UConn beats Illinois to advance to second straight Final Four

BOSTON – Dan Hurley strolled to midcourt with 3:33 left, a final timeout in the midst of another March dismantling that gave him a moment to take in the scene.

He faced the crowd in front of his bench and extended his arms, causing the Huskies fans packing TD Garden to roar. “Bear-!” the Scream.

With a 29-point lead and time running out, I could at least exhale.

“I finally felt like we had it,” Hurley said, smiling.

By now, UConn is used to celebrating the final buzzer. For the second year in a row, the Huskies return to the Final Four. And for the second year in a row, they did it in dominant fashion, defeating third-seeded Illinois 77-52 in the Elite Eight on Saturday in a game that didn’t even seem that close.

What was a close game for 20 minutes turned into a wrecking job as the Huskies used a 30-0 run (including 25 straight points to start the second half) to turn a tied game into a 53-23 laugher. .

UConn’s 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan was under center, disrupting Illinois on defense and rattling the rim on offense. Clingan finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in just 22 minutes, but his impact went beyond the scoreboard. There were altered shots and deflected rebounds.

When he was on the field, Illinois, the second most efficient offense in the country, couldn’t score.

In Clingan’s first 17 minutes on the court Saturday, UConn outscored Illinois 34-4. Yes, oven.

Clingan was also in the middle of the run that decided the match. After splitting a pair of free throws to put the Huskies up 33-23, Clingan put Illinois’ Quincy Guerrier at the rim, melting his attempt at an emphatic dunk.

At the other end of the court, he took a pass from Stephon Castle and finished his own two-handed slam, meeting his teammates in front of the UConn bench for a chest bump as Illinois called a timeout.

“That was like, ‘wow,’” guard Hassan Diarra said.

UConn, which defeated fifth-seeded San Diego State by 30 points on Thursday, reached the Final Four with four wins by an average margin of 27.8 points. All 10 of the Huskies’ NCAA tournament wins over the past two seasons have been by double digits.

Illinois, with its powerful offense, was thought to be one of the few teams that could provide a challenge to the UConn machine. And he seemed to catch the Huskies on a day off. Connecticut matched a season low with three 3-pointers and withstood a combined 1 of 12 shooting from guards Tristen Newton and Stephon Castle.

But the Huskies held Illini leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting and held the Illini off the scoreboard for the first four minutes of the first half and the first 7:19 of the second.

“When your defense is elite, like ours is, and your offense is elite, like ours is, and the rebounding margins show that we are an elite rebounding team and we generally play harder than our opponent, We share the ball and we have depth with us. different people,” Hurley said. “Our first-team All-American point guard (Newton) didn’t make a field goal today, and we were 3 of 17 from 3 and went on a 30-0 run. So the depth.

“We don’t have any particular flaws, which makes you as armored as possible in this tournament to survive a bad shot or a bad performance from a star like Tristan.”

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(Photo: Winslow Townson/USA Today)