Early in the 2022–’23 college basketball season, the University of Connecticut Huskies men’s team emerged with the discernible appearance of a potential national champion.
On Monday night, their potential manifested into the program’s fifth title and the justifiable designation as one of the sports elite that now stands side-by-side with collegiate royalty. Only UCLA (11), Kentucky (8), and North Carolina (6) have more and UConn’s 76–59 victory over San Diego State ties them with Duke and Indiana. Kansas, which is a college basketball standard bearer, started in 1898; was coached by the founder of the game Dr. James Naismith; and has four. The Jayhawks immediately preceded UConn as NCAA champion, defeating North Carolina in last year’s finale.
Coming out of the Big East, UConn steamrolled through their six games in the NCAA tournament, picking off opponents by an average of 20 points per game, including a 28-point (82–54) dismantling of perennial power Gonzaga in their Elite Eight matchup. UConn went 31–8 this season and opened their schedule 14–0. Their first loss came on Christmas Eve against Big East competitor Xavier and started a challenging stretch of five losses in six games between December 31 and January 18.
All of UConn’s defeats this season were to conference foes. From February 18 until their crowning achievement on Monday, UConn was 12–1. Their lone setback was to regular season and conference tournament champion Marquette in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 10. The game foreshadowed the dominant performance that UConn’s 6′-9″ power forward/center Adama Sanogo would produce during his team’s decisive advance to the title.
The 21-year-old from the Republic of Mali in West Africa, who played in high school for Our Savior New American on Long Island and then the Patrick School in New Jersey, was virtually unstoppable. The First-Team Big East selection began the NCAA tournament by posting 28 points and 13 rebounds in UConn’s 87–63 opening round win against Iona and capped off his season by scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds versus San Diego State and being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
“He’s obviously cemented himself into the pantheon of the greatest big guys, with all the production and back-to-back first team all-league, and now this—to have the national championship—just puts him in a position in one of the most storied programs in college basketball,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley.
Hurley added that Sanogo is among college’s historic big men. “He’s an all-time great.”
The 50-year-old Hurley has continued the legacy of a legendary basketball family from Jersey City, New Jersey. Patriarch Bob Hurley is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his 39 years of heading St. Anthony’s High School, where he won 26 state and four national titles.
Dan Hurley’s older brother Bobby was a two-time NCAA champion (1991, 1992) as the starting point guard for Duke and the seventh overall pick of the Sacramento Kings in the 1993 NBA Draft. He is currently the head coach at Arizona State.
Now the younger Hurley, who had stops as the head coach at Wagner (2010–’12) and Rhode Island (2012–’18), before taking the UConn job in 2018 after the controversial departure of Kevin Ollie, who guided the Huskies to the 2014 championship, has crafted his own distinctive identity.