UConn beats Purdue and cruises to sixth NCAA championship

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There comes a moment in every dominant UConn NCAA Tournament victory when Dan Hurley finally relaxes. Two years in a row, 12 games in a row. It has become inevitable.

In the first four games of this year’s tournament, that happened early in the second half. Against Alabama, it took Tristen Newton’s 3 with 1:04 to play to put the game out of reach. Hurley looked at the UConn crowd and held up three fingers.

“Last year they said it was considered a fluke, so we changed our mindset and felt like we were the best in the country and we behaved like that,” Tristen Newton said from UConn. “So after winning every championship, like I said, our hunger grew and we knew this was the last one for the icing on the cake.”

And against Purdue in Monday night’s national championship game, that happened after Newton was fouled by Zach Edey on a jump shot with 3:50 left. The rebound came to Hurley, who bounced it three times with enthusiasm – and maybe even a hint of a smile.

He could finally relax: UConn’s place in history was cemented.

The Huskies beat Purdue 75-60, winning their second straight national championship and becoming the first team to win back-to-back since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

“Last year they said it was considered a fluke, so we changed our mindset and felt like we were the best in the country and we behaved like that,” Tristen Newton said from UConn. “So after winning every championship, like I said, our hunger grew and we knew this was the last one for the icing on the cake.”

And after one of the most dominant NCAA Tournaments in history last year, when UConn outscored its six opponents by 20.0 points per game, it was even more unbeatable this year. After Monday’s win, the Huskies’ average margin in their six wins was 23.3 points.

Once again, all six wins have been by double digits, making it 12 straight NCAA Tournament wins by at least 10 points dating back to last season.

UConn’s defensive game plan was clear from the start: defend Edey with Donovan Clingan, let him play one-on-one and make sure no one else on Purdue leaves. The numbers supported this strategy. In Purdue’s wins this season, Edey averaged 24.9 points. In Purdue’s losses, Edey averaged 25.0 points.

Simply put, Edey was going to get his production anyway.

But if the Boilermakers’ complementary players failed to provide any help for the reigning Wooden Award winner, UConn would win its second straight title.

As a result, the long-awaited battle between Edey and Clingan wasn’t much of a battle in the opening minutes of the match. Edey fired his first shot at Clingan, hitting the front rim. For the next 11 minutes, however, he did whatever he wanted against UConn’s projected top five NBA draft picks. He scored on Clingan, absorbed contact to finish by Clingan and even caught a lob and dunk against Clingan.

Purdue got the ball to Edey in good position and he scored at will.

“You can coach or play your entire career and never coach or play against someone of his stature,” Hurley said Sunday. “Really a giant player.”

After scoring his 13th and 14th points of the game with 8:07 left in the first half to give Purdue a two-point lead, he looked at the UConn bench then exchanged a few words with Hurley as the two teams came running back. to their respective groups during the under-eight media timeout.

Hurley was working with the officials, as he usually does, shouting “He never makes a mistake!” and “What was that?” after a few missed calls to Edey.

However, in the final eight minutes of the first half, Edey struggled and Purdue struggled. He scored just two points the rest of the opening period, with UConn opening a seven-point lead after an 11-2 run with 3:29 left.

Braden Smith, who failed to take care of the ball in Saturday’s Final Four win over NC State, scored five straight points to keep Purdue in the game when it looked like UConn was pulling itself apart. Smith had been very effective in the first 20 minutes using ball screens to get into the lane against UConn’s defense and then finding Edey for a basket or scoring himself.

Pressuring Smith with freshman Stephon Castle, who knocked out Northwestern’s Boo Buie and Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr. earlier in the NCAA tournament, was clearly a big part of D’s defensive game plan. ‘UConn, with Hurley constantly yelling at Castle to stay on Smith and turn up the heat on him.

“I think when you miss shots, you’re used to making them, you turn the ball over, you’re used to not doing it, I think that combination for Braden (against NC State) was really tough to fit in for him,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Sunday. “I think our team, our staff has done a good job of keeping him positive. He’s a big part of what we do. He runs the show for us.”

UConn’s early success came from its veteran backcourt of Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer. The Huskies were able to use high ball screens, dribble handoffs and pinch shots, which allowed their guards to catch the ball with momentum toward the basket. That forced Edey to drop toward his own basket, giving UConn’s guards some breathing room for runners and leaners in the lane.

The Huskies also managed to keep Purdue — the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country — from having any clear looks from the perimeter. The Boilermakers attempted just two 3-pointers in the first half, with Smith’s 3 coming as the shot clock ended the only shot.

They finished the game just 1 of 7 from behind the arc.

“Just the size of the guards, to have a 6-5 Tristen Newton, Steph Castle who is a 6-6, to be able to put him on a point guard or a wing scorer, any of those guy,” Hurley said Sunday. of its perimeter group. “It just affects the passing windows. I think for guards, whether it’s the ball screen game or the post feed. Obviously it also reduces the court for the opponent. It allows you to contesting the 3-point line in those spots. Even Karaban, who is 6-8, 6-9, he has great length at his position as well.”

A missed runner by Spencer in the final seconds of the first half kept the halftime score at 36-30.

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