What seemed inevitable became reality Monday night at NRG Stadium as UConn completed its dominant march to the top of college basketball with a 76-59 win over San Diego State in the national championship game. The No. 4 seed Huskies earned their fifth title in program history by suffocating the No. 5 seed Aztecs' offense and systematically finding good looks against SDSU's typically strong defense.
In the end, they were required to hold off a vigorous San Diego State rally in the second half in what amounted to the toughest challenge the Huskies faced in the Big Dance.
The win draws UConn even with Duke and Indiana in a tie for fourth place in the race for most titles in men's college basketball history. All of the Huskies' championships have come in the past 25 years, extending UConn's edge as the most-decorated program of the past quarter-century.
Over that span, the Huskies have now won titles with three different coaches as Dan Hurley joined predecessors Kevin Ollie and Jim Calhoun in taking UConn to the sport's zenith. Eight players from the roster he constructed following last season's first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament were part of Monday's rotation, and each of them scored in the first half alone as the Huskies built an early 16-point lead.
San Diego State used several big runs late in the second half to cut UConn's lead down to as little as five points. But UConn responded at every turn and flipped a switch when its lead fell to 60-55, rattling off a 9-0 run to put the game out of reach.
Here are three takeaways as UConn is back atop the college basketball mountain.
1. UConn shows its mettle
San Diego State came out of the gates hot on Monday and immediately put UConn on its heels, but UConn responded to go up 12 at halftime. The Aztecs mounted a big run late to cut the lead to five points, but each time UConn was seemingly cornered and facing the heat, it responded with resounding excellency, including an impressive 9-0 run fueled by a Jordan Hawkins 3-pointer after SDSU chopped its deficit to five points.
"Coach drew something up for me, so I knew he trusted me to take that shot," said Hawkins. "I had the easy part. All credit to my teammates for getting me open and for coach in trusting me."
2. SDSU fights to the end
Championship-level resiliency would not have been required of UConn on Monday if San Diego State did not demand it. SDSU trailed big for much of the second half and could not consistently string together good-enough offense to pull off the upset, but it had big stretches where it made the Huskies work for it. UConn's length and size disrupted the Aztecs' rhythm in a big way -- they finished 3-of-10 shooting on layups -- but to close the deficit to five late despite all its struggles speaks to the fortitude this team has played with all season.
"They were great offensively," said SDSU coach Brian Dutcher. "Eventually, they made a timely basket or two, we didn't. Their length bothered us around the rim. They had their way with the entire field this tournament. ... We don't give in, though. I like the grit of my team."
3. Elite territory for the Huskies
How's this for a stat? UConn finishes the season with a 17-point win, giving it 17 wins on the season against non-Big East foes -- all of which came by double figures. In the process, it became the first team of the modern era to win all six NCAA Tournament games by at least a 13-point margin.
The win also gave UConn its fifth men's basketball national championship and improved it to 5-0 (!) in national championship game appearances. It helps the Huskies draw even with Duke and Indiana for the fourth-most all-time national championships with five and gives them the most this century, with four of their five coming since 2004.
"Dream come true for all of us," said Hurley after the game. "This was our vision, this was our dream. It feels great to come through on promises made to players and the university."