UConn headed to Phoenix for Final Four after beating Illinois

Associated Press
7 Min Read

Defending national champion UConn powered its way back into the Final Four behind a 30-0 run led by Donovan Clingan, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

BOSTON — Thirty points in a row — that’s quite a run.

The streak UConn is putting together this March is pretty impressive, too.

The defending NCAA champions scored 30 straight points to power their way back to the Final Four, steamrolling Illinois 77-52 on Saturday night — a March Madness record 10th straight double-digit victory for the top-seeded Huskies.

Donovan Clingan scored 22 points and had 10 rebounds and five blocked shots for UConn, which pulled away by scoring the first 25 points of the second half. The Huskies, who cruised to their fifth national title last year, seem inexorably headed for a sixth: Their NCAA Tournament wins this year have come by 39, 17, 30 and 25 points.

Actor Bill Murray, whose son, Luke, is a Huskies assistant coach, watched the game from a courtside seat and took video of the postgame celebration, where his grandchildren were showered with confetti. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Larry David was also part of a crowd the Huskies called “Storrs North” for the East Region games that were played about 90 miles from campus.

UConn, which won the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and advanced to the Sweet 16 in Brooklyn, will now get on an airplane for the first time in almost a month and head to the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona. It will face the West Region champion, either Alabama or Clemson.

The Huskies are the first defending champs to make it back to the national semifinals since Florida won back-to-back titles in 2006 and ’07.

That’s still a possibility for UConn, too.

“It’s not about really trying to win No. 6 or go back-to-back,” coach Dan Hurley said. “It’s this time of year, you love your team and you can’t imagine what it would be like to not get up the next day and still coach your team. It’s what you learn when you win the way we’ve won. It really is about the work, the journey, the process.”

Marcus Domask scored 17 points — 15 in the first half — for Illinois (29-9), and star Terrence Shannon Jr. was held to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. Shannon, who scored 29 points in Thursday night’s Sweet 16 victory over Iowa State and played much of the season while facing a rape charge in Kansas, snapped a string of 41 straight games scoring in double digits.

Cam Spencer had 11 points and 12 rebounds for UConn, which reached the Elite Eight with a 30-point win over San Diego State on Thursday night. Hassan Diarra scored 11 and Alex Karaban had 10 points for the Huskies.

But the big problem for third-seeded Illinois was the 7-foot-2 Clingan.

The Fighting Illini (29-9) managed just four points in the first half when Clingan was in the game, with the Connecticut native recording nine points, six rebounds and three blocks before the break.

UConn led 28-23 at the half, but then things really fell apart for the Illini. They missed their first 14 shots of the second — 17 misses in a row, in all. The 30-0 UConn run lasted for the last 1:49 of the first half and the first 7:19 of the second.

By the time Clingan took a break with 14:35 to play, the Huskies led by 23. On the next Illinois possession, Samson Johnson — who subbed in for Clingan — blocked Shannon under the basket and finished the fast break at the other end with a layup that gave UConn a 48-23 lead.

“I didn’t expect that. But tons of credit to UConn,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I thought we were in a good spot at half, especially after the slow start. … We obviously came out in the second half and got blitzed.”

The Huskies have a school-record 35 wins this season.


Neither of the Huskies’ potential opponents — fourth-seeded Alabama or sixth-seeded Clemson — has ever made the Final Four.

AP March Madness bracket:  and coverage: 

Arizona sports 

The city of Phoenix is home to five major professional sports league teams; The NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, NBA’s Phoenix Suns, WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks and NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

The Cardinals have made State Farm Stadium in Glendale their home turf and the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix is home to both the Suns and the Mercury. The Indoor Football League’s Arizona Rattlers play at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale. The Coyotes play at Mullett Arena on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Phoenix also has a soccer team with the USL’s Phoenix Rising FC, who play at Phoenix Rising FC Stadium in Phoenix.

The Valley hosts multiple major sporting events on a yearly basis, including college football’s Fiesta Bowl and Guaranteed Rate Bowl; the PGA Tour’s highest-attended event, the WM Phoenix Open; NASCAR events each spring and fall, including Championship Weekend in November; and Cactus League Spring Training for 15 Major League Baseball franchises.

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