With Richard Hamilton and Kevin Freeman providing the offense when their team needed it most, Connecticut pulled away for a 78-68 regional semifinal victory over Iowa on Thursday night.
The Huskies (31-2), the West's No. 1 seed, advanced to a regional final for the second year in a row and the fourth time since 1990 under coach Jim Calhoun. But he's never gotten the Huskies to the Final Four. Now only upstart Gonzaga stands in the Big East champions' way.
Hamilton scored 24 points and Khalid El-Amin added 21 for UConn despite foul trouble.
Iowa (20-10), fueled by the emotion surrounding the forced departure of coach Tom Davis after 13 seasons with the Hawkeyes, used its depth and inside strength to stay close most of the night.
But they couldn't keep up with the multitalented Huskies down the stretch. Connecticut outscored Iowa 25-15 over the final 10 minutes.
Much was made of a flying elbow thrown by Iowa's Joey Range at El-Amin late in the first half. Brief shoving, with Iowa's Jacob Jaacks and Connecticut's Souleymane Ware at the center, followed as the teams left the court.
The Huskies came back to the court determined to concentrate on their play, not on Iowa's attitude.
"One thing we said at halftime was we don't want to be out there talking," Hamilton said. "We don't want to make it a talking game. Don't talk about it, be about it. Let the coreboard do our talking."
Calhoun wouldn't criticize Iowa's tactics. Quite the contrary.
"I didn't see any cheap shots," Calhoun said. "I saw some very physical play on a team that wasn't as quick as us. They played within the rules the way the game was being called. I think Tom tried to do everything humanly possible to make a slower team quick.
"Once again, he almost got my number because it's the first time I beat Tom Davis. I told him, `I hope I have a chance to beat you again."'
It won't come against Iowa. Davis was told last fall that his contract wouldn't be renewed after this season.
"I don't know that I've ever put more into a team in the sense that they gave so much," Davis said. "I am wiped out, emotionally as well as physically drained, and I'm sure the team is. They gave you a great, great effort."
Only two Hawkeyes scored in double figures. J.R. Koch had 14 points and fellow senior Jess Settles added 11.
The Hawkeyes' backcourt of Dean Oliver and Kent McCausland struggled offensively. Oliver was 2-for-10 for five points and McCauland was 3-for-7 for nine points. Still, it was close most of the game.
The Hawkeyes tied it one last time at 53 on Guy Rucker's 8-foot jumper with 10:06 remaining.
Freeman's breakaway stuff after Ryan Luehrsmann missed a wide-open 3-pointer ignited a 14-4 outburst that finally put the Hawkeyes away.
Connecticut's talent and depth were clearly on display in the decisive surge. Freeman, who scored 10 points, had an inside basket and two free throws in the run, Hamilton made a 14-footer and two free throws. Albert Mouring, who missed the first two NCAA games with illness, came off the bench to score 11, including his third 3-pointer of the night during the decisive surge.
El-Amin, on the bench in foul trouble during much of the run, came back to make one of two free throws with 2:16 to play, and Connecticut led 67-57.
The Huskies shot 54 percent for the game, 64 percent in the first half. Still, Connecticut was up just 40-35 at the break.
Iowa outscored the Huskies 8-2 to start the second half, taking a 43-42 lead on Jacob Jaacks' driving layup with 16:18 to play. The game was tied five times before Connecticut pulled away.
Hamilton's lone 3-pointer of the game capped an 11-4 run that put Connecticut up 32-25 with 6:03 left in the half. But Iowa, which tied for third in the Big Ten, played the Huskies a little better than even the rest of the half. Jaacks' two free throws six-tenths of a second before halftime cut the lead to five.
At halftime, the referees reviewed videotape of the elbowing incident and the ensuing shoving match, but left the court without ruling against any of the players involved.
"The game was so intense, and it did get physical," said Iowa's Jason Bauer. "But that's just part of the game. We had to play our best basketball to kep up with UConn. Unfortunately, we didn't do that."
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