DePaul UConn Basketball

UConn’s Adama Sanogo, left, averages 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season for the Huskies, who play Arkansas in the Sweet 16. Jessica Hill/Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — It has been a long time, almost a decade, an eternity by UConn’s lofty basketball standards, but the men’s program is once again at the center of March Madness.

“This is such a special team,” said freshman Donovan Clingan. “It’s a great team, and we’re not done yet. You can definitely say ‘UConn’s back,’ we’re going to the Sweet 16, baby.”

The Huskies thrust themselves into the thick of the championship chase Sunday night with their 70-55 victory over St. Mary’s of California. UConn emerged from the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at MVP Arena in Albany to advance to Las Vegas, where it will play Arkansas on Thursday in the West Regional semifinal, better known as the Sweet 16.

Coach Dan Hurley, hired in 2018, promised to get UConn back on the national stage after its hard fall from the top. Though the road has been long and at times frustrating, as in first-round tournament exits in 2021 and 2022, he has delivered on his promise with the team he put together delivering for him.

When the game ended, Hurley acknowledged the fans with a familiar gesture, waving his arms to call them to their feet, then walked over to the front row for a long embrace with his wife, Andrea.

“It’s something these guys have talked about, strived for, since June,” Hurley said. “They had that look in their eye the entire year, going into this tournament, that they were going to be the ones to make a true run in March.”


The UConn men seek their fifth national title. It would be their first since 2014, the last time the program breathed this rarified air. Hall of Fame Coach Rick Pitino, after his Iona team fell to UConn in the first round, theorized that UConn has “all the ingredients to win a championship,” and in this second-round game against a stubborn No. 5 seed, the Huskies showed that Pitino may be on to something.

Once again, they played the second half with confidence and swagger, the final ingredients, in place.

“To bring UConn back to where it is, along with everyone else who is like-minded like me and has that same passion for basketball is something super special,” freshman Alex Karaban said. “To cement ourselves in history, continue to make history here is something that … I can’t believe it’s real.”

UConn’s top scorer and top NBA prospect, Jordan Hawkins, was limited by foul trouble and scoreless for the first half of the game, but the Huskies got more superlative play from their big centers, Adama Sanogo and Clingan, and production from the players off their bench.

It took much of the night to shake off St. Mary’s slower style, but once they did, and Hawkins rediscovered his elegant 3-point shooting, they turned the lights out.

And now the possibilities are more promising than ever. Arkansas has knocked off the top seed in the region, defending champ Kansas. The other teams heading to Las Vegas are Gonzaga, a West Coast rival of St. Mary’s, and UCLA. The Huskies (27-8) are riding a wave now, two wins from the Final Four.

“We all sacrificed too much to be a great team,” Andre Jackson Jr. said. “And it feels great to bring UConn back to the level we’re supposed to be at. Now it’s time to take that next step. Stick to the script, we all know our identity, we all know what we need to do to win games. I think we can beat anyone in the country.”

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