UConn Wins Consecutive Titles; Guards Dominate Purdue

Ken Cross

April 11, 2024 at 11:05 am.

“We are the Champions” blared in the background of UConn’s 75-60 win over Purdue in Monday evening’s national title game, as the toughness and mental approach of Coach Dan Hurley’s group had caused the Huskies to become the first team since the Florida Gators (2006, 2007) to record back-to-back national championships.

“This was a whole different year,” said UConn guard Tristen Newton, who was also the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. “We had goals – winning five championships. We got all of those done. Credit Coach (Hurley) for just setting the tone and everybody just follows his lead.”

Connecticut’s depth at guard negated Purdue big-man Zach Edey’s 37 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes.

Newton led four Huskies in double figures with his 20 points and freshman backcourt mate Stephon Castle had 15. Each made 6-of-13 field goals while Cam Spencer, the third backcourt contributor, had 11 points and eight rebounds.

“It was a big part of our game plan, just trying to limit as much from the guards,” said Castle.

Newton and Castle’s athleticism was an extremely tough matchup for Boilermakers’ guards Foster Loyer and Braden Smith. Loyer didn’t score in 30 minutes, while Smith was 4-of-12 from the field.

The Huskies’ on-ball pressure throughout the game weakened Loyer and Smith.  Lance Jones was in foul trouble early and never was able to get into a consistent rhythm. While Purdue only had nine turnovers, the relentless pressure would often drive them deep into the clock where they were generally not in position to get any consistent scoring from the perimeter.

“Just the game plan and (UConn assistant coach) Luke (Murray) for a day and a half prep to have us ready as he did defensively for that game was just impressive,” said Hurley. “We didn’t want to give up threes. We didn’t care if Zach took 25-28 shots to score 30-35 points.”

Purdue made only 1-of-7 three-point field goals and that came from Smith with 2:18 left before halftime and it cut Connecticut’s lead to 32-30.

“I think holding them to seven (three-point attempts), we were really just locked in on the guards, limiting them and their impact,” said Spencer.

UConn’s guards outscored the Purdue backcourt, 55-17, which showed the common idea that the Huskies’ depth and athleticism on the perimeter would be able to push Connecticut past whatever Edey accomplished.

Connecticut took a 51-38 lead in the first eight minutes of the second half when Newton and Castle carved Purdue’s defense off the dribble. The backcourt combined for four layups in the first eight minutes while Samson Johnson buried a pair of dunks as the Huskies’ offense was on point in getting to the rim.

That segment of the game defined the Huskies’ game plan and its immeasurable perfection.

“Maybe it feels a little bit better because knowing how great this team has been, we have worn the ‘everything’ shirt the whole year,” said Hurley. “Everyone in this organization gave everything so that we could win everything this year.”

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