HOUSTON — Kemba Walker scored 18 points Saturday night to help Connecticut keep its remarkable postseason run going with a 56-55 victory over Kentucky that placed the Huskies one win away from their third, and most improbable, NCAA title.
UConn won despite not making a field goal over the final 2:29.
Trailing by two with the clock ticking down inside 10 seconds, DeAndre Liggins had a chance to win it for Kentucky, but his 3-pointer came up short - the end of a 34-percent shooting night for the fourth-seeded Wildcats (29-9).
Walker also had seven assists, as UConn (31-9) won its 10th game in a row - a string that began with a leg-draining five wins in five nights at the Big East tournament and now includes five straight in the tournament that really matters.
"It's an amazing feeling," Walker said. "It's a little surreal right now, but hopefully we can bring it back to Storrs."
The Huskies haven't lost since they fell to Notre Dame on Feb. 5 and finished their Big East regular season at 9-9.
They locked up this game with good defense and a remarkable cold spell by fourth-seeded Kentucky, which went 5:39 down the stretch without a point. That turned a 48-48 tie into a 54-48 UConn lead, and the Huskies barely hung on.
Brandon Knight led Kentucky with 17 points, but they came on 6-of-23 shooting. Liggins hit a 3-pointer with 1:37 left to get the Wildcats within 54-51.
Jeremy Lamb missed a floater in the lane for Connecticut, and Knight came down and missed a 3, but the ball went out of bounds off Connecticut with 56.5 seconds to go.
Liggins was fouled taking a jumper with 49.7 seconds to go, and he made one of two free throws to make it a two-point game.
Shabazz Napier of the Huskies turned the ball over, and Kentucky was able to get a timeout with 16.6 seconds left.
Despite being able to tie the score with a two-point basket, Liggins took a 3 that bounced off the rim, and Napier redeemed himself by grabbing the rebound. He was fouled with 2 seconds left and made both ends of the 1-and-1 for a 56-52 lead.
Knight hit a 3 at the buzzer, but it wasn't enough.
Lamb had 12 points for Connecticut, and Napier finished with four. The Huskies went just 1-of-12 from 3-point range while Kentucky was 9-of-27 from behind the arc.
Terrence Jones had 11 points and 15 rebounds for Kentucky.
Connecticut led 31-21 at halftime, and the Wildcats were lucky to be that close with a terrible shooting half from the field (28.1 percent), 3-point range (16.7 percent) and the free throw line (20.0 percent).
That all changed in a hurry to start the second half.
Knight and Darius Miller hit 3s for Kentucky to match its total from the first half, and they started a 14-2 run that ended with 3s by Doron Lamb and Knight.
Kentucky had its first lead since early in the game, and it was the first of four lead changes in the next 4 minutes. Neither team led by more than four points until Napier scored on a drive that gave the Huskies a 54-48 lead with 2:27 to play.
This was Kentucky's first Final Four since 1998 and its first under John Calipari, who joined Rick Pitino as the only coaches to take three schools to the Final Four.
Connecticut was last in the Final Four in 2009, the only time in coach Jim Calhoun's three previous appearances the Huskies didn't win the national championship.
"We've got a heck of a challenge on Monday night, but the fact that we're playing Monday night, that's beautiful," Calhoun said.
The game was a rematch of the championship game of the Maui Invitational in November. Connecticut won that game 84-67 behind Walker's 29 points and six assists.
The Huskies have been on an incredible run starting with winning five games in as many days - four over ranked teams - to win the Big East championship. They advanced to the Final Four by winning games over San Diego State and Arizona in Anaheim, Calif. The West has always been good to Connecticut, as all four of its Final Four appearances have come through that regional.
Connecticut 56, Kentucky 55
Kentucky (55): Vargas 0-1 0-0 0, Jones 5-8 0-5 11, Harrellson 3-6 0-1 6, Miller 1-7 1-2 4, Knight 6-23 2-2 17, Liggins 1-7 1-5 4, Lamb 5-10 0-0 13. Totals 21-62 4-12 55.
Connecticut (56): Walker 6-15 5-6 18, Coombs-McDaniel 1-3 0-1 2, Napier 1-7 2-2 4, Smith 3-6 0-0 6, Okwandu 2-3 0-0 4, Olander 1-1 0-0 2, Lamb 5-8 2-2 12, Giffey 0-0 0-0 0, Oriahki 4-6 0-0 8. Totals 23-49 9-11 56.
Halftime--Connecticut 31-21. 3-point goals--Kentucky 9-27 (Knight 3-11, Lamb 3-5, Liggins 1-5, Jones 1-2, Miller 1-4), Connecticut 1-12 (Walker 1-5, Coombs-McDaniel 0-1, Napier 0-4, Lamb 0-2). Fouled out--none. Rebounds--Kentucky 35 (Jones 15), Connecticut 38 (Oriahki 10). Assists--Kentucky 11 (Jones 5), Connecticut 16 (Walker 7). Total fouls--Kentucky 12, Connecticut 15. A--N/A.