CINCINNATI (AP) — Don’t get Kemba Walker riled.
Walker scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half, after a courtside fan took to taunting him, and 14th-ranked Connecticut snapped out of its slump by beating Cincinnati 67-59 on Sunday.
The Huskies (21-7, 9-7 Big East) were coming off back-to-back losses, including an overtime defeat at Marquette on Thursday without coach Jim Calhoun. The 68-year-old coach was with his family in New Hampshire after the death of his sister-in-law.
UConn hadn’t dropped three in a row all season and came out with a little extra determination against Cincinnati (22-7, 9-7), which was on a hot streak.
The Huskies led for all but 29 seconds.
“We basically had to act like we had something to prove,” said Shabazz Napier, who had 11 points and six assists. “We got a lead and kept on going with it.”
Walker, who leads the conference in scoring at 23 points per game, had only nine when a fan sitting courtside started taunting him. Walker made three consecutive baskets that built Connecticut’s lead to 11 points, then smiled at the fan as he went down the court.
“I missed a shot and he said, ‘Chris Paul wouldn’t miss that shot,’” Walker said, referring to the New Orleans guard. “That’s all right. I came down and made the next one. It was fun.”
Jeremy Lamb added 17 for the Huskies, who went 10 of 19 from behind the 3-point arc. Cincinnati set its defense to deny Walker, leaving openings on the perimeter.
“They were so worried about me, the other guys were able to get shots and they took it to them,” Walker said.
Yancy Gates had 14 points for Cincinnati, which has lost three of its last four home games. The Bearcats had won their last three overall, including victories over Louisville and Georgetown that put them in position to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since Bob Huggins was coach.
Bearcats players spent an hour and 45 minutes in the locker room afterward, talking about their lost opportunity before meeting the media.
“Everybody was kind of disappointed in our overall play,” Gates said. “It wasn’t how we’ve been playing lately. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in this position. We’re not in bad position, but we should have been more focused on the opportunity we had.”
Their guards couldn’t keep up with the inspired Walker and company.
“Our guards got as outplayed as you possibly could today,” coach Mick Cronin said.
Walker got rolling against the league’s stingiest defense when a fan sitting in the courtside seats started taunting him in the second half. Walker made a 3-pointer from the top of the key a few seconds later, turned and smiled at the fan as he ran down the court. He had a steal for a fast-break score, then made another jumper for a 56-45 lead and said something to the fan, who wouldn’t taunt him again.
It was a rough week for Calhoun, who took responsibility Friday for recruiting violations. The school was put on three years’ probation, lost scholarships and received recruiting restrictions. Calhoun got a three-game suspension that he will serve at the start of the 2011-12 Big East season.
Calhoun referred to the emotional week and praised his young players for coming through.
“I’ve had some very good teams over the last few years,” Calhoun said. “This is one of my favorite teams of all time.”
The Huskies appeared to be in trouble when Walker picked up his third foul with 16:37 to go and Cashmere Wright made both free throws for a 33-32 lead, Cincinnati’s only one in the game. It didn’t last long.
The 3 got UConn back ahead. Roscoe Smith and Napier made shots from behind the arc during a 12-2 run that gave the Huskies their biggest lead, 47-37, with 12:18 to go. Then Walker made his three consecutive shots to put UConn in control the rest of the way.
The long-range shooting was quite out of character. Connecticut ranks 12th in the Big East, making 33.5 percent of its 3-point attempts.