DETROIT (AP) – The ride ended one game too soon for the Connecticut Huskies, a team unaccustomed to early Final Four exits.

The Huskies had gone 4-0 in their first two trips, in 1999 and 2004, and were hoping to win a third NCAA title in Detroit.

They followed the same path to the Final Four this year, coming out of a West regional in the Phoenix area. But the result was far different as Michigan State eliminated the top-seeded Huskies 82-73 Saturday night in a national semifinal.

“I love my kids,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “They had an incredible season.”

Now UConn (31-5) enters an uncertain offseason.

The NCAA is reviewing whether the school broke NCAA rules when it recruited former basketball player Nate Miles; center Hasheem Thabeet is weighing whether to return for his senior season or go pro; and coach Calhoun is contemplating his coaching future.

Most of that speculation has been fueled by his responses to questions about whether he’s considering retiring.

“It has been speculated, but that’s mainly because people keep asking me the questions,” the 66-year-old Calhoun said. “A, probably would be some people who wouldn’t mind me leaving. And, B, some might be curious.”

Yes, but the Huskies had hoped to postpone the discussion until Tuesday.

Instead, UConn ran into a Spartans squad energized by a record 72,456 fans in Ford Field. After taking a five-point lead midway through the first half, the Huskies fell behind by as many as 11 in the second half.

The difference was the Spartans’ depth: Michigan State’s bench outscored UConn’s reserves 33-7.

“Overall, the wealth of bench talent, 33-7, probably ends up being the difference,” Calhoun said. “We just needed a spark off the bench, just needed something.”

As the Huskies left Ford Field, they were disappointed about their season’s sudden and unexpected end.

“I was looking forward to play Monday night,” said Thabeet, who led the Huskies with 17 points but had only six rebounds, almost five below his average.

Thabeet also blocked two shots, leaving him four shy of Emeka Okafor’s school record of 156.

When the season tipped off, UConn was among a select group of national title contenders. The Huskies got a lift when junior forward Stanley Robinson rejoined the team in December after returning from a personal leave of absence. They romped to a 23-1 start but lost point guard Jerome Dyson to a knee injury in February.

UConn dropped three of its next seven games, including a six-overtime game against Syracuse in the Big East tourney. But UConn seemed to regain its legs in the NCAA tournament, winning its first three games by double digits and then holding off Missouri 82-75 in the West regional final.

But adversity was never far away.

Calhoun missed the NCAA opener after being hospitalized for dehydration. Days later, a Yahoo! Sports report accused the school of recruiting violations, and the Huskies were besieged with questions about it at the West regional in Glendale, Ariz.

When they finally reached Detroit, UConn found itself playing the role of the villain in the tournament’s feel-good story, the home-state Spartans.

And there would be no happy ending for the Huskies.

“This is a special team,” Calhoun said. “For the rest of my life, I’ll remember this team and for what they gave me this winter. They gave me something very, very special.”

AP-ES-04-05-09 1414EDT

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