The UConn men’s basketball team is heading to the Elite Eight for a second straight year after defeating the San Diego State Aztecs 82-52 last night at the TD Garden in Boston.

The game was a matchup of last year’s national championship game, where the Huskies beat the Aztecs 76-59 to win their fifth national championship in program history. Only two starters from last year’s championship team, Alex Karaban and Tristen Newton, were in UConn’s starting lineup last night. 

The game started tight as both teams exchanged scoring, resulting in a 10-10 score with four minutes into the game. The Huskies then went on a 17-8 run over the next five minutes to bring the score to 27-18 with 10:30 left in the first half. Cam Spencer, the sharp-shooting graduate transfer from Rutgers, was the driving force during this stretch, scoring eight points during that stretch. Spencer would finish the game as UConn’s leading scorer with 18 points, 16 of those coming during the first half.

But the rest of the first half was a different story, as the Huskies went on a cold stretch over the remaining 10 minutes by going 4/18 from the field. This stretch also featured multiple turnovers committed by UConn, which SDSU capitalized on to bring the score to 33-29 near the end of the half. But Spencer clutched up in the last three minutes by adding another seven points to bring the halftime score to 40-31 in favor of UConn. 

After an inconsistent first half, the Huskies stormed out the gate in the second half, racing to a 53-39 lead in the first eight minutes. It was a balanced effort on both ends of the court, with freshman phenom Stephon Castle adding eight points in this stretch, punctuating it with a powerful dunk. Castle would finish the game with 16 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double. The versatile guard has been a significant piece of UConn’s postseason run this year, averaging 12.3 points with 56% shooting from the field. 

The highlight of the second half was when Hassan Diarra scored seven points in two minutes to make the score 62-44 with 9:30 left, the largest lead of the night at that point. Diarra, the 2024 Big East 6th Man of the Year, has been a major X-factor for the Huskies this season, and has played himself into a starting role on the team next year if he exercises his eligibility option for the 2024-25 season.

UConn spent the last nine minutes of the game running up the score to a 30-point margin, highlighted by back-to-back dunks by Donovan Clingan. The Bristol, Conn. native had a quiet night offensively compared to his last two postseason games, putting up only eight points, but still made his presence known on defense. 

Simply put, UConn dominated SDSU in every facet last night. UConn shot 46.2% from the field, 38.5% from the three-point line and 75% from the foul line, compared to 36.2%, 22.7% and 50% shooting from the Aztecs, respectively. The Huskies also significantly outrebounded SDSU 50-29. 21 of UConn’s rebounds were offensive rebounds, which made a huge difference in the game to give UConn multiple opportunities for second-chance baskets. 

The 30-point victory was the team’s third straight double digit win in this year’s tournament, with an average margin of victory of 28.6 points. They have now won nine straight postseason games since last year with an average 22.8 point margin. What’s even more impressive is that in three games this year, the Huskies have only trailed for a total of 28 seconds. UConn is on an absolute tear right now and continues to cement themselves as the favorites to win it all again.

When asked about this dominant streak at the post-game press conference, head coach Dan Hurley joked that “We suck at winning close games, so you have to go with the alternative.” 

UConn will face off against Illinois tonight in Boston to determine who will go to the Final Four from the East bracket. Tipoff is set for 6:09 p.m. and the game will be aired on TBS. 

Stephon Castle with exclamation dunk in second half. Photo via Getty Images.

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