HOUSTON -- Somewhere between Connecticut's fall to ninth place in the Big East and the Huskies' run of five wins in five days at the Big East Tournament behind the dazzling play of Kemba Walker, the notion took hold that this UConn team led by this singular star could win a national championship.
Now that Connecticut's postseason winning streak has reached 10 games with five more wins in the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies (31-9) have only to get past Butler (28-9) Monday night at Reliant Stadium to complete one of the greatest performances in postseason history.
"As we won games, we got a lot more confident," Walker said Sunday. "We kind of felt unstoppable."
The Huskies' Victory March began with DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament and rapidly picked up steam with wins over Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville before moving into NCAA action against Bucknell, Big East rival Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona and, finally, Kentucky in Saturday night's national semifinals.
Walker -- who hit the winner as time expired to beat Pitt in the Big East tourney -- has been dominant throughout the 10 games, averaging 25.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
After UConn's 56-55 win in the semifinals, Kentucky coach John Calipari ventured to say the Wildcats' defense had contained Walker as well as anyone could expect. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun shrugged and curled his lower lip as he repeated Calipari's comment Sunday.
"I know John said they thought they did a great job on Kemba," Calhoun said. "He only had 18-7-6 , got loose balls, blocked shots. 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 . . . Containing Kemba for a game is a tough deal."
Walker never seems to get tired no matter how many minutes he plays, but he played another 40 in what Calhoun described as a "tough, grinding" game against Kentucky, giving him an average of 38.8 minutes in the postseason.
There was a point in the second half, after he twisted an ankle, when Walker admitted fatigue. But Sunday he said his ankle is healthy and his energy is no problem going into his 11th game in a 27-day span.
"I'm fine," Walker insisted. "The reason I was tired was because, in that long stretch, we didn't get that timeout. It was a fast-paced game. But as long as I stay mentally tough and my team stays mentally tough, just like we've been doing throughout this whole postseason, we'll be fine."
There's no reason to doubt Walker's resolve with the finish line in sight, but if one team can match his mental toughness, it's Butler. Consider that the Bulldogs have outfought Old Dominion, Big East regular-season champ Pitt, bruising Big Ten power Wisconsin, Southeastern Conference Tournament finalist Florida and Virginia Commonwealth, which was on a torrid upset run of its own, to reach the final.
"They play great team defense, stunt, help, recover," Calhoun said of the way the Bulldogs leave their man to provide double-team help and then scramble back. "They're capable of slowing Kemba down without question. What do we do about it? We keep running our stuff, run it better, try to get him more free. Some of the other guys pick up the load."
Now that he's on the final lap, it's no time for Walker to run out of gas. Thoughts of winning the national championship have fueled his imagination and sparked his motor.
"I can't stop thinking about it," Walker said. "I just keep on having visions of us cutting down the nets and celebrating. Hopefully, my visions can come true."