What seemed necessary happened Monday night at NRG Stadium as UConn completed its dominant journey to the top of college basketball with a 76-59 win over San Diego State in the national championship game. In No. The 4 seed Huskies earned their fifth title in program history by stifling the 5 seed Aztecs offensively and systematically finding assets against SDSU’s typically strong defense.
In the end, they had to rally hard against San Diego State in the middle, where they were looking for a tougher challenge than the Huskies in the Big Dance.
The win moves UConn even with Duke and Indiana for fourth place in the race for the most titles in men’s college basketball history. All of the Huskies’ championships have come in the past 25 years, extending UConn’s streak as the most decorated program of the past quarter century.
In that span, the Huskies have now won titles with three different coaches as Dan Hurley joined predecessors Kevin Ollie and Jim Calhoun at UConn in capturing the zenith of the game. Eight players from the roster built out of the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament were part of Monday’s rotation, and each of them scored in the first half as the Huskies built an early 16-point lead.
San Diego State made some big runs late in the half to cut UConn’s lead to at least five points. But UConn responded at every turn and flipped the clock as its lead fell to 60-55, hitting a 9-0 run to put the game away.
Here are three takeaways as UConn is back on top of the college basketball mountain.
1. UConn shows its summer
San Diego State came out of the gates hot on Monday and immediately put UConn on their heels, but UConn responded to go up 12 at halftime. The Aztecs mounted a big run to cut the lead to five points, but both times UConn seemed to be cornered and the heat turned, responding with a resounding victory, including an impressive 9-0 run by Jordan Hawkins’ 3-pointer after SDSU cut its deficit to five points.
“Coach pulled something for me, so I knew he had to trust me to make the shot,” Hawkins said. “I had an easy part. All my teammates believe in getting me open and trusting in me for coaching.”
2. SDSU fights until the end
The level of resilience demanded by UConn on Monday wouldn’t have happened if San Diego State didn’t demand it. SDSU trailed big for half and couldn’t hit the block consistently enough to pull off an upset, but had a big stretch where the Huskies worked. UConn’s length and size disrupted the Aztecs’ rhythm in a big way – they made 3-of-10 layups – but the lack of five to close out late despite all of its struggles speaks to the strength this team has played all season.
“They were great offensively,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said. “Eventually they made a good basket or two, we didn’t. Their length harassed us around the rim. They had the whole field trip this tournament. … We’re not giving up, though. I like it. Cheer up, team.”
3. Home field for the Huskies
What does this stand for? UConn ends the season with a 17-point win, making it 17th on the season against non-Big East foes – all of which have come by double figures. In the process, they became the first team in the modern era to win all six NCAA Tournament games by at least a 13-point margin.
The win also gave UConn its fifth men’s national championship and improved it to 5-0(!) in national championship game appearances. The Huskies also tied Duke and Indiana for the fourth national championship all-time with five and gives them the most this century, with four of the five coming since 2004.
“A dream come true for all of us,” Hurley said after the game. “This was our vision, this was our dream. It feels great to come through the promises of the players and the academy.”