Sports Journalism Blog

By William Jones

Sports Capital Journalism Program

GLENDALE, Ariz. – For the second year in a row, UConn has won the national championship with its defensive effort.

With UConn’s 75-60 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers, the now six-time champion Huskies, tied with North Carolina for the third-most titles in tournament history, held Purdue to a season-low 60 points and one 3-point basket, the fewest the Boilermakers have made in a game this season and the fewest in a national championship game since Butler in 2011.

UConn’s victory, due to its defensive plan to eliminate options other than two-time consensus National Player of the Year Zach Edey, made the Huskies the third team to win by double digits in each game by 15 or more points and just the second team to do it in consecutive years. UCLA Bruins did it three-straight years from 1967-69.

“They’re a great defensive team,” Painter said of the Huskies. “So they just made a decision, like, we can defend the perimeter and we can take this away from you, then you’re just going to get to your best player, he’s going to be one on one, then that’s that.”

Despite Edey’s brilliance on a 37-point night, the post defense by the Huskies was relentless.

“We knew he was going to get his points,” UConn guard Tristen Newton, who was voted Most Outstanding Player, said of Edey. “It took him 25 shots to get 37 points. That was the game plan, just limit the guards.”

Purdue sophomore guard Braden Smith made his team’s only 3-point basket. “They just did a really good job guarding the three,” Smith said. “We got in the paint plenty of times. We just didn’t convert on a lot of them. We did our job pretty well. They did a good job guarding the three. We just got to convert on those in the paint.”

The defensive effort by the Huskies made the Boilermakers uncomfortable during the stretch of the second half, which Painter believed made the team one-dimensional.

“When a great defensive team says, ‘Here is how we’re going to play it,’ you want to fight, that take tough, bad threes, bad throws are going to be run outs for them,” Painter said. “We kept showing those clips. You hear people say they get thirsty. Three-point shooters, they don’t get looks, now start taking ones they shouldn’t take.”

Painter said that rebounding issues compounded Purdue’s problems. “If we could have rebounded the basketball better, we could have got them to change … but we weren’t able to do that. Then they stayed in control of the game.

“Not everybody can do what they just did,” Painter said. “You have to give credit to their defense and their coach and how they’re wired.”

UConn head coach Dan Hurley believes the Huskies were the greatest of the repeat champions in the modern history of the tournament because of the changes that took place on the roster, better than the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils and 2006-07 Florida Gators.

“To lose that much and, again, to do what we did again, it’s got to be as impressive [in] a two-year run as a program’s [that] had since prior to whoever did it before Duke,” Hurley says. “To me, it is more impressive than what Florida and Duke did because they brought back their entire team. We lost some major players.”