UCONN wins 5th NCAA title after one of the most dominant runs in history


Photo courtesy of Instagram/@uconnmbb

Teams do not often cruise to a championship title, especially when the smallest margin of victory is 13 points, becoming the first team in NCAA tournament history to do so. One of the most dominant runs in college basketball history cemented the legacy of a historic men’s program as a Blue Blood – an elite group of teams in the collegiate ranks.

The crowd at NRG Stadium was electrified with just five minutes left to play in a dramatic five-point game but quickly turned to a one-sided crowd after a huge shot from a likely but unlikely source. The stage was set for an electrifying final minutes, but ended in a lopsided affair that brought back a celebration to Mansfield, Conn.

The University of Connecticut (UConn) earned their fifth NCAA men’s basketball championship on Monday, April 3 in their 76-59 win over San Diego State University (SDSU), putting them in the conversation for the most dominant team in the last 25 years. Their tournament run has been unlike any other in history, as SDSU became the first team to be within single digits of UConn during the under-eight minute media timeout.

UConn is now tied with Duke and Indiana for fourth all-time in NCAA championships with five titles, trailing UCLA with 11, Kentucky with eight and North Carolina with six. It is their first title since 2014 and rank number one in ESPN’s way-too-early 2023-24 season rankings.

After losing the Big East Conference final game against Marquette University, UConn entered the NCAA tournament as the number four seed in the West regional hosted in Las Vegas, NV. Coming off a 24-7 season, the Huskies looked to make noise in the tournament, in the middle of an eight-year skid in which they only advanced to the Round of 32 just once.

Head coach Dan Hurley spoke highly of his players back in 2020, saying the team was on the rise and would be a threat to contend for a title in the near future. His promise was fulfilled as his team dominated at all stages of the tournament in large part to an incredible group of recruiting classes that brought UConn back to national prominence.

“This was our dream,” Hurley said. “This is what we talked about when we recruited these guys, that we could get together and do something big like this.”

In their Round of 64 matchup, UConn dominated Iona University in an 87-63 win, led by the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, who recorded a double-double with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Four players recorded double-digit points, putting their depth on display early in the tournament which was a major contributor to their title run.

A dominant defensive performance willed the Huskies into the Round of 16, allowing just 55 points in their win over Saint Mary’s College of California. No player for Saint Mary’s tallied double-digit points as UConn cruised to another win, beating the Gaels in rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage.

The combo of Sanogo and sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins led the way in UConn’s huge 88-65 win over the University of Arkansas, marking their second-largest margin of victory in the tournament. Hawkins scored a game-high 24 points and added two rebounds and three assists, while Sanogo continued his historic run with 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

The Huskies’ depth once again played a huge role in the win, with nine players registering a basket and hauling in 43 rebounds as a team. They held a wire-to-wire lead, keeping the Razorbacks playing from a huge deficit and leading by as many as 29 points in the game.

Their Elite Eight matchup against number one seed and perennial powerhouse Gonzaga University turned into their largest margin of victory in the tournament with an 82-54 upset win. Averaging a conference-high 86.1 points, Gonzaga’s offense simply had no answer for UConn as the Huskies rode a huge second-half performance to victory, breaking the game open by as many as 33 points.

Coming off a huge statement win, UConn traveled to Houston, Texas for the Final Four and a semifinal matchup against number five-seeded University of Miami. Miami quickly became one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, knocking off respective number one- and two-seeded University of Houston and University of Texas in back-to-back games.

Miami was stopped in their tracks by the red-hot Huskies, who came away with a 72-59 win, their narrowest win of the tournament. UConn’s stingy defense led the way once again as they reached the title game for the first time since 2014, looking to add to their incredible 4-0 record in championship games.

UConn broke the game open by as many as 16 after a three-pointer from guard Joey Calcaterra with 3:19 remaining in the first half, going into the break with a comfortable 12-point lead. They kept a double-digit lead for much of the second half, going ahead by 15 after Calcaterra knocked down another huge three.

SDSU would not make it easy for the Huskies, quickly making it a six-point game with 7:40 left after a layup from guard Darrion Trammell. UConn stretched their lead back to nine after a free throw from Hawkins, which was quickly cut down to five in what looked to become a down-to-the-wire finish.

UConn’s crowd erupted as Hawkins, who was questionable to play due to food poisoning just two days before the championship, knocked down the biggest shot of the game to put them ahead by eight with just over five minutes to play.

SDSU’s crowd fell silent as the Huskies put the momentum right back in their favor, dominating the final minutes to come away with another win in the title game to move to 5-0 all-time. Hawkins tallied the last two points of the game on a pair of free throws to make it a 76-59 game, a score that held until the buzzer sounded as UConn celebrated their fifth championship in the last 25 years.

No team in the country has more than three titles in that span as they move into rarified air of the college basketball world, joining the University of Arizona in 1997 as the only teams to win the tournament as a number four seed.

Coach Hurley will be challenged to replace Hawkins who is projected to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft and could also see the departure of guard Andre Jackson Jr. UConn’s recruiting class is led by five-star recruit Stephon Castle, as well as Top 100 2023 high school graduates Solomon Ball and Jaylin Stewart to retool an already loaded roster.

When thinking of college basketball powerhouses, UConn may not be one of the first schools that come to mind, but their level of success and ability to win on the big stage cements them as one of the top programs in collegiate men’s basketball history.