The men’s national championship game is set! UConn, the tournament’s most dominant team to date, rolled past Miami by 13 points for a fifth straight win by double figures, while San Diego State stunned FAU on Lamont Butler’s buzzer-beating jumper to complete a 14-point rally. That sets the stage for Monday night’s title game, a matchup that feels far more like David vs. Goliath than the teams’ seeds would indicate. Can UConn claim its fifth national title in program history? Or will San Diego State cut down the nets in its first-ever trip to the Final Four? Here’s a look at the matchup and what will determine this year’s national champion.
Matchup to watch: UConn’s shooting vs. San Diego State’s three-point defense
UConn has been remarkably hot from downtown in this tournament. In their five NCAA tournament games, the Huskies are shooting 40% from deep, their worst performance Saturday night when they shot just 9 for 26 against the Hurricanes. But when UConn’s dominance at the rim thanks to Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan on the inside is combined with elite three-point shooting, there may not be anything an opponent can do to stop them.
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That said, perhaps San Diego State’s greatest strength is its ability to defend the three. The Aztecs rank third nationally in three-point defense, with opponents shooting just 28% on the season. That mark has been even better in tournament play, with the Aztecs’ five foes making under 22% of their attempts from deep in the Big Dance. Even Saturday against FAU, who made nine threes in the game, SDSU limited the Owls to just one triple in the game’s final 15 minutes as it rallied from a double-figure deficit. No. 1 overall seed Alabama shot just 3 for 27 from downtown against San Diego State in the Sweet 16, which allowed the Aztecs to pull off that huge upset. A similar number might be necessary for the Aztecs to win it all on Monday night.
UConn: Adama Sanogo. Calling the team’s leading scorer an x-factor may feel unorthodox, but the label fits here. Simply put, when Sanogo plays the way he has in this tournament, UConn’s offense finds a different ceiling. No defensive coverage teams have thrown at him has worked. Miami chose to sag off the big man on the perimeter early, so he made two threes in the first four minutes. When the Hurricanes adjusted and closed out, he pump-faked, drove and scored. Gonzaga threw double teams at him, so Sanogo dished out six assists (a career high). San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher will have his hands full in game-planning for one of the nation’s best big men.
San Diego State: Nathan Mensah. If there’s any player who can help a team neutralize UConn at the rim, it might be Mensah. The fifth-year big man is one of the most unique defensive players in the country, with Aztecs players and staff raving all week about his ability to both switch onto guards and protect the rim against bigs. His massive seven-foot-four wingspan is a weapon Miami’s Norchad Omier didn’t have dealing with the likes of Sanogo and Clingan. San Diego State needs to keep its defensive whiz out of foul trouble and hope he can keep the Aztecs afloat in the paint.
How San Diego State pulls the upset
UConn’s 20.6 average point differential in the Big Dance blows away even recent dominant champions like Baylor in 2021 (15.3) and Villanova in ‘18 (17.6). It’s safe to call the Huskies clear favorites to win it all, so what’s the recipe for San Diego State to pull off a shocker?
First, UConn’s defense has been nearly as good as its offense this tournament and is fresh off holding a pair of elite offenses in Gonzaga and Miami to under 60 points each. A San Diego State attack that has gone cold at times this season has to find a way to manufacture offense and avoid the long scoring droughts that have so often plagued them. Leading scorer Matt Bradley found his rhythm against FAU after struggling mightily during the tournament’s second weekend, pouring in 21 points and drilling four triples in the win. Bradley needs a strong performance for San Diego State to have any hope of matching the Huskies’ firepower.
And on the other end, San Diego State’s elite three-point defense has to live up to its season-long billing. UConn is 18–1 this season when it shoots 36% or better from downtown and 15–2 when it makes 10 or more threes in a game. Stopping the Huskies from deep doesn’t beat them, but it does make them a lot more beatable than they’ve looked in this tournament.
San Diego State won’t be flustered in a close game: It has needed to rally from second-half deficits in three consecutive games to get to this moment. On the other side, UConn hasn’t faced real game pressure (the closest came Saturday, when Miami briefly pulled within eight) in the second half in this tournament and now has to deal with the weight of being an overwhelming favorite. If San Diego State can apply some heat late, it might just break the Huskies.
UConn has passed every test this tournament with flying colors. While there’s a path for San Diego State to pull off an upset, it’s a narrow one, and the Huskies just feel a cut above the rest of the sport at this point. UConn has simply too many weapons and will apply one final knockout punch Monday night to earn its fifth championship in program history.
UConn 72, San Diego State 58