hometown arena against the No. 1 team in the conference with the ball in his hands in a tie game with six seconds left.
But this afternoon, with Pitt and UConn knotted at 74 in the Big East quarterfinals, there stood the Huskies’ Kemba Walker, a Bronx native, at the top of the key defended by the Panthers’ 6-11 center Gary McGhee with a trip to the Big East semis on the line.
Walker gave McGhee an in-and-out that didn’t shake him, though, and with the clock trickling down and seemingly nowhere to go, he stepped with his right foot forward, then stepped back, and looked at McGhee as he stumbled.
“I knew he was so much bigger than me,” said Walker after the game. “If I just try to do a lot of moves or just try to go laterally, I knew he couldn’t stick with me.”
Walker released the ball, held his followthrough extra long, and watched as the ball trickled through the net, propelling the Huskies to a 76-74 victory and their first trip to the Big East semifinals since 2003.
“I’m pretty sure every basketball player dreams of situations like that in the World’s Most Famous Arena,” said Walker, who dropped 24 points on 8-for-22 shooting. “It’s just a special moment for me and my teammates.”
Despite Walker’s late-game struggles in a game last week against Notre Dame, his late-game heroics came as no surprise to UConn coach Jim Calhoun.
“Kemba has made a ton of big shots this year, and as I’ve said, I think he’s the most important guy for a single team in college basketball,” said Calhoun.
Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including 6-for-7 from three.
Walker was named to the Big East First Team earlier this week, but did not win the conference’s Player of the Year award, which was given to Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough.