GLENDALE – When freshman Marcus Denman swished one from three-quarters of the court at the halftime buzzer to put his team up by 13, it sure looked like Missouri’s night.
And when Mizzou later made it a 24-point lead, it looked downright easy. That’s when Memphis made things interesting.
J.T. Tiller scored a surprising 23 points and Missouri held off a frantic rally, ending Memphis’ 27-game winning streak with a 102-91 victory Thursday night in the semifinals of the West Regional.
The display of intensity and toughness “out-Memphised” the opposition to put Missouri one win from its first trip to the Final Four.
“We kind of got punched in the mouth right from the beginning of the game,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “They broke us down defensively like we break people down. They beat us at our own game.”
Third-seeded Missouri led by 24 points four minutes into the second half, then saw Memphis close within six with 2:14 to play. Mizzou put it away from the foul line.
Missouri (31-6) advanced to play top-seeded Connecticut for the West title Saturday.
“We came out and kind of took the fight to Memphis early on, and before you know it, our guys had a little confidence,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.
Dynamic point guard Tyreke Evans scored 33 for second-seeded Memphis (33-4). The Tigers were 18 of 32 from the foul line; last year, a poor showing at the foul line cost them dearly in an overtime championship game loss to Kansas.
Tiller, the co-defensive player of the year in the Big 12, made 10-of-16 shots and had three steals. He was averaging only eight points per game.
“His energy was just contagious,” Anderson said. “I thought he was like a pit bull in a china shop out there. He was going everywhere, just bowling down everybody. He was wherever the ball was.”
All five Missouri starters reached double figures. DeMarre Carroll scored 17 and Leo Lyons had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Lyons was 11 for 18 from the foul line but made four straight in the final 1 1/2 minutes. In all, a whopping 77 free throws were taken, with Missouri making 30 of 45.
Robert Dozier had 19 points and 16 rebounds in Memphis’ first loss since a Dec. 20 setback against Syracuse. Antonio Anderson scored 18 in his last game for Memphis.
No. 1 Connecticut 72, No. 5 Purdue 60: At Glendale, Hasheem Thabeet scored 15 points, had 15 rebounds and blocked four shots as top-seeded Connecticut overcame a sluggish first half and beat Purdue in the West Regional semifinals.
One day after a Yahoo! Sports report claimed UConn committed NCAA recruiting violations, the Huskies (30-4) reached the regional finals for the fourth time since 2002.
“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.”
UConn outrebounded Purdue 48-33.
No. 1 Pittsburgh 60, No. 4 Xavier 55: At Boston, Levance Fields gave Pittsburgh the lead with a 3-pointer with 50.9 seconds left, then scored off his steal as the Panthers advanced to the regional finals for the first time in 35 years.
Top-seeded Pitt (31-4) trailed 54-52 before Fields made the go-ahead shot. The star point guard followed by poking the ball away from B.J. Raymond and going in for a layup with 23.9 seconds to go.
Sam Young led Pitt with 19 points, Fields had 14, and DeJuan Blair had 10 points and 17 rebounds in the East semifinal victory.
“We came in expecting to win two games,” Fields said before acknowledging the obvious: “It was dramatic.”
Pitt was last in a regional final was in 1974 when it lost to eventual national champion North Carolina State.