UConn men’s basketball will play for its fifth national championship on Monday night as the Huskies took down 5-seed Miami, 72-59, in another dominant performance where the walk-ons made appearances as well.
The 4-seed Huskies have won each of their five NCAA Tournament games by double figures, though this was the smallest margin of victory thus far.
Adama Sanogo (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Jordan Hawkins (13 points) were the only players in double figures for UConn, though five others pitched in for at least five points. Alex Karaban (eight points, nine rebounds) was just shy of a double-double.
After a Hawkins three opened the scoring, it was Sanogo who paced the Huskies offensively from the start. He knocked down a pair of triples in the first three minutes and then got to work in the post, finishing 9-of-11 from the field. Hawkins would score the rest of his points in the second half.
Miami struggled with UConn’s defense early on, as was clear with its shot selection. The Hurricanes missed their first five shots and 11 of their first 12. In the same span, UConn was 5-10 from the field, including 4-7 from beyond the arc, building a 10-point lead by the time the Hurricanes made their second field goal.
The Huskies managed to build a first-half lead despite foul trouble from Andre Jackson. The do-it-all playmaker picked up his second just 4:14 into the game and did not re-appear before the second half.
This led to an advantage for Miami on the glass and some sloppy play offensively. The Hurricanes aren’t as good on the boards, but UConn held merely a 21-19 advantage in rebounds through the first 20 minutes and was trailing in offensive boards.
This, combined with a stretch of sloppy play for the Huskies in which they shot 1-5 and suffered a rash of turnovers, helped the Hurricanes climb from down 14-4 to tied at 19-19 over a 5:25 period.
Seeing the tied score must have awoken something in Dan Hurley’s crew. The final 8:20 of the half saw just two made field goals and five points for Miami, while the Huskies mounted an 18-5 run in response capped off by a Karaban 3-pointer from the left wing to take a 37-24 advantage into the locker room.
“We needed to put more pressure on the paint. I thought we had a little bit of fool’s gold to start the game,” Dan Hurley said postgame. “We were guarding, but then we were losing our defensive intensity. Some of that had to do with Andre missing pretty much the whole first half.”
With Jackson back on the floor, UConn continued to pull away in the second half. The junior threaded the needle to Sanogo to begin the scoring. Just 3:24 in, a 9-2 run had the Huskies up 20.
However, as the Hurricanes did against Texas in the Elite Eight, they kept fighting. They had a 7-0 burst over 47 seconds in which UConn had two straight live-ball turnovers, and an Isaiah Wong 3-pointer from the wing pushed the advantage down to eight. After shooting 9-36 from the field in the first half and 1-5 to start the second, they caught fire, converting on seven straight. This shrunk the UConn advantage to eight.
However, unlike Texas, the Huskies responded in kind. A 7-0 run of their own, over three minutes, brought the lead back to 15, capped off with a bucket from Nahiem Alleyne, who finished with eight rebounds and three assists.
Andre Jackson had the dagger, catching an alley-oop from Tristen Newton to put the Huskies up 14 with under four minutes to go. By the end, the walk-ons were in. It was the Hurricanes’ lowest point total of the season.
After a long, strange journey, UConn will play in the last game of the season. The Huskies face San Diego State in the national championship game in NRG Stadium, tip-off will be on CBS at 9:20 p.m. on Monday.