UConn's stifling D meets Alabama's torrid offense in Final Four

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 05 Apr, 2024 at 09:30 PM

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- UConn is two games away from back-to-back NCAA men's basketball championships, and the Huskies have history on their side as they prepare to face Alabama in the second national semifinal Saturday night.

UConn (35-3), the top-ranked team in the nation, is 10-1 in Final Four and championship games all-time. No program has a better mark. The Huskies own a 69-32 record in the NCAA Tournament, and they won both their meetings with the Crimson Tide.

UConn is in its seventh Final Four after dominating its four opponents in the NCAA Tournament. In wins over Stetson, Northwestern, San Diego State and Illinois, the Huskies won by an average of 27.8 points per game.

Donovan Clingan was named East Region Most Outstanding Player after the 7-foot-2 center averaged 15.8 points and 10 rebounds.

The Huskies overcame lengthy delays flying in from the East Coast and had to modify their planned schedule Thursday, when all four teams practiced for the first time since getting to Arizona.

"Who doesn't deal with problems with the airlines?" coach Dan Hurley said. "I mean, people deal with it during the holidays. It's something that you've just got to get through. But it sucked."

While all five of UConn's starters average in double figures, led by Tristen Newton (15.0 points per game) and Cam Spencer (14.4 ppg), the Huskies can be just as dangerous on defense. The Huskies haven't allowed more than 58 points to an opponent since March 15.

In their Elite Eight win over Illinois, the Huskies went on a 30-0 run by not allowing a point for more than 9 1/2 minutes of game time spanning the halves.

"If we play elite offense, elite defense and beat you on the backboard, we're tough to beat," said Hurley, who was named the Big East Coach of the Year in his sixth season at the helm.

Alabama (25-11) is in its first Final Four, and the Crimson Tide have also played strong defense to get to within two wins of a national championship. Alabama leads all NCAA Tournament teams in blocked shots per game with six, and tournament opponents have made only 32 of 111 3-point shot attempts against the Tide (28.8 percent).

Coach Nate Oats is 8-3 in tournament games at Alabama, after the program won just six in the 24 seasons before Oats took over.

"I like where our guys' heads are at. Obviously we're big underdogs, we know that," Oats said Friday before Alabama took the court for the public practice attended by scores of fans. "UConn is very good. They've been running through the competition. But I don't think our guys are scared. I think our guys are confident in their abilities."

Alabama's floor leader is point guard Mark Sears, whose 21.5 points per game power a Crimson Tide offense that leads the nation in points per game (90.6). Alabama has scored 100 or more points in 10 games this season.

Sears is shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range this season. His 25 games with 20 or more points set the program record.

--By Jose M. Romero, Field Level Media