30-Point Victory Over SDSU in Rematch Propels UConn Into the Elite Eight

For the last two seasons, UConn has adopted a mocking catchphrase: “The Huskies can’t win close games.”

It’s not that they can’t win games with one or two possessions; it’s just that Dan Hurley’s squad rarely wins in the closing minutes. The Huskies earlier this season broke the record for the most straight wins by double digits in nonconference play. Their scoring margin is the highest in the country.

And UConn left another inscription on Thursday. In a rematch for the national championship, the top-seeded Huskies easily defeated No. 5 San Diego State 82-52 to advance to the Elite Eight with the biggest margin of victory in a Sweet 16 game since 2017.

Hurley made a joke after the victory, saying, “We suck at winning close games, so you have to go with the alternative,”

UConn has fallen behind after three games in the NCAA tournament for a total of twenty-eight seconds. Of 60 possible second-half minutes, the Huskies have led by double digits for 58:27 of them. In their three games, they have won by an average of 28.7 points.

The Huskies have shifted into a different gear for a team whose path to the national championship game the previous year featured one of the all-time dominant performances—six wins by an average of 20 points.

“We just have people that just are desperate to win more,” Hurley stated. “We have winners. We have ‘we’ guys. We have also talked about legacy. … These guys right now are leaving a legacy in a place that’s hard to leave a legacy. It’s been a historical season in a tough place to make history. They’re galvanized by that. It’s special.”

At least in the first half of the match, San Diego State was able to maintain a competitive advantage over UConn’s first two opponents in the NCAA tournament. After taking an early lead, the Aztecs and the Huskies traded baskets for the majority of the first half. Jaedon LeDee, the team’s star big man, dominated Donovan Clingan in the interior, scoring 15 points in the first 20 minutes of play.

Nine minutes into the game, UConn led by eleven points. However, the Huskies shot just 4-for-22 the remainder of the half, and in the closing minutes of the first half, San Diego State cut the deficit to four points. However, a late 3-pointer by Cam Spencer and two free throws by him reduced the lead to nine.

After the break, UConn went on an 11-4 run to effectively put the game out of reach. On the other end, they were able to limit LeDee on the interior and get clean chances around the basket.

“He made three perimeter shots against Donovan out in space and then two broken-play buckets. Obviously he had 15 at the half,” , Hurley remarked. “To hold an All-American-caliber player like Jaedon to three points in the second half, I think we just — Donovan made it hard on him. Samson [Johnson] made it hard on him. Guys who were helping off the right people on the perimeter, just showed them a lot more bodies and played much better one-on-one defense. We’re a top-10 defensive team as well. So again, that’s the best way to keep yourself from being vulnerable in this tournament is by guarding at a high level.”

Although Clingan and Alex Karaban didn’t play their best, Huskies mainstays Spencer (18 points) and Tristen Newton (17 points) delivered their typical output, and rookie Stephon Castle (16 points and 11 rebounds) and guard Hassan Diarra (10 points and four assists) came off the bench to give the team a significant boost.

“I just saw that I kind of missed out on a couple of opportunities to kind of grab some offensive rebounds, kind of make some more plays for my teammates,” Castle stated. “The second half I just tried to make up for those and just try to do whatever I can to win my matchup and help my teammates.”

“The balance, basically, to have the four guys in double figures, two more guys with eight, we have a lot of answers,” Hurley stated.

In Saturday’s regional final, UConn will take on No. 3 Illinois, who defeated No. 2 Iowa State 72-69, in an attempt to advance to its second straight Final Four.

Since Florida in 2007, the Huskies have advanced further than any other current national champion.

Hurley stated, “This is just where our program is at right now,” “This is where our program is going to be.”