Connecticut’s victory gives us the NCAA championship game nobody expected

·3 min read
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

The winning margin of Connecticut’s 72-59 triumph over Miami in the national semifinal Saturday didn’t reach the Huskies’ average during the NCAA Tournament.

But this one was rarely in doubt. Connecticut never trailed, led by as many as 20, and fans could start thinking about a national championship match with San Diego State well before the final buzzer.

UConn had defeated its first four NCAA opponents by an average of 22 points, combining offensive efficiency with defensive length and quickness.

“We played to our identity,” Connecticut coach Dan Hurley said..

So it was against the Hurricanes. The first seven minutes told the story. UConn jumped to a 10-point lead in that time. Miami tied the score at 19-19, but the Huskies took off again.

Connecticut will bid for the fifth NCAA title in school history, all since 1999. The fourth-seed Huskies and No. 5 seed Aztecs will tip off at 7:49 p.m. (CBS).

“We’ve been striving for five for a while,” Hurley said.

The tournament is assured of having its highest seeding champion since UConn, a No. 7 seed in 2014, won its most recent title.

Here are takeaways from Saturday’s national semifinal:

A chill in Miami

Connecticut threw a blanket over Miami shooters, especially in the first half. One of the nation’s top offensive teams, the Hurricanes went a dreadful 9-for-36 in the first half, with ACC player of the year Isaiah Wong missing five of six.

Miami didn’t put the ball in the basket until about seven minutes had expired. Their only bucket until then was a goaltending call.

The Hurricanes delivered some spurts to keep the margin from spiraling like it has in some Connecticut victories, but it was nowhere near enough.

In its previous three games, Miami scored at least 85 points.

Guard Nijel Pack, who scored 26 in the Sweet 16 victory over top-seed Houston and was named the named the Midwest Regional’s most outstanding player, finished with eight points.

“I love the way we guarded them,” Hurley said. “They have one of the best offenses in the country and we really disrupted them. I thought we body-blowed them until we could knock them out.”

Miami, playing in its first Final Four after reaching the Elite Eight a year ago, finishes its most successful season at 29-8.

“We’ve been on a magic carpet ride with these young men,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said.

A healthier Hawkins

UConn received good news Saturday afternoon when it learned guard Jordan Hawkins would be fit enough to play. Hawkins had missed the previous two days of practice with a stomach flu and had been isolated from his teammates.

But as if by design, Hawkins attempted and buried the Huskies’ first shot, a three-pointer.

“I was fine,” Hawkins said. “Nothing to be concerned about there.”

If that didn’t put a smile on the faces of UConn fans, the next two baskets did. They came from burly forward Adama Sanogo, from behind the three-point stripe.

Sanogo had attempted 49 three-pointers this season entering the game. His 21 points and 10 rebounds topped the Huskies.

“Obviously what we tried to do (against Sanogo) not only didn’t work, I didn’t recognize it,” Larranaga said.