Final Four, Featured

Hurley: ‘We make a hard tournament look easy’

GLENDALE – And the Connecticut Huskies machine continues to roll.

Or hum, or move along like it was 2023, 1999, 2004, 2011, 2014.

 Yes, it’s been like that all postseason and beyond. Saturday was no different in beating Alabama, 86-72, here at State Farm Arena in front of 74,742 fans.

They witnessed a team on a mission to repeat as champions for the first time since Florida did it in 2007. They are that good.

If there were doubters those should be gone.

UConn players and Dan Hurley checking out stats after their win over Bama.

How’s that for an evaluation? It’s that simple. Now, they face Purdue in Monday’s title game. The Boilermakers dismissed North Carolina State with ease in the first semifinal.

Still, good luck Boilermakers, it won’t be easy. Just look at the two-year resume:

The Huskies have beaten every opponent in the NCAA tournament over the last two seasons by an average of 22.2 points per game.

Dominant doesn’t even describe how they’ve handled their opponents, which, of course, are considered the best of the best or should be that in the NCAA tournament. Right?

UConn Coach Dan Hurley talked about the difference from this team to the last, which, of course, is different yet the same.

It’s about “culture, the preparation, the commitment to every aspect of the game,” he said, “so that we keep ourselves as bulletproof as possible in this tournament, which we make a hard tournament look easy. It’s crazy.”

Crazy is a good word.

Figure that Alabama, because of its penchant to hit the 3-pointer with proficiency, had a chance to win or at least stay close … until it didn’t.

And, of course, like all the other ones who took their shot(s) at UConn, it didn’t work.

Looked like it would, then didn’t. Alabama hit 8 of 11 3s in the first half and was down just 44-40.

Then it went 3 for 12 from beyond the half-moon line and it was, well, all but over.

Chance, then no chance.

“We felt like if we just kind of stayed into ’em, just kept doing what we do,” Hurley said, saying his defense would eventually come through. “Our identity is to be pretty relentless. We might not break you for 18 minutes, 25 minutes, but at some point, if what we’re doing at both ends and on the backboard is at a high level, it just becomes hard for the other team to sustain it.”

And there you have it – a breaking point.

Or a few breakers.

As one reporter pointed out, his team had four runs of seven or more points. His team averaged at least one 10-0 run a game this season.

What gives? Well, not the Huskies. Here’s a couple of stats: it had 20 assists and four turnovers.And it shot 50 percent from the floor. It shot 49.8 from the floor for the season.And, oh, every starter scored in double figures with freshman Stephon Castle leading the way with 21.

“We flirted the whole year with 50% from the field,” Hurley said. “I think from an efficiency standpoint, we’ve been the number one offense in the country. We’ve kind of passed that back and forth with Purdue and Illinois and Alabama throughout the year.

“The offense is super-efficient. We’re (in the top) four in defense. We rebound the heck out of the ball. We can bunch up stops and then we score a lot. You get stops, you score…”

From all that – and that is a lot – teams gain confidence, and it builds.

“There’s a factor with teams now that they’ve seen us play, where we get on a run, I think it’s disheartening for the other team because they’ve seen it, they’ve seen us do it a lot,” he said.

Bama saw it enough … and yet was there for a moment or two. Even tied at 56 with about 12 minutes left. Then came an 8-0 that “went pretty quick,” Bama coach Nate Oats said.

“We played arguably the best team in the country,” Oats said. “… They’re good. Like Danny says, they’re close to being bulletproof. When you’re that great on both sides of the ball, you out-rebound teams, the official box score had us down for zero fast break points. The first time all year that that’s happened to us. We’re used to getting out in transition. This game ended up being 64 possessions, which is a lot slower than we like. We kind of know they play a lot slower.”

And efficient. Again, like a well-oiled machine. Inside, outside. Tough, physical. Everything.

No wonder they’ve gone 36-3 overall, winning their last 12 games (again, all but double digits).

“They imposed their will on a lot of teams,” Oats said. “In some regards, they imposed their will on us tonight, especially with the pace of play. Kept getting our guys to push a little bit faster. Seemed like there was always bodies in front of us. They did a great job in transition.”

Now, comes the transition to the championship game on Monday.

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