UConn concludes a dominant run to its 2nd straight NCAA title, beating Zach Edey and Purdue 75-60

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — A basketball beatdown. A coaching clinic. A double-digit domination.

Take one guess who finished off a romp through college basketball again. You bet, it’s UConn — a team built to win now, and often, and by a lot every time it takes the court.

Coach Dan Hurley’s Huskies delivered the latest of their suffocating hoops performances Monday night, smothering Purdue for a 75-60 victory to become the first team since 2007 to capture back-to-back national championships.

Tristen Newton scored 20 points for the Huskies, who won their 12th straight March Madness game — not a single one of them decided by fewer than 13 points.

UConn was efficient on offense but won this with defense. The Huskies (37-3) limited the country’s second-best 3-point shooting team to a mere seven shots behind the arc and only a single make, while happily allowing 7-foot-4 AP Player of the Year Zach Edey to go for 37 points on 25 shot attempts.

UConn won its sixth overall title and joined the 2006-07 Florida Gators and the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils as just the third team to repeat since John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty of the 1960s and ’70s.

“I just think it’s the best two-year run in a very, very long time, just because of everything we lost from last year’s team,” said Hurley, whose top two scorers from last year now play in the NBA. “To lose that much and do it again, it’s got to be as impressive a two-year run since at least prior to Duke.”

The 2024 Huskies are the sixth team to win all six tournament games by double-digit margins. They won those games by a grand total of 140 points, blowing past the 1996 Kentucky team, which won its six by 129.

In a matchup of two top seeds, they wore down the Boilermakers (34-5), who made it this far a year after becoming just the second No. 1 in the history of March Madness to fall in the first round. But Purdue left the same way it came — still looking for the program’s first NCAA title.

So much for the free-for-all this new age of the transfer portal and name, image and likeness deals was supposed to become. UConn has figured out how to dominate and replenish its roster with players who understand their roles.

Cam Spencer, a transfer from Rutgers, Stephon Castle, a blue-chip freshman, and Alex Karaban, a sophomore from last year’s team, spent the night guarding the 3-point line and making life miserable for Purdue’s guards.

“They just made a decision — we can defend the perimeter, and we can take this away from you, you’re going to get the ball to your best player, he’ll be 1-on-1, and that’s that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

This was only the second time this season Purdue didn’t put up 10 3-point attempts, and how ’bout this final score: Edey 37, the rest of the Boilermakers 23.

How serious was Hurley about defending the perimeter? When Braden Smith wiggled loose for a semi-open look to make Purdue’s first 3 of the game with 2:17 left in the first half, the coach bolted onto the floor and called timeout.

And that was that from behind the arc.

“Coaches made a point that we’d be really locked in if we controlled their 3-point attempts,” Spencer said. “Holding them to seven shows we were locked in on making sure their guards didn’t get involved in the game.”

With his Xs-and-Os masterpiece, Hurley joins former Florida coach Billy Donovan in the back-to-back club, and is in company with Bill Self and Rick Pitino as only the third active coach with two championships. News broke over the weekend that it appears there’s a job opening at Kentucky, and the UConn coach’s name has come up there.

“I don’t think that’s a concern,” Hurley said. “My wife, you should have her answer that.”

No way the Huskies would want to lose him.

Hurley earned every penny in this one. In the first half, he begged with, swore at and generally berated the refs about over-the-backs, elbows and hip checks that weren’t called.

Once, when that didn’t work after Edey set a hard (and probably legal) pick against Castle, Hurley started in on Edey himself as the center walked toward the Purdue bench for a timeout.

But the coach’s best work came in whatever hotel room he used to draw up the game plan.

“The whole game plan was no Smith, no Loyer, no Jones, no Gillis,” Hurley said, as he ticked off the last names of the Purdue guards. “We knew if we keep them below 18, 20 points as a group, and they had no chance to win, no matter how well Zach played.”

It’s no slight on Edey, who battled gamely, finishing with 10 rebounds to record his 30th double-double of the season. But this game proved the number crunchers and analytics experts right. UConn let Edey back in and back down all night on 7-2 Donovan Clingan, giving up difficult 2s in the post in exchange for any 3s.

“They only doubled late in the second half, but by that point we had dug ourselves too deep of a hole,” Fletcher Loyer said.

The defensive dominance put the finishing touch on a tournament in which UConn’s average margin of victory was 23.3 points. Sure, Hurley might have to replace two or three of these players, but the coach said he’ll worry about that in a week or two.

“Obviously, what can you say?” he said. “We won — by a lot — again.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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