(HOUSTON) — From busted brackets to No. 1 seed nail-biters, March Madness lived up to the hype, culminating Monday night as the University of Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball team won their fifth NCAA Championship title.
Coach Dan Hurley led the elite basketball program to notch his first-ever title with a 76-59 win over the San Diego State Aztecs.
Hours after he came down from cutting the net from the hoop at the big dance, Coach Hurley joined Good Morning America to reflect on the momentous occasion, after sharing “a little bit of time alone in my room with my wife — to just get a little bit of peace.”
“You could feel it coming, it just wasn’t here yet and now it’s here,” he said of the time it took to build this caliber of team. “I knew that we had a culture that was beginning to form and leadership within our players.”
Since his first season as head coach for the 2010-11 season, after the Huskies had just five wins on the previous year, Hurley was in the business of rebuilding and honed talent to cultivate a winning bunch.
“We had tremendous leadership from our older players. Adama Sanogo, the most outstanding player of the tournament, he is a junior, he’s been here for the turnaround and the program,” Hurley said. “Andre Jackson, he is like an old-school captain, like Derek Jeter-type of presence — all about team, all about winning — I think those guys spearheaded this really talented team that didn’t have any flaws. We were a top offensive team, a top defensive team, we were one of the best rebounding teams in the country and we also played harder than our opponent most of the time.”
While both teams had moments struggling to make shots, SDSU at one point went more than 11 minutes without a field goal. In the second half, the Aztecs mounted a valiant comeback effort to cut the lead lead to five, but UConn star players, including star guard Jordan Hawkins, Tristen Newton, and the tournament’s most outstanding player, Adama Sanogo, proved overwhelming.
“I just won a national championship it’s absolutely insane. This is crazy,” star guard Hawkins told GMA on the court while celebrating.
“There’s a lot of people that want to be here right now, that want to win this game. Being able to do it will definitely change my life,” Sanogo told GMA.
UConn dominated the competition winning every game by double digits throughout the tournament. This title marks the team’s fifth championship win since Jim Calhoun’s first for the school in 1999.
Hurley’s own family is full of top tier basketball talent, with two generations that have spanned high school, college and the NBA — starting with his dad, Bob Hurley Sr., famed high school coach at St. Anthony’s with 28 New Jersey state titles and a spot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Older brother Bobby Hurley, known as one of the best point guards in NCAA history, still leads the NCAA in all-time assists, has two All-American titles and a national championship win at Duke. Son Andrew — a reserve on the UConn bench — was able to dribble out the final seconds on the clock last night.
“Obviously if you grow up in a household with a Hall of Fame coach as a dad and maybe the greatest college point guard of all time for a brother, you really learn how to strive for things, how to push yourself. You develop a toughness about you too ’cause you’re constantly compared to exceptional human beings. They supported me greatly along the way — I couldn’t have two better mentors than my dad and my brother.”
SDSU has reached the Sweet 16 round just three times in its 15 March Madness appearances and fell short in the title game, but made program history with its first Final Four run.
Aztecs guard Matt Bradley got emotional discussing the impact this tournament had for him.
“The brotherhood and these guys actually have real leadership that I can follow. It changed the trajectory of my life for sure,” he told press after the loss. “It is more than just basketball.”
Last year leading up to the March Madness games, Hurley recalled attempting “to seclude ourselves from listening to a lot of the noise,” but said “this year our approach was to enjoy it more — I know that we’re a popular pick and I know we helped a good number of people in their pool.”
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