For a brief moment in this game, UConn men’s basketball was reeling. Its 12-point first-half advantage had shrunk to five with 5:19 to go. After Keshad Johnson hit a pair of free throws, Jordan Hawkins hit a 3-pointer in traffic to silence the surging San Diego State crowd.
That was as close as the Aztecs would get, as the Huskies settled down and took home their fifth national championship with a 76-59 win on Monday night before 72,423 fans at NRG Stadium in Houston.
UConn seemed to be anxious early. Passes were deflecting off of hands and dribbles were loose. While Hawkins made the game’s first basket, the Huskies turned it over three times in the first five minutes. This, combined with a 4-5 start from the field for the Aztecs, led to a 10-6 advantage for them at the first media timeout.
UConn scored coming out of that break and held the Aztecs to a 6:08 scoring drought, which only stopped when Keshad Johnson hit both of his free throws. SDSU missed 14 straight shots in an 11:07 span.
The pace was slow, with both teams in the 200s in adjusted tempo according to KenPom and preferring to work in the half court, but a consistent shooting performance helped UConn build out a solid lead as it went on a very protracted 20-24 run that lasted 9:57.
The Husky defense was swarming and wouldn’t let the Aztecs inside, forcing contested shots and turnovers. On the opposite side, after the rash of turnovers to start, UConn gave the ball away just once in nearly 13 minutes.
The half could largely be summed up in one seven-second sequence. Darrion Trammell missed a layup, Joey Calcaterra got the rebound and hit Andre Jackson on an outlet pass. Jackson then left the ball on a bounce pass through his legs for Calcaterra, who hit a deep 3-pointer.
UConn went into the break with a 12-point lead that could have been larger. The team closed with six missed field goals and zero points over the final 3:19.
The second half had an inauspicious start as Jordan Hawkins got rejected by the rim trying to bring the hammer down on a dunk, then after a missed 3-pointer, Matt Bradley hit a jumper to trim the advantage to 10.
That deficit would not reach single digits through the early-to-middle stages of the second half, but never got bigger than 15.
UConn started 2-4 from the field, but missed three straight field goals between an Alex Karaban 3-pointer and a Clingan lay-up, a span that lasted 6:22.
However, a tight whistle helped the Huskies continue to score points and keep a still-cold San Diego State at bay. The Aztecs committed seven fouls and put UConn in the bonus with 13:04 remaining in the half.
Soon after getting into the bonus, the whistles dried up and so did UConn’s points. After a 10-11 performance between Karaban and Clingan’s field goals, the Huskies didn’t take any between the 11:56 mark and 6:45. Meanwhile, the shooting didn’t get any better, culminating in a 5-16 performance to begin the half.
Dan Hurley won his first NCAA Tournament game with UConn this year and then ran it back five more times and seemed to get better with each passing round. This is an incredible accomplishment and one that has this year’s Huskies among the best college basketball teams of the last decade. What a year.