Houston, TX – The UConn Huskies and San Diego State Aztecs advanced to the NCAA Tournament championship game on Monday evening with wins over Florida Atlantic and Miami. The crowd of 73.860 at NRG Stadium in Houston witnessed a classic first game between San Diego State and Florida Atlantic.
Lamont Butler connected on a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to lead San Diego State past Florida Atlantic 72-71 in the thrilling first game at the Final Four in Houston. The Aztecs trailed by 14 points (54-40) early in the second half and closed the game on a 21-11 run over the final ten minutes. Matt Bradley led the winners with 21 points, hitting 4-of-8 three-pointers while drawing six fouls. Alijah Martin was impressive for the Owls with 26 points, adding seven rebounds. Martin scored on a nice layup to give his team a 71-68 lead with 45 seconds left. Jaedon LeDee (12 points) countered with a jumper with 36 seconds left to cut the lead to one point. The Owls’ Johnell Davis then missed on a driving layup with nine seconds left to set the stage for Butler’s shot.
The Aztecs cranked up their defense late in the game, holding Florida Atlantic to only two field goals over 12 attempts late in the game. San Diego State could have had an easier win if they had hit their second half free throws, missing eight of 19. They held the Owls to 33% (8-of-24) shooting in the second half.
San Diego State got off to a hot start with Bradley connecting on three three-pointers and scoring 11 points in the first five minutes as the Aztecs took a 14-5 lead. Nick Boyd came right back for Florida Atlantic, also hitting three three-pointers, the last cutting their deficit to 16-15. The game stayed even at 26 as San Diego State’s Nathan Mensah made two jumpers. The Owls took off from there, making three straight shots, two by post Giancarlo Rosado as Florida Atlantic took a 36-28 lead. Another Rosado jumper extended their lead to ten points. The Owls ended the half with a 40-33 lead.
Florida Atlantic shot well in the first half, hitting 15-of-28 shots (53.6%) and made 6-of-14 from deep. San Diego State cooled off some after their hot start, connecting on 44.4 percent from the field including 5-of-11 3’s.
In the second game UConn’s Adama Sanogo helped the Huskies got out of the block early by hitting two uncontested jumpers from the top of the key as the Huskies scored the first nine points of the game. Miami came back, eventually tying the game at 19 on a three-pointer by Nijel Pack. UConn then turned it on from there, scoring eight straight points and outscoring the Hurricanes 18-5 the remainder of the half to take a 37-24 lead int the break. Miami was only able to cut the deficit to eight points in the second half before UConn responded to run away with the 72-59 win.
The Hurricanes could not defend Sanogo, who had his way inside after draining his two 3’s. Sanogo finished with 21 points on 9-of-11 from the field and added ten rebounds to lead the winners. The Huskies relied more on their bench as sharpshooter Jordan Hawkins was recovering from a stomach ailment and Andre Jackson Jr. committed two early fouls and sat much of the first half. Hawkins came on to drain two three-pointers and scored ten his 13 points in the second half but didn’t look right all night. Jackson ended the game with six points and four assists. 6-9 freshmen Alex Karaban added eight points and nine rebounds.
UConn had a +9 advantage on the boards and moved the ball very well, generating 19 assists on 28 made baskets. Isaiah Wong led Miami with 15 points and Jordan Miller added 11 points and ten rebounds.