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Connecticut keeps rolling, routs San Diego State to reach Elite Eight


BOSTON — It’s not supposed to be this simple. Disaster lurks around every corner of the NCAA Tournament, even for the biggest teams. The shots don’t land. The opposing star is playing the match of his life. The styles mix in reverse. These landmines also affect Connecticut. The Huskies just shrug and throw another beautiful pass to another dead-eyed shooter wrapping around another perfectly set screen. They just continue to roll over anything in their path.

“We’re terrible at winning close games,” Connecticut coach Dan Hurley said. “So you have to choose the alternative. »

A rematch of last year’s national championship game reaffirmed the separation between U-Conn. and the rest of college basketball. San Diego State flew over the country seeking revenge, and the Aztecs returned home, the latest casualty of the top-seeded Huskies’ blowout. Connecticut flattened them, 82-52, at TD Garden – aptly named “Storrs North” by Hurley – as point guard Cam Spencer led six Huskies who scored at least eight points with 18.

The Huskies have won nine straight tournament games by at least 13 points, by an average margin of 22.9. Having improved to 34-3, they have already become the first defending national champion to reach the Elite Eight since Florida in 2007. They are three wins away from becoming the first repeat winner since those Gators. Next up: the winner of the late Iowa State-Illinois game for a chance to make the program’s seventh Final Four, all in the last quarter-century.

Connecticut, which beat Stetson by 39 and led Northwestern by 30, knocked off a team that isn’t getting blown out. In each of their 10 losses this season, SDSU led or trailed by a single point at some point in the second half. The Aztecs had won seven straight tournament games against opponents other than Connecticut. U-Conn. led Thursday night by nine at halftime and by double digits for the final 17:26. The Huskies’ lead grew to 32 as both teams emptied their benches late.

“We’re just trying to win every media timeout,” Connecticut forward Alex Karaban said. “Over time, it adds up. We never go into a game saying, “We want to win by 20. We want to win by 30.” It’s impossible. There is no such thing as a 20-point shot. There is no such thing as a 30-point shot. We just want to go out there and break a team down minute by minute.

The Huskies’ unselfish offense, stifling defense, tenacious rebounding and overwhelming talent allow them to plug any holes that might appear. Connecticut eventually found a way to “systematically break” its opponent, in Hurley’s words.

“It feels like it came out of nowhere,” Connecticut center Donovan Clingan said. “Sometimes I don’t even realize the score, I look up and I’m like, ‘Oh.’ »

The Huskies have made themselves impervious to the vagaries of the NCAA tournament. They destroyed the northwest last weekend even while making only three three-pointers. They demolished San Diego State despite third-team all-American Jaedon LeDee’s 18 points, including 15 in a first half that remained relatively close until a late U-Conn. squirt.

Connecticut still dominated against its most dangerous opponent: complacency. The Huskies maintained a fierce advantage even as the uncompetitive wins piled up. They haven’t trailed beyond the first minute of the second half of the tournament in the last two years, and yet they remain relentless.

“It starts with the message and the mentality of Coach Hurley and Coach Hurley every day,” Karaban said. “We can never be complacent. It will really show in the locker room who is not hungry, who does not want more. We all want more.

“Realizing what’s at stake and understanding what’s happening in the end,” Clingan said. “We all came to U-Conn. to try to put another banner on the wall. Coach, with the way he pushes us in practice, we can never rest on our laurels. We really like to win.

Hurley talks openly about making his team “bulletproof.” He doesn’t mean they are invulnerable. But if the Huskies follow a formula, they have enough talent to overcome any gap in a game. A key ingredient is grain bounce. On Thursday night, Connecticut had 50 rebounds – 21 offensive – compared to 29 for SDSU.

The Huskies don’t need an outside edge, but they do have one in the East. Less than two hours from the Connecticut campus, TD Garden is filled with fans dressed in white. A roar punctuated every run in Connecticut. At one point in the first half, Spencer implored the crowd, who stood and roared. Fans then chanted “air ball” after the Aztecs’ Darrion Trammell whiffed a three-point basket.

The Huskies weren’t expecting another blowout Thursday night. Hurley has deep respect for San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher, one of the best defensive coaches in the country. As Dutcher walked down a hallway outside the Connecticut locker room, Hurley stopped him and kissed him. “You’re a beast,” Hurley told him.

Late in the second half, just before the Huskies’ lead reached 21, a defeated Aztecs fan blurted out to no one in particular: “U-Conn. It’s so fucking good! That could become the slogan of this NCAA Tournament, or even the coming era of college basketball.

“As a program, we don’t feel a lot of pressure,” Hurley said. “I know as a team that’s not the case. Because we believe that the position we are in now will be our level. And that we will be able to maintain it because we have the formula.


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