UConn now has five men’s basketball championships in the past 25 years.
The Huskies took advantage of a San Diego State scoring drought in the first half to jump out to a comfortable lead and then held on in the second half for a 76-59 win in Monday night’s national title game. The title is the first for UConn coach Dan Hurley and the school’s first since 2014.
Tristen Newton had 19 points, Adama Sanogo scored 17 and Jordan Hawkins had 16 for the Huskies. Sanogo also grabbed 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the tournament and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tourney.
San Diego State jumped out to a very early lead and was up 10-8 ahead of the first TV timeout. It became brutal for the Aztecs from there as they went over 11 minutes without making a field goal until Darrion Trammell’s shot in the lane with 5:25 to go before halftime cut UConn’s lead to nine at 26-17.
The Huskies then jumped out to a 16-point lead not long after Trammell’s jumper before San Diego State cut the lead to 36-24 at the half.
It was incredibly obvious how lucky San Diego State was to be trailing by just a dozen points at the half. The Aztecs shot 29% from the field and had eight field goals and nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Even Hurley admitted in his halftime interview on CBS that UConn should have been up by 20 at the break given the way the game had gone for the Aztecs.
UConn’s advantage in the interior was clear from the start of the game as Sanogo, Donovan Clingan and the rest of the team’s length frustrated the Aztecs near the rim.
UConn is the second No. 4 seed to win a title
The Huskies are just the second No. 4 seed to win the NCAA tournament since the selection committee started seeding teams in 1985. The first and only No. 4 team to win the title before Monday night was Arizona in 1997.
UConn (31-8) was probably under-seeded at No. 4 in the West region and showed how good it was throughout the tournament. The smallest margin of victory UConn had all tournament came on Saturday against Miami and even that was a comfortable 13-point win to advance to the title game.
The Huskies were seeded outside the top 12 overall because of a rough stretch in Big East play at the beginning of 2023. UConn lost five of six from Dec. 31 to Jan. 18 and lost again after breaking a three-game losing streak on Jan. 22.
"We knew the level we could play at, even in those dark times," Hurley said after the game.
All eight of UConn’s losses came to Big East opponents and its eight losses to conference opponents are the most of any champion since UConn won the title in 2011 after losing nine Big East games.
That 2011 title was UConn’s third under former coach Jim Calhoun and third in school history. The school’s first came in 1999 when UConn beat Duke to win the national championship. UConn then won the title again in 2004.
San Diego State didn’t go away
While the Aztecs found themselves down double digits for most of the second half, they didn’t go away. They kept giving themselves glimmers of hope as UConn simply couldn’t make the game a blowout and even cut the lead to six with 7:40 to go thanks to a 9-0 run and cut the lead to five with just over five minutes to go.
As soon as SDSU (32-7) cut it to five, however, Hawkins responded with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
It wouldn’t have been a total shock had San Diego State been able to complete the comeback against the Huskies. After all, this is the same SDSU team that was down by 14 to Florida Atlantic on Saturday before winning on Lamont Butler’s buzzer-beater and also needed comebacks to beat Alabama and Creighton the weekend before.
But UConn also never felt susceptible to a big run nor did the Aztecs feel capable of making a bigger push than they did. The Huskies always had an answer for SDSU and were in the bonus for the majority of the second half after SDSU was whistled for seven quick fouls in the opening minutes of the second half.
Hawkins' 3 was also the beginning of the end for the Aztecs. It was the start of a 9-0 run in the final minutes that pushed the Huskies' lead back to double digits and snuffed out any chance of yet another SDSU comeback.