HOUSTON – This wasn’t an NCAA Tournament for the UConn Huskies.
It was their own Iditarod Invitational that they made their personal dog race and beat the dog out of everyone.
No. 4 seed Connecticut trampled over No. 5 seed San Diego State early and often on its way to a 76-59 victory Monday night at NRG Stadium for its fifth men’s basketball national championship since 1999 and first since 2014. It lapped the Aztecs just like it blew by its previous five opponents over the previous three weeks.
The Huskies (31-8) won their six NCAA Tournament games with no Madness in March or April by an average of 20 points – from Anchorage to Nome if you will. They never even trailed in their last three games and only trailed for seconds through its first three games of the tournament. UConn did not make the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll, but they will finish No. 1 in the last one.
“We had the chip on our shoulder,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “It’s unreal.”
Hurley won it in just his fifth season.
San Diego State Never Had Much Of A Chance
San Diego State (32-7) knocked off No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet 16 round to get here, but it never had a chance in its first national championship game after reaching its first Final Four.
Connecticut took a 22-12 lead at the 8:13 mark of the first half and went up by as many as 16 at 33-17 before taking a 36-24 lead at the break. San Diego State went from the 16:34 mark of the first half to 5:27 without a field goal – 11 minutes and seven seconds – to fall behind 26-15.
The Huskies kept the Aztecs at a distance in the second half just as they did Saturday in a 72-59 national semifinal win over No. 5 seed Miami. San Diego State drew within 56-50 at the eight-minute mark, but could get no closer.
And Hurley caught up with the rest of his family basketball dynasty with his first national championship. Older brother Bobby Hurley won two as Duke’s point guard in 1991 and ’92 and now coaches Arizona State. Father Bob Hurley, 75 and retired, leads the way with 26 state championships at St. Anthony High in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“It means everything,” Hurley said. “I’m not here if I didn’t have tough people raising me like my dad and like a tough brother who taught me how to deal with adversity.”
Hurley had a comfortable 12-point lead at halftime, but he wanted more.
“I’m a little bit frustrated,” he said. “We should be up 20. We missed two or three layups at the rim.”
San Diego State still had a remarkable season, including one of the best finishes in the tournament Saturday. Lamont Butler’s buzzer beater took down No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic, 72-71.
That was also the only men’s Final Four game that approached the excitement of the women’s Final Four in Dallas won by LSU Sunday over Iowa and Caitlin Clark.
“We put San Diego State on the map,” Aztecs’ coach Brian Dutcher said. He is also the son of a coach – Jim Dutcher, who won the Big 10 title at Minnesota in 1982.
“We’re recognized now. I don’t think we’re a one-hit wonder,” he said. “We’re going to be good every year. We have a national perception now. That’s a really good team that beat us.”
And Connecticut just put some new polish on its national brand.
“We’ve been striving for No. 5,” Hurley said. “Now, we’ve got our own. We got our own!”