GLENDALE, Ariz. – Connecticut hardly needed Hasheem Thabeet as it romped through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
That all changed against a gritty Purdue team. The Boilermakers seemed to have an answer for everything the Huskies threw at them – except for the 7-foot-3 Thabeet.
Thabeet, the Big East co-player of the year, scored 15 points, had 15 rebounds and blocked four shots, and top-seeded Connecticut overcame a sluggish first half to defeat Purdue 72-60 in the NCAA West Regional semifinals on Thursday.
“Hasheem just took the game over,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “Purdue, quite frankly, ran into one of the best players in America in Hasheem Thabeet. Beyond that, the game might have been different if we had just, quote, a regular center.”
The Huskies will play Missouri Saturday.
It was Thabeet’s 18th double-double of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Huskies.
UConn jumped out to an early 11-point lead, then went cold and let the fifth-seeded Boilermakers (27-10) claw back into the game.
UConn shot 39.4 percent from the floor, but it led by five points at intermission because Purdue was worse (33.3 percent).
In the UConn locker room at halftime, Thabeet said his teammates told him to step it up.
“They know I’m capable of doing a lot of stuff,” said Thabeet, a junior from Tanzania. “Today, the second half, they told me to go back there and do what you do all season long.”
Thabeet did exactly that. He scored Connecticut’s first eight points of the second half, then blocked a shot to set up a fastbreak layup by A.J. Price. That play was part of an 8-0 run that gave the Huskies a 42-31 cushion with 13:37 to play.
•Sparked by a report of recruiting violations by the UConn men’s basketball team, the NCAA has launched an investigation into the allegations.
But the probe may reach beyond the basketball program, the Hartford Courant reported. There are indications that the NCAA will look at the apparent lack of oversight by school administrators in the wake of a Yahoo! Sports report about the recruitment of Nate Miles.