Defending champion UConn downs Alabama, to face Purdue in final

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 07 Apr, 2024 at 04:52 AM

Credit: Cheryl Evans/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Connecticut basketball just keeps on rolling in Final Four games.

UConn won its fourth straight national semifinal game and improved to 11-1 all-time at the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, outlasting Alabama 86-72 to reach the national championship game.

The Huskies (36-3) will take on Purdue (34-4) on Monday night, as UConn looks to repeat as national champions. Purdue defeated North Carolina State 63-50 in the other semifinal on Saturday.

UConn has won 11 straight NCAA tournament games going back to last year, and its average margin of victory is 22 points in those games.

"The offense is super efficient. We're top four in defense. We rebound the heck out of the ball. We can bunch up stops and then we score a lot. You get stops, you score," UConn coach Dan Hurley said. "I think we've got a lot of confidence. There's a factor with teams now that they've seen us play, where we get on a run. I think it's disheartening for the other team because they've seen i. They've seen us do it a lot."

Freshman Stephon Castle led UConn with 21 points, and sophomore center Donovan Clingan added 18. There were six ties and seven lead changes, but the Huskies had too much firepower on offense, especially inside.

UConn had 38 points in the paint compared to Alabama's 26, outrebounded Alabama 37-29 and forced the Crimson Tide had to rely on 3-point shooting to stay close.

After the Tide's Grant Nelson hit a jumper to tie the score at 56 with 12:41 to play, UConn seemed to have had enough. The Huskies went on an 8-0 run and led by at least six the rest of the way.

Alabama (25-12) stayed close with 8 of 11 3-point shooting in the first half as UConn took a 44-40 lead into halftime. Do-it-all point guard Mark Sears scored 24 points for the game, and Nelson added 19 with 15 rebounds.

The Huskies, however, found offensive success down the stretch. On defense, Clingan blocked four shots, and the Huskies were able to make an adjustment and run the Crimson Tide away from the 3-point arc often in the second half.

Tristen Newton's 3-pointer with 1:04 to play gave UConn an 83-68 lead and effectively put the game away. Clingan had eight points in just under the final 7 1/2 minutes, including a pair of dunks that got the Huskies fans on their feet inside the home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

The announced attendance Saturday for the semifinals was 74,720.

"Our identity is to be pretty relentless," Hurley said. "We might not break you for 18 minutes, 25 minutes, but at some point if what we're doing at both ends and on the backboard is at a high level, it just becomes hard for the other team to sustain it."

Alabama took a 23-18 lead after trailing by five early in the game. Rylan Griffen hit a 3-pointer at the 11:09 mark for Alabama's biggest lead of the half.

UConn led by as many as seven points in the first half. Alex Karaban and Cam Spencer finished with 14 points apiece and Newton added 12 as the Huskies made 50 percent of their shots for the game.

Alabama coach Nate Oats had nothing but praise for both teams.

"We had an unbelievable run. Guys kind of got us over the hump to get there. So can't say enough about the leadership of these guys, particularly in the last few weeks," Oats said. "Unfortunate that it ended tonight, but we played arguably the best team in the country. I mean, UConn is top five in offense and defense.

"They're good. Like Danny (Hurley) says, they're close to being bulletproof."

--Jose M. Romero, Field Level Media