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WEST REGIONAL

Connecticut finally puts away Purdue

Four Huskies are in double figures and Hasheem Thabeet has a dominant effort (15 points, 15 rebounds) in 72-60 victory.

March 27, 2009|Mike Anthony

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — The scoreboard tells only one story, and it showed that Purdue was right there with Connecticut for a good portion of this West Regional semifinal.

No matter the hot start that nearly made this another laugher, no matter how well UConn matched up against the Boilermakers, no matter how much the Huskies felt like they were in control, there was a bottom line to deal with well into the second half.

"They are not going away, fellas," Coach Jim Calhoun recalled saying to his players. "No matter what we do to them, we are going to have to eventually get that stake and put it in their heart."

The Huskies did. They didn't have every single answer Thursday, but they had more than enough. Craig Austrie led four players in double figures with 17 points as top-seeded Connecticut defeated No. 5 Purdue, 72-60, at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Huskies (30-4) will play Missouri on Saturday. A trip to the Final Four will be on the line. UConn is in the Elite Eight for the ninth time; Calhoun said he had goose bumps. He talked about special accomplishments and legacies and all the things that make March, and the pursuit of the Final Four, so special.

It could be a worrisome time for Connecticut, dealing with a firestorm of controversy and alleged to have committed numerous NCAA violations. But the Huskies showed Thursday that none of it would be a distraction. They buckled down in a tight game and wore out Purdue (27-10).

"We really don't have any time to focus on that, and I really mean that," guard A.J. Price said when asked about the controversy. "We have much bigger goals right now and we can't let anything take us away from that. All the distractions really are not distractions because we know what we're trying to do."

Austrie, who entered mired in a 16-for-70 shooting slump, made four of six shots, all six of his free throws and all three of his three-pointers.

Hasheem Thabeet (15 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks) was dominant, Price (15 points, seven assists) was clutch and Stanley Robinson locked up Purdue's Robbie Hummel (15 points in the first half, two in the second).

"It took a magnificent performance by Craig Austrie," Calhoun said. "And Hasheem took the game over. . . . It was a terrific performance by our kids. I thought a really good performance by Purdue, who, quite frankly, ran into one of the best players in America in Hasheem Thabeet."

Said Purdue Coach Matt Painter: "They have a great team and you have to tip your hat. I thought our guys gave a great effort. The ball didn't bounce our way a couple times."

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manthony@courant.com

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