Kemba Walker is one of the top players in the nation, and part of his success this year at the University of Connecticut is a credit to the work he put in during the offseason.

“I have tried to be a leader to my teammates, and I think I have been able to do that this season,” Walker said. "I also really worked on my shooting and I think it has paid off."

We have very good players, and if people put too much focus on me, those guys will continue to step up and make plays.
-- Kemba Walker

It’s paid off, alright. Walker has played so well this season that he is a finalist for the Naismith Award. The junior guard is averaging 23.6 points per game on the year for the Huskies (28-9), who will continue their quest for a national championship on Thursday with a Sweet 16 showdown against San Diego State in Anaheim.

He has scored a school-record 875 points this season and is also grabbing 5.4 rebounds and dishing out 4.5 assists per game.

Walker was his usual self during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. He nearly came through with a triple-double against Bucknell, dropping in 18 points to go along with a career-high 12 assists and eight rebounds.

All he did against Cincinnati in the round of 32 was torch the Bearcats for 33 points. Walker grabbed six rebounds and handed out five assists for good measure.

They are the latest great performances in a season where Walker seems to turn in one after another, including in the Big East tournament earlier this month when he played out of his mind during a five-day run that helped propel the Huskies to the championship. Walker scored 130 points, a tourney record, and was named the Most Outstanding Player.

But if you think the Huskies are all about Walker, think again. Freshman guard/forward Jeremy Lamb is averaging 10.5 ppg and Walker believes he is destined for stardom. Four other players are scoring at least six points per outing for the Huskies.

“People have no idea how good this team is,” Walker said. “A guy like Jeremy is going to be one of the best players in the country some day and people are starting to see it. We have very good players, and if people put too much focus on me, those guys will continue to step up and make plays.”

Need to Know

• Butler is officially a giant killer. By defeating Pittsburgh 71-70 Saturday night, the Bulldogs became the third team in NCAA history to knock off a top seed before the Final Four in back-to-back seasons. A year ago, Butler stunned Syracuse en route to the national championship game.

Matt Howard was fouled going up for a rebound and hit the first before missing the second one intentionally as the Bulldogs held off the Panthers at the Verizon Center. Howard finished with 16 points and pulled down six rebounds and helped lead Butler back to the Sweet 16. Shelvin Mack led the Bulldogs with 30 points while Gilbert Brown dropped in 24 for the Panthers. Butler is 7-1 in its last eight NCAA tournament games and opened tourney play this year with a thrilling 60-58 victory against Old Dominion. Howard scored on a tip-in at the buzzer to secure the win.

• Virginia Commonwealth has proven it belongs in the NCAA tournament. The Rams dismantled Purdue 94-76 on Sunday night at the United Center in Chicago and became the first VCU team to win more than one tournament game.

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The Rams are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, and they are still in the tourney thanks to a blistering balanced attack. Bradford Burgess led the way with 23 points and eight rebounds while Jamie Skeen dropped in 13 points. Joey Rodriguez and Juvonte Reddic pumped in 12 points apiece while Ed Nixon (11) and Brandon Rozzell (10) also turned in solid efforts. It was the first time in three years that VCU had six players score in double figures.

• It has been nearly 20 years since Florida State has played in the Sweet 16. The Seminoles are headed there after a 71-57 victory against Notre Dame on Sunday night in Chicago.

FSU is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993 and the Seminoles have now set up a matchup against VCU, which will be the first time a 10th and 11th seed have squared off in the tournament.

• Notre Dame entered the tourney with a great deal of potential but 21 points from Tim Abromaitis and 18 points from Ben Hansbrough wasn’t enough to keep the season alive for the Fighting Irish.

• This is the deepest the Seminoles have ever been under head coach Leonard Hamilton. The win also marks the first time FSU has beaten a team seeded as high as No. 2 in the tourney.

Quick Hits

• There were 21 lead changes in Butler’s 60-58 victory against Old Dominion on Thursday, with neither team leading by more than six.

• Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski won the 900th game of his career on Sunday afternoon, but the 73-71 victory did not come without a little drama. The top-seeded Blue Devils had to survive a thrilling showdown against Michigan in the Round of 32 in Charlotte, hanging on after Darius Morris had his last-second 3-point attempt bounce off the rim. The Wolverines trailed by 15 in the second half before nearly rallying for the win.

• David Lighty was lights out for Ohio State from beyond the arc Sunday afternoon against George Mason. Lighty connected on all seven of his shots from 3-point range and scored 25 points as he helped the Buckeyes roll to a 98-66 win in Cleveland. OSU has beaten its first two opponents in the tourney by a combined 61 points.