SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego State will try to bring the city its biggest sports championship Monday evening against a Connecticut team that has won its five NCAA tournament games by an average of 20 points.
“We have to control them in transition,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “They’re as good a 3-point shooting team in transition that we’ve played all year. We have to take away transition 3s. We have to do a good job in the low post on (Adama) Sanogo. He’s strong and tough.
“(Jordan) Hawkins is an NBA guard. So have to make sure we concentrate on him.”
Sanogo, a 6-foot, 9-inch forward from Mali, leads the Huskies in scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game, and rebounding, averaging 7.4 per game. The 6-foot-5-inch Hawkins is second in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game.
Both were first-team All-Big East Conference selections.
Connecticut has a .363 shooting percentage from 3-point range, making 9.1 per game, 28th among Division I teams. San Diego State is limiting opponents to a .282 shooting percentage on their 3-point shots, third in Division I.
The Huskies are second among Division I teams in scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by 14.3 points per game, second in rebounding margin, pulling down 9.3 more rebounds than their opponents per game, fourth in assists, averaging 17.7 per game, and 11th in offensive rebounds, averaging 13.08 per game.
Oddsmakers have made Connecticut a 7 1/2- to 8-point favorite. The ABC News-owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight gives the Aztecs a 30% chance of winning.
“UConn’s a really good team,” San Diego State guard Matt Bradley said. “We’ve been seeing what they’ve been doing throughout the tournament. The wins they’ve been having are really impressive. But I think we match up with them really well. We know we’ve just got to stick to our game plan. We’re our own biggest competitors. If we just play our own game, I think we should come out with the win.”
The Huskies (30-8) are the 13th overall seed in the 68-team tournament and the fourth seed in the West Region.
Connecticut reached the championship game by defeating Iona, the 52nd overall seed, 87-63, in the first round; Saint Mary’s, the 19th overall seed, 70-55, in the second round; Arkansas, the 30th overall seed, 88-65, in the Sweet 16, Gonzaga, the 10th overall seed, 82-54, in the Elite 8, and Miami, the 20th overall seed, 72-59, in the Final Four.
The Aztecs (32-6) are the 17th overall seed and fifth seed in the South Region. They defeated College of Charleston, the 47th overall seed, 63- 57, in the first round; Furman, the 53th overall seed, 75-52, in the second round; Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed, 71-64, in the Sweet 16, Creighton, the 22nd overall seed, 57-56, in the Elite 8; and Florida Atlantic, 72-71, in the Final Four.
This will be the Huskies’ fifth appearance in the championship game. They won each of their first four championship game appearances, most recently in 2014, when they defeated Kentucky, 60-54.
San Diego State never advanced past the Sweet 16 before this year.
What may well have been the Aztecs’ best past previous opportunity to reach the Final Four was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. San Diego State was 30-2 in the 2019-20 season, with the losses coming by a total of six points, and projected for a No. 2 regional seed, when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was extremely devastating when we got that news,” forward Adam Seiko, one of four members of the 2019-20 team who are on this season’s team. “I was at home watching ESPN when they canceled the season. I had no words. I was speechless.
“Potentially, we felt we were going to win it all. Especially for the guys — KJ (Feagin), Malachi (Flynn), Yanni (Wetzell), all the seniors, guys who were going to have big games in the tournament to help their future. It was devastating.
“But now to be here three years later, time flies. It was such a blessing. We’re doing it for those guys. I’m constantly talking to them, telling them how much I love them, how much I wish they could be here with us in this position. But they’re so happy for us. And we’re just blessed to be here.”
Connecticut’s roster includes guard Joey Calcaterra, a graduate student who spent the first five seasons of his college career at the University of San Diego, including a redshirt year in the 2017-18 season. The 6- foot-3-inch Calcaterra averaged 8.2 points in 105 games with the Toreros.
Calcaterra is averaging 5.8 points in 14.5 minutes in 37 games for the Huskies, all as a reserve.
The teams have three common opponents — Alabama, Creighton and Saint Mary’s. The Aztecs lost to Saint Mary’s, 68-61, Dec. 10, and defeated Alabama, 71-64, and Creighton, 57-56, in the NCAA tournament. Connecticut defeated Alabama, 82-67, Nov. 25, won a home game over Creighton, 69-60, Jan. 7, and lost a road game to the Blue Jays, 56-53, Feb. 11, and defeated Saint Mary’s, 70-55, in the NCAA tournament.
The game is the second between the teams. The Huskies defeated San Diego State, 74-67, in the Sweet 16 in 2011.
The opening tipoff from NRG Stadium in Houston is scheduled for 6:20 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The game will be televised by CBS.
A free viewing party will be at Viejas Arena, subject to venue capacity, with doors opening at 5 p.m. Tickets are not required. The arena’s clear bag policy will be strictly enforced. Concessions will be available for purchase.
Parking will be free on campus beginning at 4 p.m.
San Diego State University Police Department will have increased police presence on Monday leading up to and following the watch party, a university official said.
The following road closures will be in place starting at 7 p.m.:
— College Avenue and Lindo Paseo;
— Montezuma and 55th Street; and
— 55th Street and Remington Road.
View this post on Instagram