Maui winner U-Conn plays Butler for national title

April 4, 2011, 8:31 AM HST · Updated April 4, 8:31 AM
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By Fred Guzman

The first time these two teams met this season, it was the day before Thanksgiving within the cozy confines of the Lahaina Civic Center for the championship of the Maui Invitational.

Led by tournament MVP Kemba Walker, an electrifying guard, Connecticut dominated Kentucky, winning by 17 points, 84-67.

On Saturday before more than 75,000 spectators at Reliant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, it was a lot closer than that. Much closer. But with the same outcome as the Huskies posted a 56-55 win in the semifinals of the Big Dance.

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That put U-Conn within striking distance today of its third national title – all under Jim Calhoun – when it faces Butler.

The eighth-seeded Bulldogs return to the NCAA Final for a second straight time after suffering a narrow loss to Duke last year.

Following a dazzling start on Maui, U-Conn went from unranked to the upper echelons of the national polls. But the Huskies struggled for much of the regular-season, finishing ninth in the 16-team Big East.

U-Conn then rode Kemba’s heroics to five wins in five days to capture the Big East tourney title and has kept that run alive by extending the streak to 10 victories.

In addition to U-Conn and Kentucky, four other teams that played on Maui reached the post-season. Wisconsin was beaten by Butler in the Sweet 16 and Washington lost to to North Carolina in the third round. Wichita State won the NIT and Chaminade played in the D-II tourney.

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