UConn becomes 1st back-to-back champ in 17 years

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A basketball beatdown. A coaching clinic. A double-digit domination.

Take one guess who finished off a romp through college basketball again. You bet, it’s UConn — a program built to win now, and often, and by a lot every time the Huskies take the court.

UConn delivered the latest of its suffocating hoops performances Monday night, smothering Purdue for a 75-60 victory to become the first team since 2007 to capture back-to-back national championships.

Tristen Newton scored 20 points for the Huskies, who won their 12th straight March Madness game — not a single one of them decided by fewer than 13 points.

UConn was efficient on offense but won this with defense. The Huskies (37-3) limited the country’s second-best 3-point shooting team to a mere seven shots behind the arc and only a single make, while happily allowing 7-foot-4 AP Player of the Year Zach Edey to go for 37 points on 25 shot attempts.

UConn won its sixth overall title and joined the 2006-07 Florida Gators and the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils as just the third team to repeat since John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty of the 1960s and ’70s.

“Can’t even wrap your mind around it,” coach Dan Hurley said. “You just know how hard this tournament is.”

But is it?

The 2024 Huskies are the sixth team to win all six tournament games by double-digit margins. They won those games by a grand total of 140 points, blowing past the 1996 Kentucky team, which won its six by 129.

In a matchup of two top seeds, they wore down the Boilermakers (34-5), who made it this far a year after becoming just the second No. 1 seed in the history of March Madness to fall in the first round. But Purdue left the same way it came — still looking for the program’s first NCAA title.

In what was supposed to be a free-for-all in this new age of the transfer portal and name, image and likeness deals, UConn has figured out how to dominate.

“We just recruit really talented NBA players that are willing to not make it about themselves, and to be part of a winning group, to go for all the championships,” Hurley said.

Cam Spencer, a transfer from Rutgers, Stephon Castle, a blue-chip freshman, and Alex Karaban, a sophomore from last year’s team, spent the night guarding the 3-point line and making life miserable for Purdue’s guards.

“They just made a decision — we can defend the perimeter, and we can take this away from you, you’re going to get the ball to your best player, he’ll be 1-on-1, and that’s that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They were going to live with that.”

This was only the second time this season Purdue didn’t put up 10 3-point attempts, and how ’bout this final score: Edey 37, the rest of the Boilermakers 23.

How serious was Hurley about defending the perimeter? When Braden Smith wiggled loose for a semi-open look to make Purdue’s first 3 of the game with 2:17 left in the first half, the coach bolted onto the floor and called timeout.

And that was that from behind the arc.

With his Xs-and-Os masterpiece, Hurley joins former Florida coach Billy Donovan in the back-to-back club, and is in company with Bill Self and Rick Pitino as only the third active coach with two championships.

Nobody will say the UConn coach didn’t work for this one. In the first half, he begged with, swore at generally berated the refs about over-the-backs, elbows and hip checks that weren’t called.

Once, when that didn’t work after Edey set a hard (and probably legal) pick against Castle, Hurley started in on Edey himself as the center walked toward the Purdue bench for a timeout.

But the coach’s best work came in whatever hotel room he used to draw up the game plan. How did he deliver it to the Huskies?

“The message was that we were the best team in the country,” Hurley said. “Purdue was clearly the second-best team in the country. Play to our identity, be who we’ve been the whole year, and we’ll be champions.”

It’s no slight on Edey, who battled gamely, finishing with 10 rebounds to record his 30th double-double of the season. But this game proved the number crunchers right. UConn let Edey back in and back down all night on 7-2 Donovan Clingan, giving up difficult 2s in the post in exchange for any 3s.

Meanwhile, as the big fella started wearing down, the Huskies took the ball right at him. Castle finished with 15 points and both Spencer and Clingan had 11. UConn made a modest six 3-pointers, which was right at its season average.


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness