Final Four: UConn pulls away from Alabama late to advance to national title game against Purdue

UConn is one win away from back-to-back national championships.

The Huskies pulled away from a pesky Alabama team late in the second half of Saturday's Final Four game to dispatch the Crimson Tide 86-72 and set up a meeting with Purdue for the national title on Monday.

UConn led by four at halftime and didn't burn the Tide after halftime like Illinois did in the Elite Eight. Instead, UConn survived several drives by the Crimson Tide early in the second half before Alabama's 3-point shooting trickled down the middle.

The Huskies opened their first double-digit lead of the game with 4:36 remaining when Cam Spencer gave UConn a 73-63 lead on a jumper at the free throw line. A minute later, Alex Karaban delivered a knockout blow with a 3-pointer that extended UConn's lead to 11.

After Alabama's Mark Sears cut the deficit to eight again with his 3-pointer, Donovan Clingan acted as the eraser on the defensive end with a block and the clincher on the offensive end.

All of the big plays came from Spencer, Karapan and Clingan while Stephon Cassel was on the bench with four fouls. The freshman was the Huskies' leading scorer on Saturday night but committed three fouls in the second half and spent the final moments of the game on the bench as his fellow veterans played pivotal roles.

Castle finished with 21 points while Clingan scored 18 and Karapan and Spencer each scored 14 points. Clingan also finished with four blocks while Karapan and Spencer each had eight rebounds.

Alabama cools off in the second half

Alabama was an impressive 8 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half but still trailed by four at halftime. Two things were right at once: Alabama gave UConn its biggest test of the NCAA Tournament, and its first-half shooting performance was simply unsustainable.

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Case in point: The threes that were nearly automatic for Alabama in the first half became nearly impossible in the second half. Alabama was just 3 of 12 in the final 20 minutes and finished the game 11 of 23 from behind the 3-point line.

But despite the cold shooting in the second half, Alabama pressured UConn until it ran out of gas. The Huskies tried to run away with the game twice in the opening minutes after halftime. Each time, Alabama responded with a 7-0 run, tying the game at 56-56.

But the tide never took the lead. Soon I stopped getting answers as well. UConn outscored Alabama 9-2 after the game was tied with 12:41 left and the Crimson Tide couldn't get within six points again the rest of the way.

Sears finished the match by scoring 24 points, while Grant Nelson scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Nelson also produced the highlight of the night when he went straight to Clingan and threw him — literally — over the UConn big man.

A confrontation between the giants this season

UConn is seeking to become the first team since Florida in 2006 and 2007 to win back-to-back men's NCAA championships.

Before UConn defeated Alabama, Purdue beat NC State in the other semifinal. The Boilermakers and Huskies have been the two best teams in college basketball all season as the stage is set for what could be an epic title game.

The only big man with a better NCAA Tournament than Clingan is Purdue's Zach Eddy. The National Player of the Year was once again dominant against NC State as he recorded his sixth straight tournament game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Clingan will be the best defender he has faced all season. It would be great to see these two face to face.

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Both teams appear to be evenly matched on the perimeter as well. The Huskies have the highest offensive rating in the country, according to KenPom.com's advanced metrics, with Purdue trailing behind in third. Both teams also rank in KenPom's top 12 defensive rankings.

While UConn seeks back-to-back titles, Purdue hopes to join Virginia with a national title a season after losing to a No. 16 seed. The Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and immediately won the title in 2019 A season ago, Purdue was the second No. 1 seed to lose in the first round when it fell. To Fairleigh Dickinson.

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