SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego State University men’s basketball team is coming home without a national championship trophy, but with the greatest tournament run in school history.
San Diego State lost to the University of Connecticut, 76-59, in the NCAA championship game Monday night in Houston. It was the first time San Diego State reached the championship game of the NCAA tournament.
The Aztecs missed 14 consecutive shots in a more than a 10-minute span of the first half and went scoreless for more than three minutes of the second half after cutting the Huskies’ lead to five points.
The Aztecs trailed 36-24 at halftime. Connecticut made 10 consecutive free throws over four minutes, nine seconds, increasing their lead to 51-36 with 11:56 to play.
Jaedon LeDee made back-to-back jump shots to begin a 9-0 run that pulled San Diego State to within six, 56-50, with 7:40 remaining.
Lamont Butler’s fast-break layup and two free throws by Keshad Johnson cut the deficit to 60-55 with 5:19 remaining but San Diego State was unable to pull any closer and were outscored 16-4 for the remainder of the game.
Jordan Hawkins began a 9-0 run with a 3-point basket that gave the Huskies a 69-55 lead with 2:08 to play. Connecticut (31-8) led by at least 12 for the rest of the game and scored the final five points, ending the game with its biggest lead.
“We battled,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “Battled back to five in the second half, but gave them too much separation. We had to be at our best. We weren’t at our best. A lot had to do with UConn.”
Huskies guard Tristen Newton led all scorers with 19 points, forward Adama Sanogo added 17 and was selected as the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, and Hawkins 16. Newton and Sanogo each pulled down 10 rebounds, sharing the game high.
Johnson led San Diego State with 14, while Butler and Darrion Trammell added 13 each before a crowd at NRG Stadium announced at 72,423.
The Aztecs (32-7) made four of their first five shots to take a 10-6 lead 3:28 into the game, then trailed 26-15 5:26 before halftime after missing 14 consecutive shots.
“We got off to a red-hot start in the game offensively, then (Aguek Arop) had a post-up where he missed a jump hook, had a roll to the basket, got it blocked ,” Dutcher said. “Had another play, we got to the rim. Those are plays you have to make over their length if you’re going to have a chance to win the game.
“Their length bothered us at the rim. Jaedon had a tough time finishing. Finally went through the body more in the second half. But they’re the hottest team in college basketball. We thought we’d have a chance. We cut it to five, but obviously we didn’t have enough offense to overcome as good as they are.”
San Diego State trailed by 16 twice in the first half, 33-17, and 36- 20, before scoring the final four points of the half.
The Aztecs made 19 of 59 shots, 32.2%, including six of 23 3-point shots, 26.1%, and 15 of 20 free throws, 75%. The Huskies made 23 of 53 shots, 43.4%, including six of 17 3-point shots, 35.3%, and 24 of 27 free throws, 88.9%.
San Diego State was out-rebounded 40-34. The Aztecs scored 13 points off Connecticut’s 13 turnovers. The Huskies scored 13 points off San Diego State’s 12 turnovers.
Connecticut won its six tournament games by an average of 20 points per game. Its narrowest victory was 13 points, 72-59 over Miami in a national semifinal Saturday.
The championship was Connecticut’s fifth in five championship game appearances dating back to 1999 and first since 2014.
“It feels great to come through on promises made by me to all the great people of Connecticut and then with these guys,” said Dan Hurley, the third consecutive Huskies’ coach to win a national championship, following Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “This was our vision. This was our dream. This is what we talked about when we recruited these guys, that we could get together and do something big like this.”
Connecticut was the 13th overall seed in the 68-team tournament. The Aztecs were seeded 17th.
San Diego State advanced to the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship game for the first time.
“It’s hard to win in March,” said Dutcher, whose team won its Elite 8 and Final Four games by one point each. “Those teams are really good, too. But you have to get a little luck and get the right matchups and have to be playing your best. That’s what this team did.”