HOUSTON — As Kentucky and Connecticut players shook hands after their national semifinal game Saturday night, Kemba Walker had something he wanted to say to DeAndre Liggins.
"I just told him, 'Great defense,' " Walker said Sunday. "I thought he did a great job on me, definitely one of the best all season."
Idle chitchat? Magnanimity in victory?
Walker, a consensus first-team All-American, said he hasn't often congratulated a defender after a game this season.
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"Probably once," he said. "A player from Texas, Dogus Balbay."
Walker made only eight of 27 shots and committed four turnovers in UConn's 82-81 overtime victory at Texas on Jan. 8.
Against Kentucky in the Final Four, Walker made six of 15 shots in scoring 18 points, about six fewer than his average of 23.9.
"I could tell he watched a lot of film," Walker said of Liggins, "because he wasn't going for certain things I usually do."
Liggins took some consolation in acknowledgement from Walker.
"It felt great," UK's top defender said in the somber locker room after the game. "He knows I respect him and it seems he respects me as a defender, too."
When a reporter asked Liggins about stopping Walker, the UK player suggested a correction.
"I didn't stop him," he said. "I just contained him and made every shot tough."
UConn Coach Jim Calhoun suggested that reporters not exaggerate the good defense played by Liggins and UK.
"He only had 18 (points), seven (assists), six (rebounds), got loose balls, blocked shots," Calhoun said. "If that's controlling, he's far and away the best player in the country. He dominated the game when it had to be dominated. Down the stretch, he made big shots. That's, frankly, the telling time of a great player."
Calhoun suggested that Walker had elevated himself to one-name status. Like Cher, Pelé, Madonna. Walker had become a UConn basketball icon like Ray (Allen), Caron (Butler), "Mek" (Emeka Okafor) and Ben (Gordon).
"It's just Kemba, now," the UConn coach said.
When asked about UK's Liggins-led defensive effort on Walker, Calhoun said, "Did they do a good job on him? Yes, they did one of the better jobs of keeping him out of the middle. If Liggins was responsible for that, he did a nice job with that.
"Containing Kemba for a game is a tough deal."