UConn survive suspect squid, a hotel switch and theft to claim NCAA title | NCAA tournament 2023

UConn survive suspect squid, a hotel switch and theft to claim NCAA title | NCAA tournament 2023

Nothing — not dirty hotel rooms, questionable calamari, a bus robbery or one of college basketball’s most vaunted defenses — was going to deny Connecticut. And so a March Madness tournament that began with talk of parity ended with discussion of dynasty as UConn claimed their fifth men’s national title since 1999.

Not that the joy was unlimited. “I’m still thinking about some things,” said Huskies head coach Dan Hurley, strutting into an interview room while wearing a backwards “Champions” baseball cap.

“The number of appearances lost… We should have gone up 18 [or] 20 in the first half. That’s really how my mind works.” However, he allowed the result was a “dream come true for all of us” – including his son Andrew, a player, who was in possession when the game ended.

In his fifth year with the team, Hurley was, as usual, animated on the sidelines, joking, gesticulating, prodding and scolding in his glasses and blue suit jacket like a stockbroker pointing and shouting at screens. as the numbers explode in green and red, the Husky of Wall Street.

Though volcanic, the 50-year-old boxer-brief-wearing fire-breathing dragon might give the impression that he should be running a wellness spa rather than a college basketball team. He wears bracelets with brown beads to keep him grounded, practices yoga and meditation, drinks coffee with mushrooms and lights scented candles in his office, like a fragrance called “faith + freedom” that could easily have been named in honor of his players.

“Being such an intense and passionate coach, people have always focused more on the sidelines than my total body of work throughout my career,” said Hurley, who led Rhode Island to two March Madness appearances. Now he is a national champion. “There’s a certain level of validation that will come from this,” said Hurley, whose father, Bob, is a famous high school coach and older brother, Bobby, was a star player who is now the coach. Arizona State’s premier.

“Maybe I don’t do a great job of kissing up to the media and presenting this super likable image, but that’s who I am. I’m from Jersey City and that’s how Jersey City people act.”

This year marked the first time since the seeds were first planted in 1979 that no team ranked first, second or third made it to the Final Four, and the first time that the top four teams did not managed to reach the Elite Eight. It was just UConn’s fourth national tournament appearance since winning it in 2014 and the first time since 2016 that they advanced to the second round.

Brackets – the national craze for predicting one of the most unpredictable sporting events on the planet – were even more ruined than usual. Fairleigh Dickinson knocked off Purdue in perhaps the biggest upset in March Madness history, a 16 seed bumping into No. 1. The University of Houston, whose main campus is just five miles from Monday night’s final site, was beat Miami in the Sweet 16. As for the other two balls: defending champion Kansas fell to eighth-ranked Arkansas in the second round and Alabama lost to San Diego State in the Sweet 16.

And yet, Monday’s highlight, a 76-59 win for the Huskies over San Diego State, had little shock value in the end. The result depended on logic and reason. UConn’s record in national title games now stands at five played, five won, and they have more championships since 1999 than Duke, North Carolina and Kansas. Overall, only UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina are more decorated.

Better than their pre-tournament rating implied, UConn dropped to only fourth place because of an icy spell early in the year: six losses in eight games after a 14-game winning streak.

Recovering from that brief tailspin has undoubtedly made them a better team, although it’s hard to say how resilient they are in the face of adversity because in the last three weeks they’ve been so dominant that they didn’t need to scramble or strain. .

There were some strange setbacks: a Sweet 16 hotel change in Las Vegas because the rooms had been left in a dismal state by previous guests. Personal items were stolen from the bus. A key scoring threat, Jordan Hawkins, was upset by some suspected squid.

But on the court they won all their games by 13 points or more, with an average margin of victory of 20 points. “We keep our cool, man,” Hawkins said. “We have an incredible support system. We have an incredible team… No matter what we go through, we will stick together no matter what.”

A fifth seed, San Diego State had never before advanced beyond the Sweet 16 and entered the finals with two straight one-point wins, including a buzzer beater to stun Florida Atlantic in last Saturday’s Final Four.

The Aztecs rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Florida Atlantic, but only briefly threatened a surprise comeback on Monday, mounting a gutsy second-half rally that pulled them within five points of their opponents and inspired their deafening fans to raise the decibel levels. even higher – until Hawkins responded with a blistering 3-pointer.

After a bright and even start, UConn gradually took control. Stingy defense is a San Diego State hallmark, but they struggled on the other end, enduring an 11-minute stretch without a field goal. A narrow deficit widened to 16 points. The Aztecs pressed on with admirable stubbornness, fingers stuck to the precipice, refusing to let go. But UConn was superior in every way: deeper, softer, smarter, more prepared, less error-prone.

They converted 24 of 27 free throws. They had Donovan Clingan, a man who runs at opposing defenders like a combine could roar into a wheat field. At 7 feet 2 inches, the 19-year-old is a freshman with such prodigious height that when he chokes, it’s possible for the air around his fingers to be several degrees colder than the temperature in his toes. Constantly sucking and chewing on a half-in, half-out mouthguard, Clingan is an attractive prospect to NBA scouts and New England orthodontists.

And Connecticut can call on the man named the Final Four’s most outstanding player, Adama Sanogo, a 21-year-old born in Mali who is 6ft 9in and contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds on Monday while fasting for Ramadan.

Ultimately, the race felt conventional – which, given the way this tournament was expected, felt odd. “We came from 14 in the last game. We expect him at five. I think there were people in the stands thinking, ‘Hey, they’re capable of doing it again,’ and we were. But we faced a very good team and we didn’t play our best,” San Diego coach Brian Dutcher admitted.

“They’re the hottest team in college basketball,” he added. “They had their way with the whole field this tournament.”

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