HOUSTON (AP) — After six games and 240 minutes of total domination that lasted through March and then part of April, it finally became clear that only one thing could stop the UConn Huskies.
The last bell.
The Storrs, Connecticut team dominated one of the most impressive March Madness games in history Monday night, pressing early, then breaking things loose late to claim its fifth national title with a 76-59 win over San Diego State.
“We knew we were the best team in the tournament and we just had to play at our level,” said Dan Hurley, who joined Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie as the third coach to lead Yukon to the title.
Stylish UConn star Adama Sanogo won MVP, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Finals, and Tristen Newton grabbed a double-double with 19 points and 10 boards.
The Huskies (31-8) became the fifth team since expanding the bracket in 1985 to win all six double-digit NCAA tournament games en route to the tournament. They won those six games by an average of 20 points, which is just a fraction of what North Carolina did in winning the title in 2009.
UConn built a 16-point lead late in the first half, only to see the Aztecs (32-7) cut the lead to five with 5:19 to go. But Jordan Hawkins (16 points), whose cousin, LSU’s Angel Reese, won MOP accolades in the women’s tournament, responded with three goals to go 9-0. From there, the only drama left was whether UConn would cover a 7 1/2-point gap and make it six points for a double-digit win.
Yes and yes.
Kechad Johnson scored 14 points for San Diego State, which was just one win on this trip, their first trip to the Final Four. Darion Trammell and Lamont Butler had 13 each.
UConn, the favorite and highest-placed team in this Final Four, set the stage for that victory with an 11:07 halftime streak in which the Aztecs didn’t make a basket. Unable to shoot or get around UConn’s long haul, they missed 14 straight shots from the ground.
They went from four driving back to 11, and when not blocked on shots (Alex Karaban had three while Sanogo had one) or changed on the inside, they fell short—a telltale sign for a team that was out jumping after hitting—a 72-71 win over Florida Atlantic two nights ago.
UConn quarterback Bill Murray was one of the few celebrities who showed up to watch the Huskies win their fifth five-game championship in one of the most unexpected Final Four matches in history. That was the last time Jim Nantz called him after 37 years behind the microphone.
He had plenty of UConn stories to tell, though they certainly weren’t the most dramatic.
Even with that brief bout of uncertainty midway through the second half, UConn never let the fifth-ranked Aztecs, who overcame a 14-point semifinal deficit, begin to think about the drama, second.
It was a team built strictly for 2023 – freshened up by Hurley, who didn’t get much pre-season love even after heading to the transfer gate to find more outside picks after back-to-back matches in Round 1 of the Championship.
“We weren’t in the rankings at the beginning of the year, so we put the chip on our shoulders,” said the coach. “We knew at what level we could play, even in these difficult times.”
Despite the new age roster build, there was something decidedly old school about the way the Huskies handled business early on.
They didn’t even hesitate to hit three-pointers first—they did just over 13 minutes into the game—instead slipping a pass to Sanogo on the post and holding SDSU as they went ahead.
The Aztecs were a very good team to beat, and excessive defending is what kept the ball carrier to five yards. But a team built on defense finished the game shooting just 32% from the ground.
And after his late walk, the Aztecs were burning, Hurley and his buddies hugged him on the bench before the bell.
OConn’s recent trophy makes Hurley the third coach to bring the trophy to Storrs. She is joined by Calhoun (1999, 2004, 2001) and Ollie (2014).
“We’ve got four national championships coming up, right? Hurley said. “We were aiming for fifth place. Now we have our own. »
And Sango — let Adama — join the others by first name on this campus — with Husky legends like Kemba (Walker), Rip (Hamilton) and Emeka (Okafor). He averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds during UConn’s six-game trip throughout the tournament.
Coverage of AP March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and support: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top 25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25