HOUSTON (AP) — After six games and 240 minutes of pure dominance that spanned March, then April, it finally became clear that there was only one thing that could stop the UConn Huskies.
The last bomber.
The Storrs, Connecticut, team ran one of the worst March Madness runs in history Monday night, roaring early, then breaking things open late to win their fifth national title with a 76-59 victory over San Diego State.
“We know we’re the best team going into the tournament, and we’re just going to play with our level,” said Dan Hurley, who joined Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie to lead UConn to its third title.
UConn’s lanky star forward, Adama Sanogo, earned Most Outstanding Player honors, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the final. Tristen Newton also had a double-double with 19 points and 10 boards.
The Huskies (31-8) became the fifth team because the bracket was expanded in 1985 to win all six NCAA Tournament games by double digits en route to the championship. They won those six games by an average of 20 points or less, just a fraction less than what North Carolina did in sweeping the title in 2009.
UConn built a 16-point lead late in the first half, only for the Aztecs (32-7) to cut it to within five with 5:19 left. But Jordan Hawkins (16 points), whose cousin; Angel Reese, MOP overnight, to help LSU take the women’s title -answered with 3 to trigger a 9-0 run.
“It’s absolutely amazing that we both got this opportunity,” Hawkins said. “Family reunion going crazy.”
Keshad Johnson scored 14 points San Diego Statewhich in this case made its first trip to the final four. Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler, the one of buzzer-beater fame in the semifinals against Florida Atlantic, had 13 hits.
San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher was an assistant with Michigan back in the Fab Five when the Wolverines lost in a row the last two years. One of the Fab Five, current Wolverines coach Juwan Howard, was there to comfort his former coach.
“We have to be at our best. We weren’t at our best,” Holland said. “We had a lot to do with UConn.”
UConn, the favorite and best-seeded team at No. 4 for this final four full dogs, set the stage for this winning 11:07 stretch in the first half, in which the Aztecs did not make a play. Unable to get around or jump this tall, long UConn team, they missed 14 straight shots from the floor.
They went from four to trailing by 11, and while they weren’t blocking shots (Alex Karaban had three and Sanogo had one) or changing inside, they were coming up short – a telltale sign of the team that was. of hope after two nights before the 72-71 Bomber.
UConn fan Bill Murray, whose son is an assistant for the Huskies, was one of the few celebrities on hand to make it to the five-game title show. This one It was noted that Jim Nantz would call last after 37 years after mic.
“I’ve learned this one thing through it all, everyone has a dream and everyone has a story to tell. Just look for the story. Be kind,” Nantz said as part of his final-quarter sign.
UConn has had a lot of stories to tell over the years, some of which certainly haven’t been the most dramatic.
Even with those brief moments of doubt throughout the second half, UConn never really started thinking about the dramatic final seconds of the fifth-seeded Aztecs, who lost by 14 points in the semifinals.
This team was strictly built for 2023 – filled by Hurley, who found the transfer gate more outside shooting behind to the first round exit in the tournament. Despite the rebound, UConn was in the “other votes received” category in the Week 1 AP poll.
“We didn’t go into the year like we had a chip on our shoulder,” Hurley said. “We knew the field we could play, even through those dark times.”
Although there was some new-age roster building, the old-school way around the Huskies took care of business early on.
They also didn’t think much about 3-point shooting in the beginning — they didn’t make one until more than 13 minutes into the game — instead jumping on Sanogo in the post and holding down SDSU while building the first two points of the season.
The Aztecs were too good a team to cave in, and it’s too chasing a defense that’s been running late for five years. But a team built on defense finished the game only shooting 32% from the floor.
“We had five cuts. I think there were people there who thought, ‘Hey, they can do it again,’ and we were,” Holland said. “But we also run into the good of the team.”
UConn’s final crowning makes Hurley the third coach to bring the trophy home to Storrs. It joins Calhoun (1999, 2004, 2001) and Ollie (2014).
and Sanogo do what Adama — adding himself to others on a first-name basis in that field — UConn legends like Kemba (Walker), Rip (Hamilton) and Emeka (Okafor). Sanogo averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds over the six-game UConn cruise through the tournament.
After the confetti stopped falling, Sanogo recalled the preseason and visited the team taken by Okafor.
“After he watched our practice, he was like, ‘I see I can count you guys, you guys are a unique team,’” Sanogo said.
After UConn is clinical on March Madness, everyone can see it now too.