Home News UConn advances to Elite Eight with 82-52 rout of San Diego State

UConn advances to Elite Eight with 82-52 rout of San Diego State


UConn advances to Elite Eight with 82-52 rout of San Diego State

BOSTON – Fueled by its backcourt, the UConn men’s basketball program is headed back to the Elite Eight after pulling away for an 82-52 win over 5-seed San Diego State in Boston’s sold-out TD Garden Thursday night.

Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle led the way in the national championship rematch, combining for 51 points as the reserves helped UConn grow its lead to as many as 32 late in the second half.

“We suck at winning close games, so go with the alternative,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “The group, we’ve got a killer instinct. We play every possession with great desperation, we’ve got NBA-level players that are incredibly well prepared by (assistants) Luke Murray and Kimani Young… And obviously we’re very comfortable in tournament play, we’re hard to prepare for.”

The win tied UConn’s record for wins in a season (34-3), which was set in 1999, when the program won its first national championship.

UConn, the first reigning national champion to make it past the Sweet 16 since Florida won back-to-back titles in 2007, has won nine consecutive NCAA Tournament games by an average of 22.8 points.

Newton reasserted his All-American status with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists while Spencer scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, adding five rebounds and three steals. Castle, the freshman, recorded his first double-double of the year with 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

Jaedon LeDee went shot-for-shot with the Huskies to start the game, but Newton ripped an offensive rebound away from him around the 14-minute mark and sparked a 12-2 run that was fueled by a pair of layups and a 3-pointer from Spencer.

LeDee finished with team-highs in points (18) and rebounds (eight).

Alex Karaban made two 3-pointers in the first four minutes, the second with his heel touching the center court logo, as UConn finished the first half with more made 3s (5-for-14) than it had for the entirety of the Round of 32 game against Northwestern (3-for-22). The Huskies finished the game 10-for-26 (38.5%) from beyond the arc while shooting 46.2% (30-for-65) from the field.

But UConn’s offense went quiet as it fed the ball inside to Donovan Clingan, looking to draw a third foul on LeDee but instead missing a series of shots at the rim.

“It was too tempting not to give him a couple of opportunities there. But that guy, sometimes it’s hard for a 7-foot-3 guy to score against a freak athlete who is super strong, who can kind of leverage them a little bit. He had that low leverage,” Hurley said.

UConn shot just 2-for-16 from the field over a seven-minute stretch and San Diego State got to within four before Spencer ended a three-minute scoring drought with a midrange jumper. Spencer scored UConn’s last seven points of the half to make it a 40-31 lead at the break.

Clingan went into the locker room at halftime with just two points (1-for-6) and three rebounds, taking a moment to clear his mind with a deep breath.

“Realized I had to go out there and dominate because my team needed me,” he said. “Once I got my groove back I feel like I defended at a high level.”

The Huskies’ big man scored six points on three shots and had five rebounds with a block in 10 second half minutes. He held LeDee to just three points on 1-for-8 from the field after the break.

Castle was the catalyst that helped the Huskies pull away. Using his physicality to dominate the glass on both ends, he scored six straight points to build a 16-point lead with less than 13 minutes to go.

“I just saw that I kind of missed out on a couple of opportunities to kind of grab some offensive rebounds, make some more plays for my teammates,” Castle said. “The second half I just tried to make up for those and just try to do whatever I can to win my matchup and help my teammates.”

Hassan Diarra came in to give Spencer a break and immediately made his mark, scoring all 10 of his points in the second half to go with four rebounds, four assists and a steal in 20 minutes played.

The Huskies finished the game with a 50-27 rebounding advantage, 21-10 on the offensive end.

Castle found Clingan (eight points, eight rebounds) for a dunk that knocked the Aztecs out as UConn’s lead grew to 21 with seven minutes to play.

UConn outscored San Diego State 42-21 in the second half and continued to build on its lead with the game in hand.

“With about 13 seconds left I allowed myself to enjoy it,” Hurley said. “As I screamed to get the ball to Andrew (Hurley’s) hands so he could dribble out the clock. That’s been another superstition: ‘Get him the ball, please.’”

UConn is now 13-6 in Sweet 16 games all-time and advances to the Elite Eight for the 13th time, where it holds a 6-6 record. The Huskies will meet the winner of 3-seed Illinois and 2-seed Iowa State on Saturday for a chance at the Final Four.

“The way the defending champs have fared in recent history, it’s kind of been against the odds in terms of the season we’re having, following up the national championship with an even better season. Winning the Big East regular season by multiple games and setting a program record now for wins on the season and winning the Big East Tournament and now getting to an Elite Eight,” Hurley said. “This team has defied what past champions have done and taken this program to a completely different level.”

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