UConn coach Jim Calhoun is trying to lead the top-seeded Huskies to a third national title. UConn, which meets No. 3-seed Missouri in the West Regional final, won titles in 1999 and 2004AP photo
GLENDALE, Ariz. — When the NCAA released its brackets two weeks ago, many observers relished the prospect of a West regional final between top-seeded Connecticut and No. 2 Memphis.
Only one problem with that: Missouri.
The third-seeded Tigers left Memphis gasping for air in the regional semifinals. Now they’ll turn their frenetic style on the Huskies, who outlasted Purdue in the other semifinal.
“They advertise it as the 40 fastest minutes in basketball,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said on Friday, “And I’m a believer.”
How will the West be won?
UConn (30-4) will try to force a half-court game and pound the ball inside to 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who was as imposing as a saguaro cactus against Purdue.
With no starters over 6-foot-9, Mizzou (31-6) will answer with a relentless running game that dropped 102 points on Memphis, which had been conceding 57.6 points per game.
It’s the first meeting between the schools — and the winner earns a trip to the Final Four in Detroit. The team that controls the tempo is likely to cut down the nets this afternoon.
“We have got to somehow just disrupt what they want to do,” Mizzou coach Mike Anderson said.
This game is about contrasting styles, on and off the court.
At UConn, Final Four trips are expected. At Missouri, they’re still a dream.
The Huskies are gunning for their third national title — and the road to both their previous championships, in 1999 and 2004, went through regionals in Phoenix. Technically, this regional is in Glendale, to the west of Phoenix, and it’s being staged in the Arizona Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium instead of U.S. Airways Center, home to the Phoenix Suns.
When this season tipped off, UConn was among a select group of legitimate national title contenders. The Huskies have weathered some adversity, including the loss of point guard Jerome Dyson in February and, this week, a Yahoo! Sports report alleging that UConn broke NCAA rules when it recruited former basketball player Nate Miles.
“Have we truly found ourselves?” Calhoun said. “If we get to Detroit, we’ll find ourselves.”
Missouri has had its share of hoops success. But the Tigers have never reached the Final Four, falling one win shy four times, most recently in 2002, when they lost to Big 12 rival Oklahoma.
The Final Four hardly seemed a possibility coming off last season, when Mizzou went 16-16 and finished 10th in the Big 12.
With 15 more wins than a year ago, Missouri is the nation’s most improved team, and the Tigers’ 31 victories set a school record. But Missouri remains a mystery to many even after sweeping to the Big 12 tourney title.