UConn men's notes: Kemba piling up the minutes

They are Big East marathon men.

UConn's Kemba Walker and Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis rank among the leaders in minutes played in conference games. Walker is first at 38.3 minutes, while Hansbrough is third (37.2) and Farmington's Abromaitis is 10th (34.9).

Those marathon men will be on the court Saturday when No. 16 UConn (21-8, 9-8) hosts No. 8 Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4), which resides in second place, in the regular-season finale at Gampel Pavilion (2 p.m., ESPN).

Walker is in the midst of a grueling stretch. In the last 13 games, including one overtime and one double-overtime game, he's averaging 39.7 minutes. He played all 40 minutes of Wednesday's 65-56 loss at West Virginia.

In a sign of fatigue, several of Walker's shots hit the front of the rim in the second half. He finished with 22 points, but shot only 8-for-23 from the field. He's shooting just 37 percent and averaging 19.2 points in the last 13 games during which the Huskies went 6-7.

With the potential of playing consecutive days in the Big East tournament next week, UConn coach Jim Calhoun and Notre Dame's Mike Brey will put further wear and tear on their security blankets. Walker is on pace to beat Tate George's school single-season record for most minutes played (37.0 in 1986-87). He's averaging 37.3 overall.

Brey dismisses any impact of logging marathon minutes on players going into the postseason.

"When you're an older player, you certainly learn to play your way into shape and pace yourself through a game and through a season," Brey said. "All of us that coach in the Big East … you learn from watching guys like Calhoun and (Syracuse's Jim) Boeheim how to pace your team and how to pace guys like Hansbrough, Abromaitis and Walker through a season, and what you do in practice, what you do with your strength training, what you do with your recovery, diet, nutrition ... all of those things."

Playing time and performance will tell if Brey is right.

Big East seedings

• The Huskies still have an outside shot to earn a first-round bye in New York. First, they must beat Notre Dame and then count on winning complicated tiebreakers to finish in the top eight.

They are tied for ninth with Villanova and Marquette at 9-8. Georgetown, West Virginia and Cincinnati share sixth at 10-7.

Villanova visits league-leader Pittsburgh, which can clinch the conference regular-season crown outright, while Marquette travels to Seton Hall. UConn owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against Villanova after winning the only meeting and the Huskies split with Marquette.

Georgetown visits Cincinnati, meaning one of those teams will end at 10-8.

For Notre Dame to gain a share of the regular-season title, it needs to win and for Pittsburgh to lose. The Irish play first, so they won't know the result of Villanova-Pittsburgh (4 p.m.) until later.

"We need to prepare this week mentally and physically like Saturday is a championship game," Brey said.

A rematch

• Brey expects to face a different, more mature UConn team than the first meeting. Notre Dame posted a 73-70 win on Jan. 4 in South Bend, Ind.

"Their freshmen were really kind of freshmen still when we played them and that was an advantage for us," Brey said. "They're not freshmen anymore. Those young guys that Walker and coach Calhoun have brought along so well now have a lot of games under their belt. … They're a different team and a confident team. And certainly we've got our hands full on Saturday afternoon."

Brey has never won at UConn as the Notre Dame coach, going 0-7.

News and notes

• Walker will participate in the senior day ceremony along with teammates Donnell Beverly and Charles Okwandu. He's on track to graduate in three years and also is considering entering the 2011 NBA draft. Emeka Okafor took the same path in 2004, taking part in senior day before graduating and leaving for the NBA after his junior season.

g.keefe@theday.com

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