UConn survives San Diego State in NCAA Tournament title game for fifth national championship


HOUSTON — If there was any debate about belonging among the elite men’s basketball programs, UConn effectively ended it Monday night.

The Huskies belong.

The fourth-seeded Huskies took their place among the most elite men’s basketball programs after they dominated No. 5 seed San Diego State during the NCAA Tournament Men’s Basketball national championship game, winning 76-59 at Houston’s NRG Stadium to claim their fifth national title.

UConn (31-8) is now a perfect 5-for-5 in national championship games. No program has won more national titles since UConn won its first in 1999. The Huskies are now tied with Duke for most national titles won since 1985.

“Means a lot,” said UConn senior guard Tristen Newton. “Great credit to the coaches and my teammates. The vision we had when I came here was to win a national championship, get to the Final Four and win a national championship. And I came here just to do that. And just real blessed and thankful for these guys around me.”

UConn was unranked to begin the season

UConn did it during a season when few saw this coming from a team that began the campaign unranked and then went through a difficult January. But once the Huskies reached the NCAA Tournament they were clearly the best in the field.

“I’m just mostly proud of the way we’ve done it and with the type of people that we’ve done it, the way we recruit young players, develop young players,” said Huskies coach Dan Hurley, who hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game with UConn prior to making this six-game run. “We do it without cheating. We do it without lying.

“It’s truly been building a program and a culture. I’m lucky I have the best coaching staff in the country that attracts these incredible types of players.”

The Huskies dominated San Diego State (32-7) for much of Monday night, although the scrappy Aztecs did make it interesting for a stretch late in the second half with Keshad Johnson, Lamont Butler and Darrion Trammell all coming up with big baskets to trim the deficit to 60-55.

Adama Sanogo comes up big


But the Huskies, led by Tristen Newton and Adama Sanogo, settled back down and regained their double-digit lead. Newton led UConn with 19 points, Jordan Hawkins contributed 16, but it was Sanogo who was the difference maker as he had been the entire tournament, coming through 17 points and 10 rebounds to cement his place among the elite players to come through UConn.

“He’s obviously cemented himself into the pantheon of greatest, obviously, the greatest big guys with all the production and back-to-back First Team All-League,” Hurley said of Sanogo. “And now this, to have the national championship just puts him in a position in one of the most storied programs in college basketball. He’s an all-time great.”

Johnson paced the Aztecs with 14 points while Butler and Trammell scored 13 points apiece. UConn came away with even more respect for San Diego State than they had before the championship game.

“Coming into the game, we knew San Diego State was a good team,” said Sanogo. “We were not surprised about their run. We knew they could make a run. We took a timeout and wanted to make sure they didn’t do the same things again.”

UConn, which last won a national championship in 2014, won in Houston for the second time after cutting down the nets here in 2011.

After an impressive start, Monday night’s game started to get away from the Aztecs early as UConn applied tremendous defensive pressure for which they had no answer. San Diego State was held to just 28 percent shooting from the field in the first half while committing nine turnovers while the Huskies converted 50 percent from the field and took a 36-24 lead into halftime.

The Huskies, who led by as many as 16 points in the first half, received big first-half performances from Newton along with Sanogo and Hawkins. Newton led the way with nine points and Sanogo and Hawkins both added seven points each.

San Diego State led by four points briefly early in the first half but then went cold from the field. The Aztecs went nearly 11 minutes without converting a field goal during that time, and as a consequence, they saw their 10-6 lead morph into an 11-point deficit against UConn’s stout defense.

The loss ended an improbable run for the Aztecs, who knocked off No.1 overall Alabama and Creighton to make it to The Final Four. Had the veteran-led Aztecs won, it would have been a first for their program and for the Mountain West.

“I’m proud of our guys,” said SDSU coach Brian Dutcher. “These guys have given me everything they had.”

Terrance Harris covers college basketball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @TerranceHarris.

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