It was not pretty, but at this time of year it doesn't need to be and the UConn Huskies are headed to a very sweet 16.
Outside of a few select minutes late in the first half this was a gritty grin-and-bear-it kind of game. There were foul calls all over the place, a zone defense that (at least temporarily) seemed to make UConn regress and a rough-and-tumble style that left Kemba Walker with a sore wrist and Shabazz Napier with a dazed look in his eyes.
But a win is a win, and now the Huskies advance to the Sweet 16 where they will, for the sixth time in the past 15 years, try to win a NCAA tournament game as the road team. UConn is 0-5 in such games (expect to hear a lot more about this from us in the coming days) and this time they'll be matched up against San Diego St. in Anaheim. Hopefully their luck will be better.
The lesson is, as always, we have Kemba Walker, and you don't. The junior had 33 points this evening and came through whenever the game was in doubt. The turning point undoubtedly came with just over 9 minutes left in the half. After a flagrant travel, Walker found himself open on the baseline and drilled an open 3, giving the Huskies a six-point lead. Cincinnati would trim that to four points a few minutes later but in retrospect the outcome was clear, UConn was going to win because Kemba wasn't going to let them lose.
That's what sticks out to me most about this game: Kemba refused to lose. You could see it in his eyes when Cincinnati jumped out to an early lead in the first half. Walker went on a mini scoring run where he was clearly the dominant player on the court. More than anything else that filled me with confidence going forward. Kemba is playing his last games in a UConn uniform right now. He knows that, he does not want to end with a loss, and well, I don't want to be against him. He's a man on a mission, but unlike anyone else in this tournament he happens to be the best player in the country and he has at least one more game in him.
Survive and advance. Let's go Huskies.