GLENDALE, Ariz. - Connecticut often overwhelms opponents with its size and strength.
Harried by the fighting Missouri Tigers, UConn needed something else: speed.
Enter 6-foot-1 freshman Kemba Walker, who matched a career high with 23 points as the top-seeded Huskies held off Missouri 82-75 in the West Regional final on Saturday. UConn earned a trip to Detroit and extended the Big East's dominance of the NCAA tournament.
UConn is headed to its third Final Four, where it will meet either Big East rival Louisville or Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State. This trip may have seemed harder than the others, because the Huskies were rocked this week by a report alleging that they violated NCAA recruiting rules.
Then came a duel with Mizzou. But the Huskies kept their poise even as the Tigers erased an early 11-point lead to surge ahead in the second half.
'We took some bumps, we took some bruises, but here we are once again going to the Final Four, and I'm just elated,' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
Among those banged up was 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who bloodied a finger on his right hand scrapping for a loose ball on the floor in the second half. The Big East co-player of the year finished with 13 rebounds but only five points and no blocks, and held a bandage to his hand after the game.
'I'm getting it checked out, but I should be good,' Thabeet said.
A.J. Price added 18 points and was named most outstanding player of the West region. But the difference was Walker, who deftly handled the Tigers' pressure defense.
'I told him he grew up,' Price said. 'He played like a man among boys today.'
When it ended, Calhoun made an exaggerated fist pump and the emotional Huskies (31-4) mobbed each other at center court.
'I can't lie to you, after the game I actually did cry,' said Walker, who went 7-of-9 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
UConn kept their emotions in check when it counted, though, making all 10 of their free throws in the final 1:02.