Sports Journalism Blog

By Kobe Mosley | @mosleymedia8

Sports Capital Journalism Program

GLENDALE, Ariz. – As time winded down in the national championship game with another UConn title secure, Andrew Hurley was the one dribbling the ball near half court. He was near his father, coach Dan Hurley, who wanted the son to slam the ball as if to put an official Hurley stamp on the game, the season and the NCAA tournament.

Andrew Hurley spiked the ball with his right hand with 6.9 seconds left in a second consecutive championship season.

“There was too much time on the clock, I didn’t want to disrespect Purdue, they’re a really good team,” he said. “I gave it a little one just to keep the legacy going.”

A year before in Houston he had slammed it down, the orange sphere still hanging in the air as the buzzer sounded ending the victory over San Diego State.

And so the legacy continued on Monday night as the ball was once again in Andrew Hurley’s hands. It bounced up into the air — less emphatic than last year’s two-handed spike but impactful nonetheless —signaling yet another national championship for the Huskies, a 75-60 victory over Purdue and two-time consensus National Player of the Year Zach Edey.

Even though all the same signs were still there, the moment did not feel real right away for the younger Hurley.

Confetti still fell from the rafters. On top of his white Connecticut jersey was a blue shirt that read “NATIONAL CHAMPS.”

Just to the left of him was a stage where he, his teammates, and his father and coach just celebrated something that very few programs — seven to be exact — in the history of the NCAA tournament can claim: their team won back-to-back national championships, becoming the first program to do so since Florida in 2006-07.

His team, in front of 74,423 people inside State Farm Arena had just earned the school’s sixth championship in the last 25 years. And yet he was unable to fully process what had just occurred.

“This is ridiculous,” Andrew Hurley said. “You can’t ask for more than this, you can’t even ask for half of this. This is just such a surreal moment … I have no words.”

UConn (37-3) won its six tournament games by a record average margin of 23.3 points. The Huskies trailed for a total of 6:12, and their largest deficit was five points. Purdue (34-5) was led by Edey, whose 37 points was the most by a player on the national runner-up, and the most by any player in the title game since Kentucky’s Jack Givens scored 41 in 1978.

Edey became the only player in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship history with seven consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“People have no idea the burden you carry when you’re as good as he is, produce like he does going into opposing arenas,” Boilermaker coach Matt Painter said. “I just told him in the locker room … you’re going to deal with adversity. He was superior dealing with adversity. He was a guy that didn’t get recruited, then all of a sudden he started to get recruited, then that picked up. That got him on edge. All the great ones stay on edge.”

As great as Edey was, he was not going to defeat UConn single-handedly, and the Huskies were betting on that. Outside of Edey, Purdue was 9-for-29 from the floor. The Boilermakers came into this game averaging 20.5 three-point attempts and 8.3 three-pointer field goals and left taking only seven 3-pointers and making just one, tied for the second-fewest three-point field goals in a championship game.

Purdue starting guards Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer and Lance Jones, who were looked at before the game as a unit that needed to produce, struggled against the length, athleticism and play-making ability of the Huskies. Tristen Newton, Stephon Castle and Cam Spencer combined to outduel the Purdue guards in points (35-17), rebounds (18-8) and assists (12-8). The UConn trio was rewarded by being named to the All-Tournament Team, along with teammate Donovan Clingan and Edey.

“We knew (Edey) was going to get his points,” Newton said, fresh off his Most Outstanding Player recognition following a 20-point, five-rebound, seven-assist championship game. “It took him 25 shots to get 37 points. That was the game plan, just limit the guards. Steph, Cam got in there and did a great job on the guards, limiting them and their impacts.”

Even with Edey “getting his points,” UConn was able to make it tough on him. From a stretch beginning with 5:47 left in the first half to 9:13 left in the second half — a total of 15 minutes — the two-time consensus National Player of the Year scored two points and was 0-for-7 from the field. UConn outscored Purdue by 13 during the stretch.

“When you play a team like UConn, you gotta be perfect for 40 minutes,” Edey said. “There was a stretch where I wasn’t perfect.”

Perfection can never fully be achieved, but UConn may have gotten as close as it could get with this tournament run. The Huskies became the first team with consecutive title game victories of 15 or more points since the UCLA Bruins had three straight from 1967-69.

Going back-to-back holds extreme historical significance, but the dominant manner in which they did it — acknowledging the departures and arrivals during the offseason — puts these two particular packs of Huskies in their own realm, according to coach Dan Hurley.

“I just think it’s the best two-year run I think in a very, very long time,” coach Hurley proclaimed.

So what is there to expect now? What is going to be the standard for UConn men’s basketball?

“Yeah, we’ll enjoy this for a couple days,” Hurley said. “We’re going to be focused on trying to put together a three-year run, not just a two-year run.”