HOUSTON -- As the final buzzer sounded on UConn's fifth national title Monday night, Huskies center Adama Sanogo grabbed the basketball, looked upward and screamed in celebration. It was the culmination of a dominant run through the NCAA Tournament, capped off by Sanogo's 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 76-59 victory over San Diego State at NRG Stadium.
And even as the clock hit all zeroes, Sanogo remained in dogged pursuit of the basketball.
Statistically speaking, the 19.7 points and 10 rebounds per game that he averaged during the Huskies' flawless, six-game NCAA Tournament run explain why he was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. More than the numbers, though, it was Sanogo's intensity and passion that made him the foundation upon which the 2023 national champions were built.
"Anything is possible," he exclaimed from the arena's main stage as the Huskies received the championship trophy.
Look no further than Sanogo's story as evidence. A player who grew up in Mali and didn't start playing basketball until age 12 is now in the same UConn lore as players like Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor and Richard Hamilton.
"He's a beast out there," UConn legend and longtime NBA star Rudy Gay said as he took in the celebration from UConn's locker room. "This is as good as anybody I remember."
Napier averaged 21.2 points on 46.5% 3-point shooting during UConn's 2014 NCAA Tournament run. Walker averaged 23.5 points and 5.7 assists in the Big Dance for the 2011 title team. Hamilton averaged 24.2 points when the Huskies won their first title in 1999. But those three were each perimeter players.
The only UConn big man to earn MOP honors from the Final Four before Sanogo was Emeka Okafor, who averaged 13.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks during the 2004 team's NCAA Tournament run.
Sanogo's prolific NCAA Tournament run was made all the more impressive by the fact that he was Miami on Saturday night and then by coming up clutch on the game's ultimate stage Monday night.over the past two weeks, meaning he could not eat or drink from sunup until sundown. He looked strong as ever during the Final Four, however, first by helping the Huskies race past
"I just think he was the force no one could deal with," another UConn legend, Ray Allen, said in the victorious locker room. "The game has changed a lot. There's so many 3-point shooters and shooting in games, I think to a fault. I think what these guys did is they had a perfect balance…nobody can guard him, and he was so good around the basket."
Monday's performance marked Sanogo's fourth double-double of the Big Dance, but it came against his toughest competition yet. San Diego State's formidable front court presented a challenge unlike anything Sanogo had seen in the tournament. In the early minutes, Sanogo established himself against SDSU's menacing defense by attacking Aztecs center Nathan Mensah without much trouble.
Then, Sanogo's layup with 7:12 remaining in the game halted a 9-0 San Diego State run and put the Huskies back up 58-50 after the momentum had begun to shift in the Aztecs' favor.
"He just cemented himself as one of the greats to come out of UConn," Huskies' guard Joey Calcaterra said. "He's already one of the greats. You add a national championship to that, he's automatically in the conversation."
Even amid the jubilation of UConn's locker room Monday night, it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to what's next. Sanogo has two seasons of eligibility remanning, but UConn head coach Dan Hurley openly acknowledged Sunday that Sanogo is "an NBA player" who is "going to play in the league for a long time."
The big question now is when that professional career will begin.
"I'm about to talk to my coaches and my family, and I will go from there," Sanogo said as he sat at his locker with a piece of the net .
If he decides to return, it would automatically set him apart from the four legendary runs of the Most Outstanding Players from UConn's previous championship teams. Napier, Walker, Okafor and Hamilton all went to the NBA Draft after winning their titles.
Regardless of whether Sanogo joins them or decides to run it back with the Huskies in 2023-24, the performance he turned in during the 2023 NCAA Tournament cemented his place as a heroic figure in a program that is now, undeniably, a college basketball blue blood.
"Something is really special about that kid," redshirt freshman Alex Karaban said. "I love him to death, and he loves everyone in this room to death. He's just the perfect role model for me. I'm so proud to have spent these 39 games next to him, and I don't want to think about having another center right now.
"I hope he comes back, and if he does, I really want to repeat."
UConn 2023 Championship gear now available
The Connecticut Huskies have won their fifth men's basketball national championship and the first since 2014. Celebrate this historic win at the end of a wild tournament with UConn Championship Gear. Get shirts, hats, and more here now.
We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.