HOUSTON — In recent years, there's been a five-letter term — default common parlance — to label fun/obviously dominant teams. Wagon.
But UConn has reached the point where it transcends the label.
Wagon is a laughable undersell. This Herculean Huskies squad is a damn locomotive barreling down the tracks and has one more game remaining before it can be put on the shelf with some of the best NCAA Tournament teams of all time. There's just one more foe to feast upon in order for it to pull off one of the most dominant struts to a national title this sport has ever seen.
Saturday was more of the same supremacy: another double-digit win in this tournament, Miami.of No. 5
"One more! One more!" UConn coach Dan Hurley shouted as he slapped high fives with the outstretched arms of UConn fans, who were leaning over the railings as Hurley jogged into the tunnel.
In this perfunctory punking, we saw the latest all-too-easy victory vs. an overmatched nonconference opponent. Get this: No. 4 seed UConn is 16-0 against non-Big East teams this season and has won all of those games by double digits, averaging a 24.7 margin in its favor.
"We're able to kind of body-blow our opponent," Hurley said. "It has a cumulative effect. It's been able to break opponents. And we are a unique team in terms of our style of play, which hurts you in conference play because people are a lot more familiar. They see you twice. The games are much more physical. When people see us for the first time with the two centers and all the shooting, there's no real players like Andre Jackson in the country, he's so hard to prepare for. So we're a unique team."
Connecticut captured its 30th win in convincing fashion against the Hurricanes, sucking the drama out of the atmosphere inside NRG Stadium. Not so long removed from San Diego State's to kick 35-win FAU out of the bracket, Dan Hurley's team had no designs on making things as compelling as the undercard.
Miami took a respectable road here, playing the best possible seed in each game through the first four rounds of the tournament. But UConn is on a different level. That was obvious within the first few minutes of Saturday's national semifinal nightcap.
With the 13-point victory, the Huskies are the fifth team to win five Big Dance games by 13-plus points in the same tournament. And among teams that made the title game by winning all five previous matchups purely by double digits, four of the five went on to win the national title (Michigan State in 2000, Duke in 2001, North Carolina in 2009, Villanova in 2018).
The only one that didn't cut down the nets: UNC in 2016. In this building. Because of another kapow, or rather: a bang.
Saturday night got so procedural, the Huskies emptied the bench to close out the game. Hurley got to experience a basketball father's dream: he told his son, Andrew, to check in and earn playing time in a Final Four.
Long before the game was in hand, UConn made sure it would never be in doubt. The Huskies' defense showed up in a way that must have surprised Miami; the Hurricanes scored a season-low 24 points at halftime and wound up being the third straight victim to a season-low in efficiency. After UConn induced high-octane Arkansas and ever-dangerous Gonzaga into 32 and 33% shooting nights, respectively, the Hurricanes hung their heads on the trek back to the locker room after managing just 32% from the field.
Until Saturday night, there hadn't been a team in 60-plus years to hold opponents to under 35% shooting in the three rounds leading up to the national title game (Ohio State did it in 1961).
"We've really been aiming for a complete 40 minutes here in the tournament, and we've obviously been doing pretty much that from the round of 64," senior Joey Calcaterra said.
And like Gonzaga, which was embarrassed to a season-low 54 points in the regional finals, Miami will leave Houston after sputtering to a season-worst 59. One of the best shooting teams and most efficient offenses was cut down and knocked out.
So here's UConn, a team that's beaten Iona by 24 and Saint Mary's by 15 and Arkansas by 23 and Gonzaga by 28 and Miami by 13 and who knows what damage might await fifth-seeded San Diego State on Monday night.
Adama Sanogo (21 points, 10 rebounds) is the first Husky in history to have 100-plus points and 40-plus rebounds in one tournament. He's overwhelmed teams and easily been the best player in this blast of a bracket.
It's one notable accomplishment after another with this group. Hawkins, who "felt like death the past two days," according to Hurley, went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and became the sixth person ever to hit three or more 3-pointers in five games in a single NCAA Tournament.
The second half saw a couple of Miami pushes, but those were stymied by a pair of ridiculous hammer-dunks by Andre Jackson Jr., who didn't even play well on Saturday. That's the joke of all of this. Only Sanogo and Hawkins scored in double figures for UConn. This was far from an A-level game for this team.
"We know we have the best big man in the nation, the best shooter in the nation and the best defender in the nation," point guard Tristen Newton said. "We're not going to try and do a superhuman performance. We're just going to go out there and do what we've been doing all season."
As we head toward the final game of this 2022-23 campaign, let's take a minute to acknowledge the ironic nature to what UConn's doing here. This has been a season that's included a refrain from many that made sense for months but is no longer true: There's no great team this year. Turns out, that was wrong. UConn is it. UConn is great. It is comfortably favored, again, to win the one additional game it needs to capture a national championship.
A rugged San Diego State team that has likely never felt better about itself will await on Monday night. Though the Aztecs are high-end on the defensive end, this will not be the best defensive unit UConn's faced this season. Alabama rates slightly better. San Diego State is just behind the Tide. UConn will not be bullied.
It could be a tremendous matchup. It could be like FAU-SDSU and go down to the wire.
Or, come on now: Monday evening could be like every other game UConn has played in this tournament and in the nonconference. It could be a blowout. It could be a laugher. It could be exactly what we've grown to expect from the best team with the best roster in college basketball: A Connecticut coronation that clinches this team's legacy and validates once and for all the program's return to national dominance and prominence.