March Madness 2023: UConn destroys Gonzaga, returns to Final Four for first time since 2014

No. 4 seed UConn rumbled into the Final Four with an 82-54 victory over No. 3 seed Gonzaga in Elite Eight action on Saturday as the Huskies used a fast start to the second half to pull away from the Zags and capture the West Regional title. It marks the program's first Final Four appearance since 2014, and the performance served as a warning shot to the rest of the dwindling NCAA Tournament field over the type of threat that UConn poses.

UConn has won all four of its games in the Big Dance by 15 or more points while regaining the excellent form it enjoyed while rising to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll earlier this season. Saturday's performance was merely the latest example as the Huskies frustrated Gonzaga's high-powered offense all night and deployed a variety of their own offensive weapons. During one stretch in the second half, Gonzaga made just 1 of 17 field goal attempts.

In the 21st century, only Gonzaga in 2021 and UConn in 2004 have entered the Final Four with four straight 15+ point victories. The 2021 Zags lost to Baylor in the title game while the 2004 Huskies won it all.

UConn big man Adama Sanogo flirted with the NCAA Tournament's first triple-double since Murray State's Ja Morant did it in 2019. The Huskies' 6-foot-9 bruiser presented a matchup problem for Gonzaga, which frequently opted to bring double teams in the post. Sanogo showed deft passing touch by dispersing the ball to UConn's deep group of perimeter threats as the Huskies reached double-digit makes from 3-point range for just the third time this season.

Between UConn's 88-65 win over Arkansas and Saturday's result, the Huskies became the first team since Kentucky in 1996 to win their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games by 20 or more points. The Wildcats went on to win the title that season.

The 28-point defeat was Gonzaga's worst NCAA Tournament loss.

Three takeaways from UConn's win: 

1. A breakthrough win for Dan Hurley

A successful run at Rhode Island set up Dan Hurley, the son of basketball royalty, to be hired as the coach of one of the most iconic college basketball programs. Hurley famously noted early in his tenure that if there was a time to get the better of UConn it was right then, because the program was moving in a direction back to the championship-contending status that's so easily associated with Huskies basketball. 

UConn started the season 14-0 with 13 of those wins coming by double-digits and one of the opponents being the No. 1 overall seed in Alabama. Hurley said that the team's current form closely resembles the form of the team that's advancing in the tournament and competing for a national championship, providing a very high floor for this group. 

2. End of Timme's time at Gonzaga? 

Technically, Gonzaga legend Drew Timme has one year of eligibility left and and if he wants to capitalize on the extra year provided by the NCAA  there are going to be opportunities to cash in financially. Timme is a two-time All-American and the back-to-back West Coast Conference Player of the Year, but the way thing unfolded in the Elite Eight loss might leave some extra desire to take another run at the national championship. Timme's decision about his professional future weights heavily on the outlook of the immediate future of the tenure of Mark Few, who has established a new standard for expectation with eight straight Sweet 16 appearances. 

3. Historic Elite Eight blowout

The 28-point margin of victory is the largest in an Elite Eight game since 1992 (Cincinnati over Memphis by 31), but It also stands in opposition to the pregame expectations across the sport. UConn was favored, but by less than three points, and the point spread matched with consensus expectation that this might be one of the best games of the tournament. Instead we got a historic blowout, and more validation for the notion that UConn is on its way to follow the deep runs of 2011 and 2014 and wind up as national champions. 

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March 26, 2023, 3:42 AM
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March 26, 2023, 3:31 AM
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March 26, 2023, 3:09 AM

Goodnight, Gonzaga

It's 80-47 UConn at the under-four timeout. Jordan Hawkins is up to 20 points as the Huskies have reached double-digit 3-point makes for just the third time this season. Sanogo is still on the floor — surprisingly? — just four assists away from a triple-double. This will be a rough ending to Timme's career, if it turns out to be the end.

March 26, 2023, 3:04 AM

Lead up to 25

UConn is 11:31 away from reaching the Final Four as the Huskies have started pulling away from Gonzaga. The lead is up to 65-40 and even that is likely outside the realm of a Drew Timme-led comeback. The Huskies are sampling elite basketball at the right time and might have to be considered the favorites to win it all at this point. Adama Sanogo is just four assists away from a triple-double, but we'll see how much playing time be gets down the stretch if the margin stays this wide.

March 26, 2023, 2:43 AM

UConn rolling

The Huskies could make it 4 for 4 on double-digit victories in the NCAA Tournament if Gonzaga can't stage a rally. With Drew Timme benched due to four fouls, rallying won't be easy for the Zags, who are struggling to string stops together against UConn's dynamic offensive attack. Sanogo, Hawkins and Karaban are each in double figures for the Huskies and the Zags look a bit shell-shocked.

March 26, 2023, 2:29 AM

Drew Timme's fourth foul

At the 17:38 mark, Drew Timme has four fouls. He entered the half with just two, but a double-digit margin may be nearly impossible for the Zags to overcome without their star and senior leader on the floor. Mark Few may have no choice but to play him, but he will become a defensive liability if he's on the floor with four fouls for an extended period of the second half.

March 26, 2023, 2:23 AM

Fast start for Huskies

UConn just went on a 5-0 run to start the second half, extending the lead to 12 on a Sanogo jumper and a Jordan Hawkins 3-pointer. These guys can put up points in a hurry, and the Zags are just not equipped defensively to handle this matchup. Gonzaga has to start scoring in bunches — which is kind of its trademark — to make this a game in the second half.

March 26, 2023, 2:18 AM
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