GLENDALE, Ariz. - After cruising through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Connecticut found itself in trouble for the first time.
Thanks to Hasheem Thabeet, the top-seeded Huskies weren't in trouble for long.
Thabeet, the Big East player of the year, scored 15 points, had 15 rebounds and blocked four shots, and Connecticut overcame a sluggish first half to defeat Purdue 72-60 in the NCAA West Regional semifinals on Thursday.
One day after a Yahoo! Sports report alleged UConn committed NCAA recruiting violations, the Huskies (30-4) reached the regional finals for the fourth time since 2002.
Coach Jim Calhoun and the Huskies had won their first two NCAA tourney games by an average of 41 points, but they struggled to score against the defense-oriented Boilermakers.
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.
Leading 30-25 at halftime, the Huskies turned to the 7-foot-3 Thabeet in the second half. Thabeet scored Connecticut's first eight points of the second half, then blocked a shot to set up a fastbreak layup by A.J. Price, who scored 10 of his 15 points after halftime.
That play was part of an 8-0 run that gave the Huskies a 42-31 cushion with 13:37 to play.
But the Boilermakers wouldn't go away. They answered with a 7-0 burst, and soon they had pulled within four.
Thabeet dunked to push the lead back to 57-45 with 6:28 to play, and that was pretty much it for Purdue.
Craig Austrie added 17 points for the Huskies, who will play either Memphis or Missouri for a berth in the Final Four.
Calhoun and his players had promised on Wednesday that they wouldn't be distracted by the Yahoo! Sports report claiming the school broke NCAA rules during the recruitment of former player Nate Miles.
Using its superior size and ability, UConn jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes.
Forward Stanley Robinson dunked on an alley-oop pass from Price, and then Austrie stripped Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson in the backcourt and swooped in for a layup.
Purdue coach Matt Painter called timeout, and the Boilermakers soon began to rally.