Men's College Basketball

Huskies Take Down Aztecs, Advance to Elite 8


San Diego State Aztecs forward Jaedon LeDee blocks a shot by UConn guard Tristen Newton during Thursday’s NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen game at Boston’s TD Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The top-seeded UConn Huskies downed the fifth-seeded San Diego State Aztecs 82-52 in the East Regional Semifinal contest at Boston’s TD Garden on Thursday.

Unlike the two previous games where UConn came out to a large lead early in the contest, the Aztecs kept it close at the start, all thanks to forward Jaedon LeDee.

Where UConn had a balanced approach to scoring in the first five minutes of the game, with a layup to center Donovan Clingan, a jump shot by guard Stephon Castle and a three pointer and a layup by forward Alex Karaban, each basket was answered by a score from LeDee. When guard Darrion Trammell hit a three-pointer for the Aztec’s first score by someone other than LeDee, it gave San Diego State a 10-9 lead with 15:55 left in the half.

UConn tied the score five seconds later when Castle was fouled by Trammell but only converted one of two free throw attempts to make the score 10-10.

The Huskies then did what they have done all season long which earned them the No. 1 overall seed throughout the tournament. They clamped down on defense and slowly pulled away from their opponent one basket at a time.

It started with a deep three-ball from Karaban, which was answered by a dunk by LeDee. Then guard Cam Spencer scored on a layup. It was answered by a jump shot by guard Reese Waters. Then UConn pounded with a 7-0 run with layups from guard Tristen Newton and Spencer plus a three-pointer by Newton to make the score 22-14 in favor of the Huskies.

UConn Huskies center Donovan Clingan blocks a shot by San Diego State forward Jaedon LeDee during Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen game at TD Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

LaDee scored his 11th point of the half with a jump shot to make it 22-16 with 12:36 left in the half, but Spencer scored five-points on back-to-back shots to extend the score to 27-16.

The Aztecs were left a small window when the Huskies missed five shots in a row. Forward Elijah Saunders and guard Miles Byrd each scored to trim the deficit to six.

San Diego State was able to pull to within four points on a jump shot by forward Micah Parrish, but two baskets by Spencer allowed UConn to finish the half on a 5-0 run. UConn led 40-31 at the half.

Guard Lamont Butler was the next player to step up for San Diego. He scored the first six Aztec points to begin the second half. However, Castle scored six points in the same span and received help from Newton and Clingan, who each scored a basket, and the Huskies now led 51-37 with 13:56 remaining in the game.

San Diego state was also hampered by an inability to rebound the ball in the second half, while guard Hassan Diarra woke up for UConn. His back-to-back layups gave the Huskies a 20-point advantage with 11:11 to go.

Parrish connected on an inbounds pass for a three-pointer and then scored on a jump shot a minute later. LaDee scored his 18th point of the game, a free throw after being fouled by Husky forward Samson Johnson. Even forward Jay Pal got into the action late in the game with a three-pointer and a layup. Nonetheless, instead of chipping away at UConn’s lead, they surrendered another ten points. The weary Aztecs found themselves on the back end of an 82-52 rout by the defending champions when the final buzzer sounded.

UConn went 30-for-65 (46.2 percent) from the field; 10-for-26 (38.5 percent) from three-point range; and 12-for-16 (75.0 percent) in free throw percentage. They committed 11 turnovers that led to 10 Aztec points. They also led in fast break points with a 7-5 advantage, and dominated in the paint with a 38-18 performance there.

UConn Huskies guard Tristen Newton pulls up for a short jump shot during Thursday’s NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen game against the San Diego State Aztecs at Boston’s TD Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“Obviously we had our best night, and they didn’t have one of their best nights. Obviously didn’t expect a game like this versus those guys, but ultimate respect to San Diego State. True champions,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “I don’t think we feel tremendous pressure going into these rounds of 32 or Sweet 16 games. Obviously we feel pressure because we want Cam and Steph and some of these guys that are maybe on their last run at UConn to experience a Final Four and national championship, but as a program we don’t feel a lot of pressure.”

San Diego State went 21-for-58 (36.2 percent) from the field; 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) in three-point field goals; and 5-for-10 (50.0 percent) from the charity stripe. The Aztecs committed 12 turnovers leading to 10 Husky points.

“I want to say it’s not the ending we’re going to remember, it’s the journey because the journey is everything. We’ve been on an incredible journey together. I take great joy here tonight with these three guys sitting next to me, the fact that they’re 7-2 on college basketball’s biggest stage over the last two years. It’s something to take great pride in,” said San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher. “I said if losing a basketball game is the worst thing that’s going to happen in your life, you’re going to have a fantastic life.”

In the last two seasons of play, San Diego State has made nine appearances in NCAA tournament games, but both losses have now come at the hands of UConn. They faced each other in last year’s national championship game which UConn won 76-59.

Cam Spencer led UConn with 18 points, Tristen Newton scored 17 points and led the team with four assists; while Stephon Castle pitched in for 16 points and led the team with 11 rebounds.

“I think everybody is very hungry. Obviously the team had great success last year, but it’s a different group. A lot of those returners came back wanting to go do it again and help the new guys experience a national championship,” said Spencer. “I think that is just a part of the UConn culture, and I’m happy to be at UConn, and happy to be a part of it.”

Jaeden LaDee led San Diego State with 18 points and eight rebounds. Micah Parrish added 10 points on the night while Lamont Butler led the team with six assists.

“The team [UConn] is really good. They played a really good game tonight. I don’t think we played our best ball, like Coach said. Kudos to them. They played really well tonight,” said LaDee.

The win was UConn’s 34th on the season, which ties the school record with the most wins in a season. They will try to break that mark on Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET when they take on the No. 3 seed Illinois Fighting Illini in the East Regional Finals at the TD Garden.

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