Who won men’s March Madness?

UConn Huskies head coach Dan Hurley hoists the national championship trophy. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
UConn Huskies head coach Dan Hurley hoists the national championship trophy. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports) /

In a battle of No. 5 vs. No. 4 seeds, San Diego State and Connecticut delivered a thriller in Monday’s National Championship game. Read more to find out who won, and how they got here.

In 1999, the Connecticut Huskies made their National Championship debut. They’d go on to win their first title that year, defeating Duke. 23 years later, the Huskies repeated the feat, beating San Diego State Monday night for their fifth title.

Monday’s title tilt was an unlikely pairing of the Huskies and No. 5 seed San Diego State, who made their championship game debut.

UConn opened the season unranked. After a 14-0 start, Connecticut rose to as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll. They followed that up with a 2-6 record in their next eight games. By the end of the regular season though, UConn corrected course, winning five straight games. However, they lost in the Big East championship game to Marquette.

Since the start of college basketball’s postseason tournament, UConn has steamrolled through, looking less like the struggling team at the midseason point and more like a legitimate National Championship favorite.

The Huskies have led by at least 13 points in all four of their previous tournament games, winning by 23 over Arkansas and 33 against Gonzaga. Over the last two weeks prior to Monday, UConn’s defense has allowed just a 35% shooting clip.

San Diego State has taken a much different path to get here, one filled with nail-biting finishes instead of beatdowns. The Aztecs are the first team in tournament history to win both their Elite Eight and national semifinal games by a point apiece.

Thanks to Lamont Butler’s last-second heroics on Saturday night, SDSU narrowly escaped fellow upstart Florida Atlantic to reach the National Championship game. This March Madness has seen Brian Dutcher’s squad reach the Elite Eight, Final Four and now championship – all program firsts.

Who won men’s March Madness? The UConn Huskies prevailed

“We probably should be up by 20.”

And they very nearly were. In front of a crowd of 72,423 at NRG Stadium, UConn blitzed San Diego State in the 20 minutes of Monday’s game. At one point in the first half, Connecticut was shooting just shy of 65%, using a 30-10 run to open up a 17-point lead.

To make matters worse for the Aztecs, SDSU simply couldn’t make shots. At the 2:55 mark of the opening stanza, San Diego State had missed 16 of their 18 prior shots and were shooting 26%. As Kyle Tucker of The Athletic pointed out, SDSU overcame a double-digit deficit over FAU, but UConn is not FAU.

Despite the Aztecs’ goal of “six by ten” aka cut the lead to six by the 10-minute mark, the second half wasn’t much better for San Diego State, picking up their 11th turnover minutes into the second half. At that same juncture, they’d only logged three assists, and had as many made field goals as turnovers.

Yet, it was hard to believe San Diego State would just lie down. And right on cue, the Aztecs flipped the switch. With under 10 minutes left, SDSU used a 9-0 scoring run to cut the gap down to six, the closest they’d been since the early first half.

Monday morning, I wrote about Rocky and the underdog. Monday night was reminiscent of Balboa and Apollo Creed’s climactic fight. When San Diego State punched with its 9-0, the Huskies counterpunched. Jordan Hawkins drilled a catch-and-shoot three-pointer to push the lead back to eight.

In Sunday’s women’s National Championship game, LSU rode the heroics of unsung hero Jasmine Carson to a victory. Connecticut received a similar big-game performance from an unlikely place: East Carolina transfer Tristan Newton. Newton single-handedly put the Aztecs away, ripping off 17 points with 10 rebounds.

As valiant of a fight the Aztecs put up, it was not enough to overcome the UConn onslaught. UConn won all six games this postseason by an average of 20.0 points, trailing for only 47-combined seconds in the final three games and just over 5 minutes total for the whole tournament.

Only four other teams have won every NCAA Tournament game by double-digits en route to a National Title: Michigan State in 2000, Duke in 2001, North Carolina in 2009 and Villanova in 2018.

The Huskies path to a National Championship

With its win Monday night, Connecticut improves to 5-0 in National Championship games and Dan Hurley becomes the third-straight UConn head coach to win a title during their tenure.

Recently, I’ve been watching a ton of Law & Order. I’ve watched a lot of fictitious criminal trials in the last few weeks. A different kind of real-life trial was fixed on my TV screen Monday: that of Connecticut’s status as a blue blood.

UConn’s championship victory gives them five titles, all since 1999. That’s two more than any other team during that span. They now find themselves in rarefied air, joining UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Indiana as the only programs with at least five.
However, in the last 25 years, the Huskies have also failed to reach the second weekend 15 times.

UConn entered NRG Stadium in Houston fresh off back-to-back thrashings of Gonzaga and Arkansas, holding the ‘Zags to a season-low 54 points in the Elite Eight. Saturday’s Final Four matchup with Miami (FL) was much of the same, a 13-point win to advance to Monday’s final.

The fact is, this Huskies run is one of the most dominant of all time.

Connecticut rolled Iona in the opening round by 24. They beat St. Mary’s by 15 and won by 20+ in back-to-back games over Arkansas and Gonzaga. Their average margin of victory this tournament ranks as the third-highest in postseason history, behind 1996’s Kentucky team (21.5) and Villanova in 2016 (20.7).

Depth has been key to UConn’s resurgence this year, and turnaround entering March. “Last year the lack of depth caught up,” Dan Hurley said earlier this week. “We’re able to play at a pretty relentless fashion.”

Yet, it was the stars who stepped up Monday night. Adama Sonogo chipped in another double-double against the Aztecs, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds, all while claiming Most Outstanding Player honors.

“I’m not here without that special group of coaches and players, but I’m probably also not here if I didn’t have to deal with that adversity,” Hurley said postgame. “And if I didn’t have tough people that raised me, like a tough older brother who prepared me for all the adversity you have to face in life and battle back from.”

Some of that adversity came early in Hurley’s career traipsing the UConn sidelines. The Huskies closed out his first season under-.500. Each of the past two seasons, the Huskies fell far short of their own expectations, bowing out in the first round.

None of that matters now. Now, Connecticut is center of the men’s college basketball world.

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