houston — After six games and 240 minutes of pure dominance that stretched into March and then into April, it finally became clear that there was only one thing that could stop the UConn Huskies.

The final bell.

The Storrs, Connecticut team capped off one of the most impressive March Madness streaks in history on Monday night, clamping down early and opening things up late to take home their fifth national title with a 76-59 victory. over San Diego State.

“We knew we were the best team in the tournament and we had to play at our level,” said Dan Hurley, who joined Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie as the third coach to lead UConn to a title.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, a college basketball pundit, didn’t hold back in praising the Huskies, saying, “You have to talk about them as one of the most dominant teams we’ve seen in the last two decades.”

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 since the group expanded in 1985 to win all six NCAA Tournament games by double digits en route to a championship. They won those six games by an average of 20 points, just a fraction less than North Carolina did in winning the title in 2009.

San Diego State v Connecticut
Head coach Dan Hurley of the University of Connecticut Huskies celebrates with his team after they defeated the San Diego State Aztecs 76-59 in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game at Stadium NRG on April 3, 2023 in Houston.

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UConn built a 16-point lead late in the first half, only to see the Aztecs (32-7) cut it to five with 5:19 remaining. But Jordan Hawkins (16 points), – whose cousin, Angel Reese, won MOP honors the night before to help LSU takes women’s title – responded with a 3 to trigger a 9-0 run.

“It’s absolutely incredible that we both get this opportunity,” Hawkins said. “The family reunion is going to be crazy.”

Keshad Johnson scored 14 points for San Diego State, which fell one win away from this, its first trip to the Final Four. Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler, he of buzzer fame in the semifinal against Florida Atlantic, each had 13.

San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher was Michigan’s assistant in the Fab Five days when the Wolverines lost the last two years in a row. One of the Fab Five, current Wolverines coach Juwan Howard, was there to console his former coach.

“We had to be at our best. We weren’t at our best,” Dutcher said. “A lot of it had to do with UConn.”

UConn, the favorite and highest-seeded team at No. 4 for this underdog-filled Final Four, set the stage for this victory in an 11:07 stretch in the first half during which the Aztecs didn’t score. Unable to get over or out of the way of this tall, long UConn team, they missed 14 straight shots from the floor.

They went from leading by four to trailing by 11 and when they weren’t blocking shots (Alex Karaban had three and Sanogo had one) or upset on the inside, they fell short, a telltale sign of a team that was on the outside. of hops after that 72-71 win two nights earlier.

UConn fan Bill Murray, whose son is an assistant with the Huskies, was one of the few celebrities in attendance to see them go five for five in title games. This marked The last thing Jim Nantz would call after 37 years behind the microphone.

“The one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that everyone has a dream and everyone has a story to tell. Just try to find that story. Be nice,” Nantz said as part of his final Final Four farewell.

He’s had plenty of UConn stories to tell over the years, though this certainly wasn’t the most dramatic.

Even with that brief bout of uncertainty midway through the second half, UConn never let the fifth-seeded Aztecs, who overcame a 14-point deficit in the semifinal, start thinking about last-minute drama.

This was a strictly built-for-2023 squad, replenished by Hurley, who went to the transfer portal to find more outside shots after back-to-back first-round exits in the tournament. Despite the rebuild, UConn was in the “other who received votes” category in week 1 of the AP poll.

“We weren’t ranked at the start of the year, so we had the chip on our shoulders,” Hurley said. “We knew the level we could play at, even in those dark times.”

Despite the new-age roster-building, there was something decidedly old-school about the way the Huskies went about business early on.

They didn’t even think much of 3-pointers at first, not making one until more than 13 minutes into the game, instead skipping Sanogo’s pass in the post and wearing down SDSU as they built up the early two-point lead. in a moment.

The Aztecs were too good a team to give up, and too much chasing defense was what sparked the late run to five. But a defense-based team finished the game only shooting 32% from the floor.

“We got it down to five. I think there were people in the stands who thought, ‘Hey, they’re capable of doing it again,’ and we were,” Dutcher said. “But we find ourselves with a team that is too good.”

And Sanogo, let’s say Adama, joins others by first name on that campus: UConn legends like Kemba (Walker), Rip (Hamilton) and Emeka (Okafor). Sanogo averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in UConn’s six games in the tournament.

Once the confetti stopped falling, Sanogo recalled a pre-season visit that Okafor’s team received.

“After watching our practice, he said, ‘I see I can count on you guys, you’re a special team,'” Sanogo said.

After UConn hosted a March Madness clinic, everyone else can now watch too.

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