UConn’s Sweet 16 dominance could shake up NCAA Tournament

Four of the past five times UConn has earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, the program has advanced to at least the Final Four, bringing home a national championship to Storrs three times during that span.

Head coach Dan Hurley and Co. added yet another layer to that with a blowout win over Arkansas Thursday night in the Sweet 16.

UConn took a whopping 46-29 lead into halftime before continuing to dominate Arkansas in Las Vegas. In the end, the Razorbacks had absolutely no answer for the likes of guard Jordan Hawkins and leading scorer Adama Sanogo. The final score of 88-65 tells us this story in a big way.

Going up against an Arkansas team that was coming off two consecutive Elite 8 appearances and just defeated a top seed in that of Kansas, UConn showed that it was more than up to the task. Hawkins led the Huskies in scoring with 24 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The backcourt tandem of Tristen Newton and Andre Jackson combined for 14 assists.

Related: Ranking the eight Sweet 16 games

Don’t sleep on UConn in the West Region Final

uconn head coach dan hurley

Most of the talk leading up to the Sweet 16 had had to do with the upcoming Gonzaga and UCLA matchup inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. After all, the two west coast programs are just two years removed from partaking in one of the greatest Final Four games ever.

With that said, UConn is not going to be an easy out for either powerhouse program as a ticket is punched to Houston.

Hurley’s squad has defeated its first three NCAA Tournament opponents by a combined 62 points. That included a blowout win over a talented St. Mary’s team in the Round of 32.

Connecticut’s 3-4 record against top-25 teams this season is misleading. One of those wins came against the No. 1 team in the nation in that of Alabama back on Nov. 25. UConn took out the Crimson Tide in a neutral location by the score of 82-67.

Sanogo dropped 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Hawkins went for 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting. The interesting thing in that matchup is that Jackson came off the bench with Nahiem Alleyne starting.

For Dan Hurley and Co. this tournament has been a long time coming. He took over an embattled program back in 2018 from Huskies legend Kevin Ollie. The idea was to return UConn to national prominence after falling on hard times.

In fact, the Huskies had not won an NCAA Tournament game since back in 2015-16. Its past two trips to the Big Dance resulted in first-round exits for Hurley. Five years after taking the job, and it’s come full circle.

“We’ll begin by developing a championship culture. For me that centers around being the hardest-working, hardest-playing team in the country… And I’m excited to get back to building this thing into the championship program that everyone here deserves.”

Dan Hurley after being hired in 2018

The son of legendary high school basketball coach Bob Hurley, Dan did what it took to build this program from the bottom up. The idea is to return it to the significance of the early Ollie years and what we saw in Storrs under Basketball Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun.

What we’ve seen through the first three games of the NCAA Tournament from UConn just adds another layer to this. Simply put, don’t sleep on this team against either UCLA or Gonzaga when Saturday comes calling in Sin City.

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