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UConn Dismantles Miami, 1 Win Away from an All-Time Dominant Championship Run

UConn Dismantles Miami, 1 Win Away from an All-Time Dominant Championship Run

Connecticut's Dan Hurley and Adama Sanogo

Connecticut’s Dan Hurley and Adama SanogoJamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

HOUSTON — With Kemba Walker back in the building where he led the Connecticut Huskies to the 2011 men’s national championship, his alma mater took one more convincing step toward what would be its fifth title in the past quarter century, throttling the Miami Hurricanes by a final score of 72-59 in Saturday night’s Final Four showdown.

Throughout the 2023 men’s NCAA tournament, gigantic second-half runs by Miami had been a common theme. The Hurricanes finished their opener against Drake with a 16-1 flourish. They pulled away from both Indiana and Houston with big runs midway through the second half. They made an incredible second-half comeback against Texas. And they tried like heck to storm back from a 20-point second-half deficit against Connecticut, briefly getting the margin down to eight.

But as has also been a common theme in this tournament, yet another team drowned in UConn’s overwhelming depth.

Adama Sanogo was the player most commonly hurting Miami to the tune of 21 points and 10 rebounds—his third double-double of the tournament.

But it was just a relentless wave of Huskies that sent Miami packing. Eight different Connecticut players made multiple field goals in a 13-point win that wasn’t that close.

After starting the day questionable to play with a stomach bug, Jordan Hawkins repeatedly nauseated Miami fans with each of his trio of three-point buckets.

NCAA March Madness @MarchMadnessMBB

“Gutting it out… he’s such a warrior.”

Dan Hurley says Jordan Hawkins is giving his all despite battling an illness tonight 👏#MarchMadness @UConnMBB

Like he did in the previous round against Gonzaga, Alex Karaban hit a dagger triple right before halftime, eventually finishing with eight points and nine rebounds. And for a guy who finished with a modest four points, six rebounds and one block, Donovan Clingan was maybe the most impactful player on a minute-by-minute basis, which has often been the case this season from the dominant backup center.

Throw in a few Andre Jackson Jr. dunks, four buckets from Naheim Alleyne off the bench, a deep three from each of Tristen Newton and Joey Calcaterra and—most importantly—tenacious D, and it was just too much.

“It all starts with defense,” Hawkins said after the game. “On the defensive end we’ve been very elite.”

Very elite indeed.

Miami had just scored 89 points against Houston’s excellent defense and 88 points against a Texas defense that certainly had been excellent in the seven games leading up to the Elite Eight.

But the Hurricanes didn’t put up 88 points on Connecticut.

Heck, they wouldn’t have even gotten to 58 points were it not for UConn’s 12th man (Andrew Hurley) fouling Miami’s 12th man (Jakai Robinson) for a pair of garbage-time free throws at the end of a blowout.

“They really did a good job of sending two at you whenever we would drive,” said Miami’s Jordan Miller. “That bothered us again. Uncharacteristic of us, but all credit to them.”

Miami never led, and outside of a brief run midway through the first half, it never felt like the ‘Canes had much of a chance in this game.

When it comes to Connecticut facing non-Big East opponents, though, what else is new?

Connecticut's Andre Jackson Jr.

Connecticut’s Andre Jackson Jr.Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

For the first five weeks of this season, the Huskies were a runaway freight train, winning their 11 nonconference games by an average of 26.5 points. That even included a 15-point, neutral-site victory over Alabama—aka the No. 1 overall seed in this tournament.

Incredibly, they never spent a week at No. 1 in the AP poll, but by mid-December, the Huskies were pretty much everyone’s pick to win it all. And since losing to Marquette in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, they sure have gotten back into that habit of perpetually demoralizing their would-be competition.

“We were just all over our identity today,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “When we’re playing harder than the other team—which is our calling card—going, like, plus-nine on the glass, playing elite defense and having a lot of answers on offense, there’s nowhere we’re weak as a team.”

Connecticut has won each of its first five games of this run by at least 13 points, steamrolling its way to a title game by a cumulative margin of 103 points.

Unless Monday’s game against San Diego State gets all sorts of ugly, the Huskies aren’t going to break 1996 Kentucky’s record of winning its six games by a combined total of 129 points.

But one could argue that this run that started with a blowout win over a team coached by Rick Pitino has been even more impressive than the one made by Pitino’s Wildcats of 27 years ago.

Because if the game against San Diego State gets at least a little bit ugly, here’s a fun factoid: Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no national champion has won each of its six games by at least 13 points.

2000 Michigan State, 2001 Duke, 2009 North Carolina and 2018 Villanova did each win each of its six games by double digits. However, 13-plus for six straight games has never been done.

Until Monday?

Kerry Miller covers men’s college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.

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