COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Defending Champ UConn Returns To NCAA Title Game, Beating Alabama 86-72

Apr 6, 2024, 9:40 PM

UConn Huskies Alabama Crimson Tide NCAA Title Game...

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - APRIL 06: Donovan Clingan #32 of the Connecticut Huskies dunks the ball in the second half against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game at State Farm Stadium on April 06, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — UConn kept its bid to repeat as national champion intact by surviving its first true test of the NCAA Tournament, getting 21 points from freshman Stephon Castle while clamping down defensively in the second half of an 86-72 win over Alabama in the Final Four on Saturday night.

The top-seeded Huskies (36-3) had put on a March Madness show before arriving in the desert, a stretch that included a 30-0 run in a decimation of Illinois in the Elite Eight.

This was more of a slow burn, with UConn withstanding an early wave of 3-pointers before holding the Crimson Tide (25-12) without a field goal during a five-minute second-half stretch.

Next up for the Huskies will be what should be a much more physical test against 7-foot-4, 300-pound Zach Edey and Purdue in Monday’s national championship game. UConn has its own accomplished big man in 7-2 Donovan Clingan, who finished with 18 points and four blocked shots.

“A battle of the giants. I think it’s just great for college basketball. Us and Purdue have clearly been the two best teams in the country the last two years,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “I think it’s just great for college basketball to get the two big dogs playing on Monday.”

Survive that matchup, and UConn will be the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006-07.

“It feels good, but the job’s not done yet,” Clingan said

The Huskies’ Final Four win certainly wasn’t as easy as the final score indicated.

Are you on Threads yet? Let’s connect, give us a follow @kslsports

Alabama held its own in the program’s first Final Four appearance, going toe to toe with a team that trailed 28 total seconds in its first four NCAA Tournament games.

Crafty point guard Mark Sears did his best to keep Alabama in it, scoring 24 points. Grant Nelson had another big game in March Madness, finishing with 19 points, 15 rebounds and one highlight-reel dunk over Clingan.

Even that wasn’t enough against a UConn team that’s among the most efficient at both ends of the floor.

The Huskies spent the tournament’s first two weeks terrorizing opponents to the tune of a 27.8-point average margin of victory.

Alabama stuck a stick in the spokes of the juggernaut by pulling Clingan away from the basket and burying 3-pointers.

Clingan had two early blocks and looked ready to duplicate his Elite Eight performance, when Illinois went 0 for 19 on shots he contested.

Once the Crimson Tide started forcing Clingan into high pick-and-rolls, lanes to the basket starting opening up — as did the 3-point line.

Alabama thrived from 3 all season, taking down Clemson in the Elite Eight by making 16 shots from deep. The Tide kept it rolling against UConn, making 8 of 11 in the first half while Sears repeatedly got to the rim, putting the Huskies seemingly right where they wanted them.

Nope.

The Huskies kept their composure amid the Alabama 3-point barrage, calmly ran their offense and led 44-40 at halftime.

UConn kept rolling in the second half and Nelson kept the Tide within reach. His thunderous dunk over Clingan had Tide coach Nate Oats screaming and squatting like he was doing the Haka.

Oats’ friend Hurley had the last laugh — or scream.

Hurley has built UConn in arguably the best two-way team of a generation, and the Huskies showed off both sides in their closing flourish.

UConn shut down Alabama’s open looks from the 3-point arc and started getting the ball into Clingan, who overpowered the Tide when he got near the rim.

The Huskies gradually stretched the lead, pushed the Tide back every time they made a run and put themselves in position to make history Monday night.

Want more coverage like UConn Huskies make NCAA Title game? Take us with you, wherever you go.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

College Basketball

Chamberlain Burgess, BYU Basketball, Offer...

Mitch Harper

BYU Basketball Offers Orem High’s Chamberlain Burgess

BYU basketball offers a forward prospect from Utah County.

5 days ago

Isaac-Johnson-Utah-State-Aggies...

Brian Preece

Jerrod Calhoun To Lead Utah State Basketball On European Tour

First-year head coach Jerrod Calhoun and the Aggies will play teams from across Europe on a tour that spans August 9-19.

7 days ago

utah state guard mason falslev...

Brian Preece

Utah State Guard Mason Falslev Named One Of Nation’s Top Sophomores

Mason Falslev has been a Utah State fan favorite since debuting as a redshirt freshman for the MW regular season champs in November 2023. 

8 days ago

louie-sakoda-high-fives-fans-after-2009-sugar-bowl-win-over-alabama...

Michelle Bodkin

Utah To Add Six Former Utes To 2024 Crimson Club Hall Of Fame Class

The 2024 Crimson Club Hall of Fame class is set and features six former Utah athletes from six different sports.

14 days ago

Jerry-Bovee-USU-Aggies...

Kyle Ireland

Ex-USU Deputy Athletic Director Jerry Bovee Responds After Termination By Aggies

Former Utah State deputy athletic director Jerry Bovee issued a statement in response to his termination by the university.

15 days ago

darius brown II utah state...

Brian Preece

Utah State’s Darius Brown II Inks Exhibit 10 Deal With Cleveland Cavaliers

After a single sensational season in Logan, former USU guard Darius Brown II has signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

24 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

KSL Sports

Utah Hockey Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Want to get the latest info on Utah's newest sports franchise? Sign up for the Utah Hockey newsletter!

ksl-sports-newsletter...

KSL Sports

KSL Sports Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the KSL Sports newsletter. Get the latest Utah sports news delivered to your inbox.

...

KSL Sports

Jazz Notes Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the Jazz Notes newsletter. Get insider analysis, game recaps and opportunities to win tickets!

3 kids wearing real salt lake jerseys smiling...

Real Salt Lake

6 Reasons You Need to Experience a RSL Matchday

RSL Games are a great way to spend time with your family with fun activities, good food, and traditions you can only experience at the field.

High angle view of the beautiful Rose Bowl Stadium...

KSL Digital Sales

How to Prepare for the 2023 Rose Bowl

Everything you need to know to plan your 2023 Rose Bowl trip in Pasadena, California. This year, the Utes will face Penn State.

Jordan-Clarkson-Utah-Jazz...

KSL Digital Sales

Notable Moments From The Utah Jazz Season… So Far

At the beginning of the season, the Utah Jazz were second to last. Now they rank in the top 10 teams in the Western Conference.

Defending Champ UConn Returns To NCAA Title Game, Beating Alabama 86-72