NCAA Game Summary - Bucknell vs. Connecticut
(Thursday, March 17th)
Final Score: Connecticut 81, Bucknell 52
Washington, DC (Sports Network) - Kemba Walker led the way with 18 points and 12 assists, and Connecticut opened the NCAA Tournament with an easy 81-52 victory over Bucknell.
After letting the Patriot League champions hang around early, Connecticut pulled away in the final 28 minutes of the game to earn a third-round meeting with Big East foe Cincinnati in the West Region.
The Huskies, of course, won five games in five days last week to capture the Big East Tournament -- a Herculean feat that left some wondering whether Jim Calhoun's team would have a letdown on Thursday.
Instead, Connecticut (27-9) did what it normally does: make it past the first game of the NCAAs.
"Everybody's trying to say that this team is tired from those five games in five days, but there's no way we could be tired," said Walker. "This is the best tournament in the collegiate level and we just want to play basketball and get as far as possible."
Seeded No. 3, the Huskies improved to 16-1 in their tournament openers since 1990, beginning a trek they hope will end in a Final Four appearance for the fourth time in 13 years. They got 17 points from Roscoe Smith, 16 from Jeremy Lamb and shot 49 percent from the floor.
The Bison (25-9) had been red-hot, carrying a 10-game winning streak into the NCAAs after capturing their conference title game last week as the No. 1 seed. They were led by 14 points from Mike Muscala and 11 from Bryson Johnson.
"We told our guys in the locker room after the game, it was a really bad way to end a terrific season," said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. "We knew we had a tall order coming into this with UConn."
Four of Connecticut's wins in the Big East Tournament last week came against teams that made the NCAAs -- Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville.
Armed with battle-tested momentum, the Huskies still had to be careful on the Verizon Center court against a school best-known for one of the great upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
As a No. 14 seed in 2005, the Bison knocked off national powerhouse Kansas by a point in the first round.
Trying to avoid a similar fate -- Bucknell was again seeded 14th in this one -- Connecticut let its opponent around for about 10 minutes before running away with it.
"I didn't think it was going to be this easy, especially when I was back in my hotel room watching all the games, watching some upsets," said Calhoun.
"I was a little bit nervous, to be honest. I didn't know what to expect. But I'm just happy we pulled it off and we won by a lot."
The Bison were still within seven points, 27-20, after Johnson knocked down a three-pointer inside eight minutes in the first half. But they scored just two more points before the break, allowing the Huskies to build a 39-22 lead.
In fact, Bucknell didn't reach 30 points until 8:24 into the second half.
In the meantime, the Huskies strung together a series of runs that turned the game into a rout. Walker, who was two rebounds shy of a double-double, punctuated an extended 15-2 burst with a three-pointer to open the second half, giving Connecticut a 42-22 lead.
A couple minutes later, Lamb buried a three to push the lead above 20 points for the first time at 47-25. The Huskies doubled-up Bucknell for the first time when Walker finished off a three-point play to make it 50-25 and the lead reached as high as 41 down the stretch.
Alex Oriakhi had nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds for Connecticut...It marked the first game between the teams since 1953. Connecticut owns a 3-0 record in the all-time series...The Huskies are 45-27 in the NCAA Tournament, winning national titles in 1999 and 2004. They also made the Final Four in 2009...In addition to its 10-game winning streak, Bucknell had won 23 of its previous 25 games entering play...The Bison were in the NCAAs for the first time since 2006, when they knocked off No. 8 seed Arkansas in a first-round game before losing to top seed Memphis.
03/18 01:31:43 ET