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Walker lives his dream at the Garden

NEW YORK -- Most kids who grow up in New York City only dream of hitting the game-winning shot in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of basketball. On Thursday afternoon, however, UConn junior guard Kemba Walker lived it.

Walker, a Bronx native who played at Rice High School, drained a buzzer-beating, step-back 18-foot jumper from the top of the key that gave the Huskies a dramatic 76-74 upset victory over top-seeded Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

"It's special," said Walker, who poured in a team-high 24 points on 8-for-22 shooting and 8-for-9 from the free throw stripe. "It's special because I missed a couple shots before that. My teammates just had the confidence in me. They told me in the huddle right before, 'Take this last shot and win this game for us.' And I did.

"There's nothing better than hitting a game-winning shot in your hometown."

Walker has made some big shots in his Huskies career. But none could be as big as this.

Because nothing is bigger than hitting the big shot in the Big Apple.

"I'm one of the more experienced guys on my team," said Walker, who had never beat Pitt before in his career (0-4). "I've been through a lot. A winning season as a freshman. A losing season as a sophomore. I'm that guy on this team. Everybody knows that I'm gonna be that guy. That's what I wanted to do for my team: Make the big shot."

With 18 seconds left, UConn coach Jim Calhoun called for a high screen and flair play that was designed so that the Panthers (27-5) would have to switch defenders, allowing the 6-foot-1 Walker the opportunity to get himself into an isolation situation against 6-10 center Gary McGhee. And the Huskies (24-9) executed the play to perfection.

It didn't take long for Walker to be one-on-one with McGhee, the fleet-footed guard against the bruising center.

Call it the perfect mismatch.

Walker said he initially thought about driving by McGhee. He pulled off one ankle-breaking crossover dribble.

Then another.

But the second time, McGhee fell. At that point, Walker changed his mind.

Step back. Pull up. Fade away. Nothing but the bottom of the net. And pure euphoria inside the Garden. Walker was mauled by his teammates near midcourt.

The New York City kid had pulled off the unthinkable.

"There wasn't a doubt in my mind which play I was going to go with," Calhoun said. "They had to honor [3-point shooting specialist Jamal Coombs-McDaniel on the left wing, who set the screen]. And Kemba just made a spectacular play.

"He's the most important guy to any team in college basketball."

That much was certain Thursday afternoon. And all you needed to do was watch one game to know it.

In three games in the Big East tournament, Walker has averaged 26 points, leading the Huskies to their first semifinals appearance since 2005.

"Everybody was excited," Walker said. "Coming into this game we knew we were the underdogs. But everybody stuck together."

Since this tournament began, Walker has looked like a man playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Maybe it's because he wasn't selected as Big East Player of the Year.

On Thursday, though, that award didn't matter.

Walker didn't have to dream about being the hometown kid hitting the game-winning shot in his hometown arena.

He lived it.