NCAA Basketball: Final Four National Championship-San Diego State vs UCONN

HOUSTON — Titles mean everything in sports. They carry the most significance and bring irrefutable validation to a team's greatness.

Monday night at NRG Stadium, the University of Connecticut Huskies held off a sneaky second-half surge from San Diego State to cinch the 2023 national championship by a 76-59 decision. UConn now has five national titles in its history, all of them since 1999. 

With 45 seconds remaining and the game no longer in doubt, Huskies coach Dan Hurley couldn't contain himself any longer. He let it all out. The pent-up anxiety, the years of grueling himself through an unforgiving profession — and now he's finally summited the peak.

This puppy was over, and it was time for the oft-demonstrable Hurley to emote. Out came a huge celebratory fist pump and a "YEAH!!!" to the UConn section behind the team bench that had to be heard over the din at least 40 rows back. 

"I told you, Coach! I told you!" freshman center Donovan Clingan said to UConn assistant Kimani Young, who was just screaming "We f—ing did it!" over and over and over. Assistant Luke Murray had a grin painted across his face that obviously caught the eyes of his father, Bill. And in short time, Tom Moore, who helped UConn win titles under Jim Calhoun, was overcome by his emotions over what his players had just accomplished.

The best among those players is the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player: Adama Sanogo. He grabbed the loose ball (after Andrew Hurley jubilantly spiked it as time expired) and clutched it in his grasp. He might not let go of it until after the team parade.

UConn was crowned on Monday night in a coronation that verified once and for all the status of this college hoops powerhouse.

It was debatable heading into the Final Four. 

It's undeniable now. 

The Huskies have as many national championships as Duke. And Indiana. They have more than Kansas, Villanova, Louisville and on and on. 

This is a blue blood program. If you needed a fifth title and a 5-0 record in national championship games to believe it, then believe it. No program has a better record on the ultimate stage — no one is even close. When UConn gets to the first Monday in April, it wins. 

For this team, its legacy will be how it won. These fourth-seeded Huskies ran roughshod over all their mostly feeble obstacles in this tournament. A fifth title alone would be enough to stamp UConn's permanent blue-blood bona fides, but Hurley's team also happened to peel off one of the all-time NCAA Tournament runs for good measure. It was a level of destruction we rarely see. All six tournament games had double-digit margins and finished by an average of 20 points. 

At the center of the demolition for every game was Sanogo (17 points, 10 rebounds on Monday night). The man in the middle from Mali just completed one of the best six-game runs by a player ever — doing so while observing Ramadan and fasting throughout this epic bracket strut. Simply incredible.  

"He's obviously cemented himself into the pantheon of greatest, obviously, the greatest big guys with all the production and back-to-back First Team All-League, and now this," said Hurley, "to have the national championship just puts him in a position in one of the most storied programs in college basketball. He's an all-time great."

Want more evidence of blue blood status? Calhoun, Kevin Ollie and Hurley have won national championships, doing so in three different conference iterations. The Huskies join fellow blue bloods Kentucky, UNC and Kansas as the only programs to win a national championship with three different head coaches. 

Most NCAA Tournament championships

TeamNCAA Championships
UCLA11 - 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1995
Kentucky8 - 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012
North Carolina6 - 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2017
Duke5 - 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015
Indiana5 - 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, 1987
UConn5 - 1999, 2004, 2011, 2014, 2023
Kansas4 - 1952, 1988, 2008, 2022

The Huskies won every NCAA Tournament game by 13 points or more, only the fifth team in history to do so. The four final rounds — which are supposed to be the four toughest games — saw UConn hold opponents to under 35%. No team had ever done THAT until this one. And no team until this UConn group won five tournament games by 15 points or more. UConn trailed for a total of just 5:22 in their last four games of the NCAA Tournament.

In 120 minutes of second-half action vs. Iona, Saint Mary's, Arkansas, Gonzaga, Miami and San Diego State, UConn trailed for a grand total of 55 seconds.

That's outrageous.

"I'm just mostly proud of the way we've done it and with the type of people that we've done it, the way we recruit young players, develop young players," Hurley said. "We do it without cheating. We do it without lying."

A huge thing for college basketball and the Big East that Connecticut has ascended all the way to the top with is swagger-swinging coach proving that you can do this by being honest to who you are. 

And as for the five titles, only UCLA and Duke have ever won as many as five championships in a 25-year span. 

Non-Big East teams never stood a chance against this group this season. UConn won 17 games outside of Big East territory and won those games by 24-plus points on average, all of them by 10 points or more. The only other teams to ever do that were legendarily great: 1966-67 UCLA and 2008-09 North Carolina. Blue bloods, of course.

On Monday night, one more emphatic dismissal. San Diego State got out to a 10-6 lead, then missed 14 straight shots, the most consecutive missed field goals by any team in this tournament. The drought lasted 11 minutes, and it was ultimately what did in the Aztecs. 

The Huskies' 120-point advantage over six games in this year's Big Dance ranks fourth-best in the history of the event. This will go down as an all-time powerful title push.

If not for a bizarre 2-6 stretch from Game 15 to Game 23, this 31-8 UConn team would be remembered as one of the best of the past 25 years. Maybe it still can? It shattered the narrative that there were no great teams this season. We just witnessed greatness. The Huskies were everything you wanted in a national champion: aggressive, fast, long, athletic, defensive-minded, offensively opportunistic — and unflappable. 

One man truly saw what this program could be. Hurley is maniacal in his beliefs, and on Jan. 18, 2020, the Huskies took a 61-55 loss at Villanova. Hurley was in his second season at UConn. It was Villanova, though. The loss was hardly a disgrace, especially not so far removed from that program winning its third national championship in 2018. 

But when Hurley went to the postgame press conference, he talked himself into a quote that was shared widely then and has only become more prominent since. On Monday night — 1,171 days later — what he said that night officially became the stuff of legend.

This is Hurley's legacy. "People better get us now. That's all. You better get us now because it ... it's coming."

It was indeed coming, and on Monday night, it officially arrived. 

Engrave that quote on facades and buildings throughout the campus in Storrs. Hurley's prophetic prologue will live on forever in the Nutmeg State.

"There's a certain level of validation that's going to come from this," Hurley said. "But I just feel like my career in coaching, even prior to this, I think most coaches — maybe I don't do a great job kissing the media's ass and presenting and this image that's incredibly likable, but I am who I am. I'm from Jersey City, and this is how people from Jersey City act."

UConn is all the way back and has firmed up its blue blood status. This matter is considered officially closed. The program is back to the top of the sport, and it belongs among the best. It's won a national title in the '90s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s. The past four decades accounted for. 

That's what college sports royalty does.

If all the records and runaway victories weren't enough, then look ahead, because guess what: There's even more coming. The UConn Huskies head into the immediacy of the offseason as the No. 1 team in college basketball