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HOUSTON – By the numbers, midnight in the garden of good and bad seeds nears for Cinderella San Diego State.
Christmas with Connecticut may not be coming Monday night for the No. 5 seed Aztecs (32-6), who never ventured past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before this March.
The UConn Huskies (30-8) are waiting as 7-to-8 point favorites in the NCAA college basketball national championship game Monday (9:20 p.m., CBS). UConn came to this generic Final Four as the best seed at No. 4, but it carries itself like a No. 1. And it has the brand name and history to go with that. Even though, the Huskies are in their first Final Four since 2014 when they won their last national crown.
Connecticut Has Clearly Played Like A No. 1 Seed
The Huskies finished fourth in the Big East at 13-7. They lost five of six games from Dec. 31 through Jan. 18, but they’re 15-3 since. Since the NCAA Tournament started, UConn has been URout with No. 1 seed emblazoned across its chest. Its March Madness work sheet is void of any Madness:
-W No. 13 Seed Iona, 87-63
-W No. 5 Seed Saint Mary’s, 70-55
-W No. 8 Seed Arkansas, 88-65
-W No. 3 Seed Gonzaga, 82-54
-W No. 5 Seed Miami, 72-59
-Next? No. 5 Seed San Diego State, ??-??
That is an average victory margin of 20.6 points. On the season, UConn finished No. 2 in the nation in scoring margin at 14.4. Houston was No. 1 at 17.4, but lost to Miami in the Sweet 16, 89-75.
UConn has barely trailed at all in the NCAA Tournament.
And Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami (29-8) couldn’t stay on the same floor with the Huskies on Saturday night. UConn opened a 9-0 lead in the opening minutes and led by 37-24 at the half. Miami tied it at 19 at the eight-minute mark, but never led. It fell behind by 20 in the second half and was never within single digits after the 11:04 mark of the second half.
Connecticut Kept Miami Out Of Sync
“Quite honestly, we were never in sync offensively,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said.
“Yeah, they did a really good job of sending two at you whenever we would drive,” Miami senior guard Jordan Miller said. “That bothered us.”
Miller missed 6 of 10 shots for 11 points with three turnovers after coming in averaging 19.6 over his three previous games. Miami missed 42 of 62 shots for 32 percent. It came in hitting 42 percent. Guard Nijel Pack scored eight following 18 a game in the NCAA Tournament.
“We were just all over our identity today,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. All over the Hurricanes, too.
“Obviously, the defense was the key. The effort that these guys gave defensively was unbelievable,” he said.
Huskies Play Elite Defense
“It all starts with the defense,” sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins said when asked why the Huskies are averaging 20-point victory margins in the NCAA Tournament. “We’ve been very elite, taking away match-ups, rebounding the ball, getting out in transition, playing to our strengths.”
And UConn won by 13 with Hawkins scoring only three points in the first half as he recovered from a stomach ailment. He came in averaging 17.3 points in the NCAA Tournament and hitting 51 percent from 3-point range. He did finish with 13 with 3-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
“We don’t stop,” Hawkins said. “We keep putting our foot on their neck. We have a really tough team. I think we can out-tough anybody. Our defense is top tier. We play two halves together. A lot of teams only play one.”
UConn 6-foot-9 forward Adama Sanogo held Miami 6-7 forward Norchad Omier to eight points – five below his average.
“What Adama did in his match-up with one of the most physical interior guys we’ve faced,” Hurley said.
National Championship Game Could Come Down To Defense
“There’s a lot of teams that want to play Monday,” Sanogo said. “It means a lot to us. It means everything that we work for. The work has paid off.”
UConn can become a No. 1 seed Monday night by finishing No. 1 in the nation, which is better anyway.
“I just think obviously this group has shown their quality so many times in terms of the level that we can play at,” Hurley said. “And I think we experienced everything in that month of January.”
UConn Put January In Rearview Mirror
The Huskies suffered five of their eight losses in January.
“It’s a battle-tested team,” Hurley said.
“I’m so happy,” Hawkins said. “We’ve got one more game left, though.”