Connecticut Huskies guard Rodney Purvis (44) shoots the ball over Tulsa Golden Hurricane forward Brandon Swannegan (44) in the second half during the semifinal round of the American Conference Tournament at XL Center. The Huskies won 47-42. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
HARTFORD, Conn. -- The last gasp of the current NCAA national champions looked to be exhaled on Saturday at the XL Center.
The Huskies trailed by nine, 5:47 left in the game against Tulsa and another improbable run was coming to an end.
There was little in the way of basketball reasons to believe that UConn could rally. The shots were't falling, the team was exhausted. There are only so many times you can pull a game out like this. UConn has lived on the edge ever since Kemba Walker's run in 2011.
That run of great shot making guards, Walker, Shabazz Napier and now Ryan Boatright, looked to be at its end.
Then the XL Center crowd stood and cheered. This is a neutral site game in Hartford, just like last year's NCAA game was a "neutral site at MSG."
These are home games. And with the season on the line for the Huskies the home crowd rose to their feet.
"The crowd, when you are gasping for air and tired, and you feel like you can't do it," Boatright said. "The intensity and energy they bring (inspires the team.)."
One last time the Huskies went to a timeout and see if there was anything left in the tank.
This is UConn. UConn can run on empty, at least in March. That's the only way to explain it.
There's something about these tournaments that bring out the best in the Huskies.
Saturday was no different.
Faced with the end of the season --"kill or be killed" as Boatright called it, the Huskies ended the game on a 16-2 run to win 47-42 over Tulsa.
UConn is 40 minutes away from a chance to defend their national title. They've won three games in three days and are one win against top-seed SMU from erasing a season full of frustration.
They are also a win away from scaring the living daylights out of any team in their NCAA bracket.
It's UConn, it's March and we've seen this soap opera before.
UConn pulled the game out of the fire in dramatic fashion on Saturday. Trailing by eight at 41-33 with 3:41 to play Purvis drove the lane for a running layup. UCon was 4 of 21 shooting in the second half prior to that basket. That cut the Huskies' lead to 41-35.
Then Daniel Hamilton hit his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the wing to cut the lead in half at 41-38 with 2:34 left. Hamilton, was 0 for-8 before that shot, but stuck with it. He had 12 rebounds and five assists and that three got Tulsa sweating.
After an offensive foul taken by Omar Calhoun, Boatright continued his March Magic with a 3-pointer from the wing to tie the game at 41-41 with 1:44 left.
Tulsa took the lead on one free-throw from Shaq Harrison with 1:12 left, but the Huskies -- who struggled it hit shots all night -- found their stride predictably in time.
Purvis found himself alone in the corner with under a minute to go and took one dribble in an canned the go-ahead jumper with 46 seconds left.
"We are excited, it was a great game," Purvis said. "Sure a lot of people counted us out. We all pulled each other together and we didn't want to end our season like this."
UConn's defense did the rest. The Huskies forced a Harrison miss. Boatright eventually was sent to the line and hit two free-throws. After a three-pointer with 3 seconds left was off, Boatright grabbed the rebound and was fouled again. He hit two more free throws to send the Huskies to the finals.
It was a stunning final six minutes for the Huskies, who finished 5 for 5 shooting down the stretch and 4 of 4 from the line. Boatright finished with 21 points, Purvis had 11 and that was it in double figures. UConn's defense kept them in the game as it held Tulsa to 29.6 percent from the floor and without a field goal for the final 6:35.
"Kind of at a lost for words, but one word that comes to mind is heart," head coach Kevin Ollie said. "We called a timeout with 3:40 to go and everybody looked at each other and said we still believe and we've got a will to win and they just dug in."
UConn has its hands full against SMU. The Huskies don't matchup well and are certain to be tired playing their fourth game in four days. SMU is a Top 20 caliber team that is going to be a sleeper in a lot of brackets next week. The Mustangs are the best team in the American this year. That's not a debate. UConn remains the most resourceful team in the nation.
They have the home crowd, an NCAA berth on the line and a legacy of shocking March runs.
"Heart, passion dedication and trust in each other," Boatright said. "When it gets tough, you find a way to dig yourself out."
Who's betting against them?