March Madness: Finals recap and future NBA prospects


Hailey Akau

UConn captured the NCAA DI Championship against San Diego State

By Jordan Pagkalinawan, Managing Editor

At last, the madness is over. 

Following a thrilling Final Four where San Diego State beat Florida Atlantic University on a buzzer-beating three, and UConn handled its business against the Miami Hurricanes, the championship stage was set for the UConn Huskies vs. the San Diego State Aztecs. The 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament wrapped up Monday night with the Huskies crowned champions over Aztecs with a score of 76-59.

The game started out as a back-and-forth, with UConn junior forward Adama Sanogo’s layup giving the Huskies a 12-10 lead at the 14-minute mark. The Huskies dominated the paint, making 75% of their field goals in the first seven minutes of the game. The Aztecs struggled to score for over 11 minutes before junior forward Keshad Johnson broke the streak with free throws at the 10:24 mark, making the score 16-12 in UConn’s favor. While the Aztecs chipped away at the gap with free throws, the Huskies refused to let up, leading 22-12 at the eight-minute mark of the first half. UConn sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins buried the team’s first three-pointer of the game at the 6:30 mark, which gave them a 26-14 lead.

At this point, the Aztecs couldn’t buy a bucket even if it came from the dollar store. Senior guard Darrion Trammell saved them with a two-point jump shot at the 5:07 mark, though UConn still led 26-17.

Earlier in the game, UConn head coach Dan Hurley noted how he wanted to take things “four minutes at a time,” as he told CBS Sports’ Tracy Wolfson in a sideline interview. His strategy worked wonders, as the Huskies took their time and entered the break with a commanding 36-24 lead. They capitalized on San Diego’s mistakes, scoring 11 points off of the Aztecs’ seven turnovers, and shot an impressive 35% from three-point range, while 16 of their points came in the paint.

Still, UConn refused to take their feet off the gas in the second half. Despite San Diego State cutting into their lead with free throws, the Huskies kept themselves socially distant, leading 56-41 with under ten minutes left. The Aztecs, who had comeback victories in the Elite Eight and Final Four previously, made it a 60-55 ball game with five minutes left. However, UConn would respond with a 7-0 run that signaled the story of the night: field goal droughts by San Diego State offset by an electrifying UConn offense.

UConn fans and players began to erupt in cheers with a minute remaining in the game as the realization finally set in. Head Coach Dan Hurley embraced his players with 30 seconds remaining as chants of “Hurley!” rained down from the crowd.

The head coach, whose family has a well known basketball background—his father, Bob Hurley, is a Hall-of-Fame high school coach and his brother, also Bob, led the Duke Blue Devils as a starting point guard on the 1991 and ‘92 title teams—watched his legacy continue as Dan’s son, Andrew, dribbled the ball out as time expired, and UConn earned their fifth national championship.

Sanogo was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, finishing the night with 17 points and ten rebounds and ending his junior year averaging 17.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game, while shooting 60% from the field and 36% from three-point range. He averaged 19.2 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game during March Madness.

Despite his standout season, Sanogo is not considered by many to be a top draft prospect, often falling into the conversation as a second-round pick or going undrafted entirely. However, teammates such as Hawkins, first-year center Donovan Clingan, and junior guard Andre Jackson Jr. have the potential to write a different story with an opportunity to join the ranks of 40 Huskies who have made the jump to the NBA.

Hawkins finished this season averaging 16.2 points and nearly four rebounds per game, while shooting 38% from deep. He efficiently put up 16 points Monday night, making five out of nine field goal attempts and two out of four three-pointers. His perimeter prowess combined with a nose for the ball make him a great fit for the NBA’s current popular playing style.

Likewise, first-year big man Clingan has been a steady presence for UConn, averaging 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game coming off the bench. His 7’2” frame, along with 7’7” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, was felt by opponents in the paint, as he recorded 12 blocks in seven tournament games. Multiple mock drafts have him tabbed as a potential first-round draft pick, while others express the need for him to stay another year. Regardless, he remains a name to watch as a standout college basketball player, both literally and figuratively.

Lastly, Jackson Jr. has turned heads as a 6’6” PG. The junior guard averaged a modest 6.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists throughout the year and has been known for his play as a distributor on offense and a disruptor on defense, averaging 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie raved about Jackson in his evaluation of top college prospects heading into the Final Four:

“Jackson is one of the best athletes in college basketball,” he said. “[He is] an explosive leaper who also is quick-twitch and almost never seems to run out of juice. His energy bar at the top of the screen is consistently at 100 percent, and it allows him to be more reactive than other players on the court.”

All in all, March Madness did not disappoint this year, leaving us with plenty of names to remember and players to keep an eye on as they take the next steps in their future endeavors.