One of just two No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchups in the Sweet 16, San Diego State vs. UConn is the undercard in the West Region of the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket. Both teams have go-to players — Connecticut's National Player of the Year finalist Kemba Walker, San Diego State's do-everything forward Kawhi Leonard — and both can score in bunches. The game will tip at 7:15 p.m. Thursday in Anaheim on CBS, according to the 2011 NCAA Tournament schedule, and Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery will be the announcers.
San Diego State's Sweet 16 road was much rockier than UConn's. The Aztecs breezed past their opening round opponent, Northern Colorado, but nearly had their NCAA Tournament run derailed by Temple. The Owls forced San Diego State's offense to shoot rather than drive, and that cadre of merely good shooters only barely prevailed. If Leonard, Billy White, and D.J. Gay are similarly limited against Connecticut, the Huskies have a chance to roll up big leads with offensive talent in place that Temple didn't have. And if San Diego State goes down big early, they're uniquely ill-equipped for a comeback rife with threes: the Aztecs shoot just 34.2% from long distance as a team.
Connecticut's opening round game was a laugher against Bucknell, but the Huskies ran into a higher hurdle against Cincinnati — then cleared it easily, with Walker's 33 points and a 16-7 run from a 45-45 second half tie buoying the Big East Tournament champions to the Sweet 16. Against San Diego State, expect more of the Kemba Walker Show: Alex Oriakhi is a hugely effective rebounder inside, but might struggle for purchase when scrapping with the Aztecs' athletic front line, and while Walker should best whichever defender draws that assignment (expect Gay and White to both get turns), it's likely that Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier will be limited by older, stronger defenders. If Walker can get to the free throw line and convert like he did last weekend (a perfect 20-for-20 over two games), Connecticut should advance.
Star Watch: White's got a challenge on his hands: he may be San Diego State's best option on Walker, thanks in part to his performances against Jimmer Fredette this season, but he's also going to be expected to score. The better White plays, the less Gay and Leonard have to do — and that might matter if the Aztecs need to lean on their two best scorers late in a duel with Kemba.
Prediction: Walker's white-hot streak continues with 29 points, and Lamb has a mini-run of his own before being shut down. Connecticut's perimeter players carry the Huskies in an 81-75 win.