UConn has all the answers against San Diego State in a Sweet 16 defeat

BOSTON — The game was barely underway, as Jaedon LeDee popped up a nice little jumper to give San Diego State a 2-0 lead over Connecticut just as everyone was settling into their seats at TD Garden on Thursday night. But what happened next was one of those previously played plays that, looking back on it, told us exactly where this Sweet 16 game was headed.

There went Connecticut big man Donovan Clingan, roaring and making his way to the basket, around the Aztecs, through the Aztecs, until he put the ball in the net to tie the game. Just one basket, that's it. Only 46 seconds have passed since the start of the match. However, he said a lot.

See, it wasn't Clingan's scoring touch that led Connecticut to an easy 82-52 win over San Diego State in the East Regional semifinals, sending the defending national champions to an Elite Eight showdown on Saturday against Illinois. His opening basket was a reminder that while this team has tremendous talent — more on that in a moment — it's also a team with tremendous talent. In the first half alone, when the Aztecs were closing in thanks to 15 points from LeDee, UConn collected 12 offensive rebounds to just five from San Diego State. By the end of the night, that huge advantage in offensive rebounding had swelled to 21-12, resulting in 12 second-chance points for the Huskies.

The message here, along with all of UConn's talent – and yes, once again, We'll get to that in a moment – is that you can't beat the Huskies if you can't take the ball from them.

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The Huskies have done away with the age-old practice of just winning games. They've gone the wrecking ball route lately, winning games by 39 (over Stetson), 17 (Northwestern) and San Diego State (30).

What's going on here, you ask? Easy: “We're bad at winning close games,” explained UConn coach Dan Hurley. “So you have to go with the alternative.”

Ah, here we are. Huskies are good and they want you to know they are good. No, the Huskies are great And they want you to know they're awesome. It's practically stamped on their foreheads. Not as a boast, although that is what it is by definition, but as an exercise in carefully presenting facts and figures to make a point.

Considering how the game went, Hurley noted that Clingan “made it work” and that four players scored in double figures: Hassan Diarra (10), Stephon Castle (16), Tristen Newton (17) and Cam Spencer, the three-point distributor (18). . He noted that Alex Karaban, who grew up in the Boston area, entered the Garden and scored all eight of his points in the first five minutes of the game.

“Basically the balance is to have four guys with double figures, and two more with eights,” Hurley began to say, and then paused for a moment before adding: “We have a lot of answers.”

Bingo. Oh, sure the Huskies have chemistry, teamwork, energy, perseverance, commitment, brotherly love… the list goes on and on… but Hurley can throw it all in one bowl and turn it into this: Answers. They have answers. And they have answers because, from top to bottom, they are the best college basketball program in America. And from Hurley's comment the other day about his team being “bulletproof” to this latest comment about his team having “answers,” it's clear this was all by design.

Well, even UConn's road to the Final Four — opening round games at Barclays Center for this visit to TD Garden — is something Hurley wants you to know. happenedwasn't delivered from a smoke-filled room by accommodating NCAA folks who thought it would be cool if Huskies fans could take fun trips to Brooklyn and Boston.

Hurley raised this point during his media session on Wednesday. He did it again Thursday night after an outing over San Diego State. “We had to win a lot of games to do that,” Hurley said, as if there was a national debate raging over the Huskies winning those games in Brooklyn and Boston.

One person who particularly enjoys the Boston side of things is Karapan, who grew up in nearby Southboro, about 30 miles west of Boston. But he made it clear that there's not an ounce of stress in any of this — not from trying to win a second straight national championship, and not from playing in a functional building in his backyard.

“No, it's never stressful,” he said.

Where does that come from?

“It's really the training,” Karapan said. He went on to point out that the Huskies were on “the biggest stage last year,” and that this year's team “has veterans who continue to lead,” but his knee-jerk reaction was to point out Hurley.

If it is arrogance, then it is arrogance without malice. In fact, Hurley opened his postgame media session Thursday by laying verbal rose petals on San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher and his program. “We know the culture of San Diego State and how they were together,” Karaban said.

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It can be said that showing off requires that you dance on the other team's logo. That's not what's happening here. Your Husky just wants you to understand what he's all about. They show it, and yes, sure, they say it.

(Photo of Donovan Clingan blocking a shot by San Diego State's Lamont Butler: Michael Reeves/Getty Images)

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