In the end, it was a familiar face that won the NCAA Tournament.
UConn — a No. 4 seed — beat No. 5 seed San Diego State 76-59 on Monday night in Houston for its fifth title in the past 24 years. The Huskies and coach Dan Hurley cruised through the tournament in impressive fashion, winning all six games by at least 10 points.
The Aztecs of the Mountain West Conference didn’t go quietly, cutting UConn’s lead to six points late in the second half before the Huskies used one more run to put the game away. It was San Diego State’s first trip to the title game.
Before Monday night, college basketball fans enjoyed three weeks of great moments. Here are a few that stood out:
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON SHOCKER
Little-known Fairleigh Dickinson — a private, commuter school in Teaneck, New Jersey — provided an early stunner, becoming just the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed with its 63-58 win over Purdue.
Only in the NCAA Tournament field due to a technicality, FDU, which went 4-22 last season, won a First Four game in Dayton before the victory over the Boilermakers. FDU lost the Northeast Conference Tournament title game 67-66 but still received the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA bracket because champion Merrimack remains ineligible for postseason play after moving up from Division II to Division I.
Smart kids made it all the way to the Sweet 16 when Ivy League champion Princeton — a No. 15 seed — won not just one but two games in the tournament to advance to the second weekend.
TOP SEEDS BITE DUST
Purdue’s loss to Fairleigh Dickinson was just the opening salvo in a tough tournament for No. 1 seeds.
The men’s tournament did not have a No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight for the first time since seeding began in 1979.
Kansas bowed out in the second round, with Arkansas taking down the reigning national champion Jayhawks. Alabama, the bracket’s No. 1 overall seed, succumbed in the Sweet 16 to San Diego State.
Later in the Sweet 16, Miami capped the No. 1 carnage with a dominant 89-75 win over Houston.
San Diego State’s Lamont Butler hit a buzzer-beating jumper that will live a long time in college basketball lore, sending the Aztecs to their first national championship game with a 72-71 win over fellow mid-major Florida Atlantic in the Final Four.
The clock ticking down, Butler dribbled to the baseline, found that cut off and circled back. He stepped back to create a little room and hit a jumper that sent the Aztecs racing out onto the floor and had San Diego Padres fans going wild at Petco Park.
THAT WAS COOL
Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell broke the NCAA Tournament record for assists in a game with 19, including one late in the game that was among the most creative in postseason history.
Nowell found Keyontae Johnson for a reverse alley-oop with 52 seconds left in OT to give the Wildcats the lead for good over Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Nowell appeared to be arguing with coach Jerome Tang right before the pass, catching the Spartans flat-footed in one of the most important moments of the game.
There were a lot of great games in this year’s tournament. Among the best: Gonzaga’s 79-76 thriller over UCLA in the Sweet 16.
Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to the wild win over the Bruins. The Bruins stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:05 and took a 76-75 lead on Bailey’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left before Strawther’s shot.
Announcing legend Jim Nantz has called his last NCAA Tournament game.
The 63-year-old called his 354th and final tournament game on Monday night when UConn beat San Diego State for the title.
Here’s his call of Saturday’s buzzer-beating shot by SDSU’s Butler in the semifinals. Nantz estimates he’s had 20-something such last-second winners over his years in the tournament.
“It’s Butler. With 2 seconds. He’s gotta put it up. Aaand. He wins it! He wins it! With the jumper!” Then, 5 seconds of silence, followed by, “A San Diego State miracle!”
—David Brandt, The Associated Press