Connecticut is making another trip from the desert to the Final Four. The wait goes on for Missouri. Freshman Kemba Walker scored 23 points as the top-seeded Huskies held off Missouri 82-75 on Saturday to earn a trip to Detroit and extend the Big East's dominance of the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies blew an early 11-point lead but survived against the frenetic third-seeded Tigers, who were denied their first Final Four berth.
UConn clinched the victory by going 10-for-10 from the line in the final 1:02. The Huskies are still in the hunt for their third national title — the first two went through regionals in Phoenix in 1999 and 2004.
When it ended, UConn coach Jim Calhoun made an exaggerated fist pump and the Huskies mobbed each other at center court.
"It's an amazing feeling," said A.J. Price, who added 18 points for the Huskies (31-4). "It was a total team effort."
Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence each had 13 points for Missouri (31-7), which overcame an early 13-2 deficit but couldn't match the muscular Huskies on the boards. UConn outrebounded Mizzou 47-32.
Down 67-59 with 4:15 to play, the Tigers edged within 68-65 on Justin Stafford's tip-in with 2:42 to go.
Walker answered with an off-balance bank shot, and then Price hit a jumper from the lane to push the Huskies' lead to 72-67. The Tigers never recovered.
Dogged by reports alleging that they violated NCAA recruiting rules, the Huskies had vowed to keep their focus on the task of earning a trip to Detroit.
The first meeting between the schools featured a clash of styles. The Tigers, who had scored 102 points on Memphis on Thursday night, wanted to run. The Huskies tried to force a halfcourt game and take advantage of their superior size and strength.
Early on, it was all UConn. The Huskies easily broke Missouri's pressure defense and built a 13-2 lead before Mizzou coach Mike Anderson called timeout three minutes into the game.
The Tigers regrouped, and on the next possession they drew the first foul on 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who went to the bench. Thabeet returned six minutes later but soon returned to the bench with his second foul.
It was clear the Tigers weren't going to go away.
A bucket off a nifty spin move by Price at the buzzer gave UConn a 44-38 halftime lead.
But Missouri kept coming. Keith Ramsey's layup off a dish from J.T. Tiller gave Missouri its first lead, 50-49, with 13:30 to play. That capped a 9-0 Tigers run.
Sensing the upset, the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd of 18,886 began to roar.
But the Huskies, toughened by a winter in the rugged Big East, began to reassert themselves inside. They went on a 6-0 run to take a 67-59 lead with 4:15 to play and never trailed again.