Thanks to a masterful defensive run and timely scores on offense, the UConn Huskies captured their fifth national title Monday night in Houston.
The University of Connecticut flexed its muscles throughout the entire NCAA Tournament, capping off an impressive run with a 76-59 win over San Diego State on Monday for the program’s fifth national championship at NRG Stadium in Houston.
The Huskies entered the evening as a comfortable favorite, thoroughly dominating the competition over the previous five games. UConn’s average margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament was 20.0 points, the fourth-largest mark since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“We knew we couldn’t go out like suckers again in the first weekend,” Hurley said about UConn’s first-round test against Iona after two previous one-and-done showings. “But, listen, we came into the season unranked, so we had an edge to us to start the year to prove people wrong.”
Monday night’s championship game delivered the expected defensive slugfest. Both teams started hot from the field — until UConn found the clamps and locked up SDSU’s offense, which missed its next 14 shots. Over a stunning 11-minute scoring drought for the Aztecs, UConn flipped a 10-6 deficit into a 26-14 lead.
From there, San Diego State threatened but the Huskies had every response. It was a microcosm of UConn’s resounding championship run.
“We definitely had some guys step up in big moments that allowed us to win the game,” UConn junior Andre Jackson said.
The Aztecs desperately found a pair of baskets late in the first half, but Darrion Trammell’s ensuing steal resulted in a rimmed-out layup that would have cut the lead to 11. Then, Joey Calcaterra banged home a triple to ignite the UConn crowd.
Again, the Aztecs made a push after a foul-heavy start to the second half. SDSU reengaged its contingent when Trammell’s steal-and-score pulled San Diego State within two possessions of UConn with 7:40 remaining.
The closest the Aztecs would get the rest of the way was a five-point deficit. It was a final, flailing punch from the Aztecs, which was poetically answered with a haymaker of 9-0 run by UConn that effectively sealed the game well before the final buzzer. The play that started that run, Jordan Hawkins’ 3-point dagger, proved to be the biggest play of the night.
With momentum swinging heavily in SDSU’s direction, Hawkins — cousin of Angel Reese, who just led LSU to the women’s national title — canned an off-balance shot to push UConn’s lead back to eight. It took the wind out of SDSU’s sails, and the Aztecs could never recover from there.
“Coach drew something up for me,” Hawkins said. “I know he trusted me to make that shot. I had to make it. Easy part. All credit to my teammates for getting me open on those screens and Coach for trusting me.”
It took Dan Hurley until Year 3 in Storrs to reach the NCAA Tournament, and it wasn’t until three weeks ago — his fifth with UConn — that Hurley advanced in March Madness. Suddenly, he is among the sport’s elite, helping the Huskies join UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Indiana as the only programs with at least five national titles.
“I’m just mostly proud of the way we’ve done it and with the type of people that we’ve done it, the way we recruit young players, develop young players,” Hurley said.
Just five years removed from a 14-win season — the school’s fewest victories in over three decades — UConn is back atop the college basketball mountain.
Header image courtesy of NCAA Photos