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And Still: UConn tops Purdue, wins second straight national title

His entire adolescence, Dan Hurley was always trying to live up to his older brother. 

In college, the younger Dan facilitated an average Seton Hall squad, battling himself as much as his opponents in an inconspicuous playing career. Meanwhile, Bobby was at the forefront of a pair of national championship teams at Duke, going pro while holding the NCAA record for career assists. 

Two decades later, after Bobby’s playing days concluded and Dan had constructed a national prep power at Saint Benedict’s in New Jersey, the brothers reunited on the baseline as coaches for the Wagner Seahawks. With Dan as the head coach, he had a step up on his older brother in title alone. A decade and two championships later, he is no longer Bobby’s little brother. 

He’s Dan Hurley, back-to-back national champion.

In the culmination of what might be the most dominant two-year run in the recent history of college basketball, Hurley and the UConn Huskies (37-3) stormed to their second championship in as many years on Monday, taking down Purdue (34-5) and national player of the year Zach Edey, 75-60.

“I just think it's the best two-year run I think in a very, very long time,” Dan Hurley said postgame. “Just because of everything we lost from last year's team. To lose that much and, again, to do what we did again, it's got to be as impressive a two-year run as a program's had since prior to whoever did it before Duke.”

In a tournament that is often decided by guard play, the generational battle of the bigs was the story coming into State Farm Stadium. Not since Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas took down Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars in 1984 had two titans in the paint met for college basketball’s top prize. Zach Edey and UConn’s Donovan Clingan more than delivered.

Continuing a destructive tournament run, The 7-foot-4 Edey did all he could to will the Boilermakers to victory with a 37-point, 10-rebound performance. While Clingan didn’t stuff the stat sheet like his counterpart, the sophomore from Bristol was able to match up with Edey one-on-one all night, keeping a man on Purdue’s lethal shooters at all times.

Without the luxury of their usual space on the perimeter, the sharpshooters in black and gold were hesitant to fire shots off, instead going to old reliable in the post early and often. 

“We knew he was going to get his points,” Tristen Newton said. “It took him 25 shots to get 37 points. That was the game plan: just limit the guards.”

“This whole game plan was no (Braden) Smith, no (Fletcher) Loyer, no (Mason) Gillis, no (Lance) Jones,” Hurley continued. Keep that collective group under 18, 20 points as a group. No matter how well Zach played, they had no chance to win.”

While Edey did his thing, he could only muster two points every twenty-some seconds in Purdue’s methodical offensive sets. The ball denial defense on the perimeter by UConn, concocted by assistant coach Luke Murray, accomplished the goal of keeping everybody else from supporting Edey’s scoring. Of that aforementioned foursome, the Boilers got only 17 points out of their backcourt, 12 of which came from Braden Smith alone.

“We were going to go to the well with Zach as much as we could at that point,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “In a game like this, we had to be able to rebound defensively better, and then we had to have something balance that out. That was threes. They stayed home with us. They did a really good job defensively.”

The Huskies, on the other hand, had far more success from their guards. Cam Spencer led things off with seven points in just over four minutes to start the game before Tristen Newton would carry the torch from there. The AP All-American selection would hit from deep while absorbing contact at the rim for an 11-point first half, playing every minute of the period.

With Purdue off the three-point line, Clingan holding his own against Edey, Newton and Hassan Diarra playmaking on three levels, the Huskies gradually built a six-point halftime lead, a position in which they had not lost a game in the entire season.

As if to twist the knife, Newton opened the second half scoring with a triple from Tucson, bringing UConn’s lead to nine. Purdue’s conference rivals in Northwestern and Illinois would agree: Nine might as well have been nine hundred against these Huskies.

“You got to get them on their heels for us to get them to change,” Painter emphasized. “We had to get the lead, get 'em on their heels, and then get in that 10-minute mark. We couldn't get there. We couldn't get rebounds. You can't go on runs if you can't get stops.”

While the Boilers successfully played from behind in its Elite Eight victory over Tennessee, UConn proved itself to be a different beast defensively. For nearly seven minutes after the under-16 timeout, Purdue managed just one make from the field on an Edey layup. Newton and Spencer continued their shutdown of Smith and Loyer, while Alex Karaban stepped up with strong play on Gillis and Trey Kaufman-Renn to force Edey into futilely doing it himself offensively.

On the other end, UConn’s complex, motion-driven offense was creating clean looks throughout the floor, helping build their advantage up to a 56-40 strangle at the 10-minute mark. Edey kept finishing at the rim until the final buzzer, but the Huskies' “wear you down” identity had run the rest of the Boilermakers out of steam, as UConn became the first men’s basketball program to capture consecutive championships since Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators from 2006-2007.

To Hurley, what he and his Huskies accomplished, with as little continuity as they had, eclipses not only those great Florida teams but even his brother’s Duke dynasty of the 90s.

“To me, it is more impressive than what Florida and Duke did because they brought back their entire teams,” Hurley said. “We lost some major players.”

Following back-to-back first-round exits in the NCAA Tournament, Hurley’s Huskies separated themselves from the pack early in the 2022-2023 season. Marching through their non-conference slate unblemished, UConn stumbled in Big East play but found their footing in time for an ascendant run through March Madness. Defeating all six of its opponents by double-digits en route to the program’s fifth national championship, Dan Hurley was already the face of a resurrection at a historic program.

Now, he may have his own UConn dynasty on his hands. Despite losing three starters, including lottery-pick Jordan Hawkins and Final Four Most Oustanding Player Adama Sanogo from a season ago, as well as five of his eight top scorers, Hurley retooled the Huskies to the school’s first outright Big East crown since 2002 this season. In the process, UConn was awarded the number-one overall NCAA Tournament seed, a first in school history. All they did with that was lay waste to the East Region before slowing down the rolling Alabama Crimson Tide to book another ticket to the national championship game.

Throughout its “Mix For Six,” UConn often swapped places at the top of the polls with the Purdue Boilermakers. Led by two-time national player of the year Zach Edey, the 7-foot-4 monster teamed with the nation’s top three-point scoring offense to roar through the campaign. Claiming the Big Ten regular season championship and a number-one seed of their own, Purdue was as formidable an opponent as the Huskies had faced in their entire two-year span of national success. And yet, even the most imposing player the game had seen in years couldn’t slow down the sled.

“We've played against athletes, played against some really good defensive guys this year and in the tournament, but not the collection of defensive players like UConn has,” Painter said. “We play against somebody, they would have a lock-down defender. These guys are bringing lock-down defenders off the bench. Defense always travels. Tip the hat to them. They were great.”

UConn’s reign of terror over the country is as unprecedented as it is unbelievable. Throughout its now 12-game NCAA Tournament win streak, the Huskies have won every game by double digits, the longest and largest run of its kind. This year’s stretch, in particular, set the NCAA record for point margin in a single tournament, as the Huskies outscored its six opponents by a whopping 140 points. Four Huskies, Newton, Clingan, Spencer and Castle were named to the NCAA All Tournament team. Hurley, took home Naismith coach of the year honors. And together, they formed the greatest team in Connecticut basketball history.All-time, UConn is now a perfect 6-0 in the national championship game, trailing only Kentucky and UCLA on the all-time leaderboard

25 years ago, very few could’ve pointed Storrs, Connecticut, out on a map, and even fewer would’ve remembered Dan Hurley for anything other than his family name. Even today, that little farm town of 17,000 that quietly sits 20 minutes outside of Hartford won’t appear on the 2025 McNally Road Atlas, but it’s now become the kingdom of a Jersey kid finally getting his shine. As they change the blue road sign off the right shoulder in front of exit 68 on state Route 195 to the six-time NCAA men’s basketball champions in the coming days, one thing’s for sure: if you want to be the best in this sport, you now have to go through Dan Hurley’s UConn Huskies.

“I can't say anything about Duke because I'm going to piss my brother off,” Hurley said. “But I think this is up there in terms of the greatest two-year runs that a program maybe has ever had.”

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