Entering Saturday, the UConn Huskies looked the part as arguably the hottest team in college basketball. UConn won each of its first three NCAA Tournament games by double figures, including a total destruction of Arkansas in Sweet 16, and the Huskies showed signs of living up to the promise of a 14-game winning streak to begin the 2022-23 season. Still, Dan Hurley’s team faced what appeared to be a worthy adversary in the Gonzaga Bulldogs in a highly-anticipated Elite Eight matchup in Las Vegas.
While the first half was highly competitive, UConn asserted itself coming out of the locker room and, in the end, it was an exceedingly comfortable 82-54 victory for the Huskies to earn a trip to Houston for next week’s Final Four.
UConn established itself first, zooming out of the gate with a 9-2 run with the help of a slow start from Gonzaga’s normally high-powered offense. The Bulldogs missed eight of their first nine shots, including a pair of airballs, and UConn’s physicality was immediately evident. The Huskies hit a rough patch of their own soon after, though, and the two teams combined to shoot just 15-for-39 from the field through more than 12 minutes of action.
The scoring pace picked up from there, as Gonzaga took its first lead of the evening on a three-pointer by Malachi Smith with 6:33 to go before halftime.
That edge was quite brief for Gonzaga, as UConn immediately stormed back with the help of timely shotmaking.
Later in the half, Gonzaga star Drew Timme picked up a second foul, forcing him to the bench, and the Huskies took immediate advantage. Gonzaga continued its poor shooting with a miss in the lane and, on the other end, UConn secured back-to-back offensive rebounds to set up a three-pointer by Jordan Hawkins that gave the Huskies a seven-point edge.
That seven-point advantage mirrored the margin at the halftime break with a hat-tip to UConn’s Andre Jackson and Alex Karaban. Jackson made a beautiful, heads-up play to set up Karaban for a three-pointer on the last possession, giving the Huskies a bit of extra cushion.
While UConn was already in a favorable position heading into halftime, the Huskies created more separation with haste to begin the second half. Timme picked up his third foul in the first minute and, immediately, UConn padded its lead with five straight points, including a triple by Hawkins to force a timeout.
Making matters worse for Gonzaga, Timme was then whistled for a very questionable fourth foul with more than 17 minutes remaining. The whistle removed the perennial All-American from the floor for several minutes, and it turned out to be a death blow for the Bulldogs.
As soon as Timme went to the bench, UConn put the pedal down, scoring the next eight points. That gave the Huskies an 18-point lead and, even with more than 16 minutes on the clock, UConn appeared to be in complete control.
A run never materialized for Gonzaga, as UConn continued to dominate the proceedings. If there was any remaining doubt, it evaporated with a 13-4 run that pushed UConn’s lead to 31 points with fewer than eight minutes on the clock. That spurt was capped by the fifth three-pointer of the night from Jordan Hawkins, with the celebration undoubtedly beginning from Hartford to Storrs and beyond.
For Gonzaga, it was an ill-timed moment to have a shockingly disappointing offensive performance. The Bulldogs were always likely to struggle to stop an explosive UConn offense, but Mark Few’s team entered the night as the No. 1 offense in the country by adjusted efficiency and came off a night in which it scored comfortably against an elite UCLA defense in the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs struggled to find rhythm throughout the evening, visibly bothered by UConn’s physicality and unable to convert shots in what became a 33 percent shooting night from the floor and a miserable 2-for-20 showing from three-point range.
UConn, on the other hand, was a well-oiled machine. The Huskies scored 1.17 points per possession on offense, secured 13 offensive rebounds, and committed only eight turnovers. UConn’s balanced attack gave Gonzaga fits throughout the evening, led by Hawkins with 20 points and six triples. That offense, coupled with a valuable, multi-faceted effort from Andre Jackson (eight points, ten assists, nine rebounds) to key things on both ends, yielded impressive results.
The Huskies will now square off against the winner of Sunday’s matchup between Texas and Miami on Saturday in Houston. Regardless of opponent, UConn is expected to enter the Final Four as the betting favorite and, given the team’s performance to this point in the tournament, that placement in the pecking order makes complete sense.