NCAA men's Final Four recap: UConn continues March Madness domination, will play SDSU for title
The college basketball world will be focused on Houston, where the men's Final Four tipped off Saturday.
The Cinderellas have taken over the sport in the last two weeks and now four teams who each surprised during the tournament are ready to play after leaving busted brackets along the way.
Florida Atlantic, a school of about 25,000 students located in Boca Raton, Florida, made only its second NCAA Tournament appearance. The Owls blitzed through the East Region, but lost to San Diego State 72-71 after the Aztecs came back from a 14-point deficit and won the game on Lamont Butler's buzzer-beater.
In the second semifinal, UConn continued its March Madness domination, cruising past No. 5 Miami 72-59.
Follow along for live updates throughout the night:
UConn continues NCAA Tournament domination with win over Miami
Forward Adama Sanogo had a game-high 21 points and No. 4 Connecticut continued a historically dominant march through this NCAA men's basketball tournament with a 72-59 win against No. 5 Miami to reach Monday night's national championship game.
The Huskies will face No. 5 San Diego State, which beat No. 9 Florida Atlantic 72-71 in the first national semifinal on a last-second buzzer beater by guard Lamont Butler.
This has been an NCAA tournament for the ages for UConn, which has now beaten five teams by at least 13 points: No. 13 Iona (87-63), No. 5 Saint Mary's (70-55), No. 8 Arkansas (88-65), No. 3 Gonzaga (82-54) and the Hurricanes.
While the Aztecs are the first team in men's tournament history to win Elite Eight and Final Four games by one point apiece, UConn was only the eighth team to reach the semifinals having defeated four opponents by 15 or more points.
This one, like the wins against Arkansas and Gonzaga, saw the Huskies in almost wire-to-wire control.
— Paul Myerberg
Miami's Nijel Pack on bench with broken shoe
Hurricanes sophomore guard Nijel Pack is on the bench with what CBS reports is a broken shoe. The team checked the locker room for a replacement and an assistant came to the bench with a pair of black sneakers. Pack looked them over before shaking his head and handing them back. The assistant ran back to the locker room as Jordan Hawkins made a pair of free throws to extend Connecticut's lead to 53-40.
Pack has eight points for the Hurricanes.
Pack returned to the court with about four minutes left in the game. SportsCenter reports that the UConn staff found a pair of shoes for him to wear.
Nijel Pack's shoes broke during the game and the UConn staff found him another pair.
He was on the bench shoeless 😅 pic.twitter.com/zJI1Yzosl9
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 2, 2023
UConn reasserts lead at half
The UConn Huskies take their largest lead of the game into the half, up 13 points over the Miami Hurricanes after Joey Calcaterra made a three-point shot at the buzzer. The Huskies go into the break up 37-24.
The Hurricanes tied the game at 19 with 8:23 on the clock, but UConn went on an 8-0 run to take back the lead. Miami was held to only nine field goals in the first half.
Huskies junior forward Adama Sanogo is the game's leading scorer with 13 points. Senior guard Jordan Miller has seven points for Miami.
Connecticut star guard Jordan Hawkins has not scored since opening the game with a 3-point bucket.
Padres fans cheer for Aztecs' buzzer-beater
There is a small window where college basketball intersects with Major League Baseball and Saturday hit the sweet spot. The San Diego Padres were hosting the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park and the starting lineups were being announced right as Lamont Butler won San Diego State's Final Four game with a buzzer-beater. The game was being broadcast on the stadium's video boards and the crowd cheered loudly as their hometown team advanced to its first national championship game.
San Diego Padres fans are going WILD at Petco Park as they watched San Diego State's buzzer-beater in the @MFinalFour 🙌
(via @AJCassavell) pic.twitter.com/HcyJnG2PZS
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 2, 2023
Miami ties game at 19
The Miami Hurricanes didn't stay down for long as they erased a 10-point deficit in five minutes of play. Nijel Pack scored a three-point shot with 8:23 in the first half to tie the game at 19 and slow down the Connecticut Huskies' momentum.
The Hurricanes went on a 15-5 run kicked off by a trey from star guard Isaiah Wong.
UConn surges early over Miami
The Connecticut Huskies wasted no time in asserting themselves over the Miami Hurricanes. Six minutes into the game, Tristen Newton made a 3-point shot to put the Huskies up 14-4. Adama Sanogo had two buckets from behind the arc to build UConn's lead. Miami is shooting 2-of-14 from the field, for a shooting percentage of 0.143.
UConn star Jordan Hawkins to start Final Four game
UConn sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins is set to start after battling a stomach bug this week, CBS' Tracy Wolfson reported prior to the team's Final Four game against the Miami Hurricanes. He didn't practice Friday and received "round the clock treatment." He was participating in shootaround prior to tipoff Saturday night.
Hawkins averaged 16.3 points for the Huskies during the regular season and is averaging 17.3 points in the NCAA tournament. He had 24 points in the Sweet 16 win against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
He scored the first points of the game, a three-point shot.
San Diego State fights back, advances to national championship
The San Diego State Aztecs beat the Florida Atlantic Owls 72-71 Saturday in Houston to advance to their first national championship game.
Lamont Butler made the game-winning shot at the buzzer after San Diego State trailed the entire second half.
"The plan was just to get downhill, they cut me off a little bit, I looked back, there was two seconds left, so I got to a shot that I was comfortable with," Butler said on ESPN after the game, "and I hit it. I'm happy."
LAMONT BUTLER WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 😱
THE AZTECS ARE #NATIONALCHAMPIONSHIP BOUND 🔥#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/2sqxu5g05j
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 2, 2023
The Aztecs were down by as many as 14 points and tied the game at 65 with 4:05 on the clock. The Owls answered with a jumpshot from Giancarlo Rosad, but couldn't quite pull away comfortably. It's the fifth-largest comeback in Final Four history.
Florida Atlantic's sophomore guard Alijah Martin was the game's leading scorer with 26 points. Aztecs senior guard Matt Bradley had 21 points.
Aztecs tie game at 65
After being down by as many as 14 points, the San Diego Aztecs tied the game at 65 points with 4:26 left on the clock in Final Four action. The team came within two of the Florida Atlantic Owls multiple times, but senior forward Aguek Arop made the jumper that finally leveled the score. San Diego has 11 offensive rebounds compared with Florida Atlantic's seven, which is helping the Aztecs in their comeback.
San Diego State creeps back in second half
The Florida Atlantic Owls have maintained their lead through the second half, but not without a fight from the San Diego State Aztecs. Brian Dutcher's team is within two after going on a 16-4 run, capped off by a pair of free throws from Matt Bradley. The senior guard had a key three-point shot in the run. The Aztecs are down 60-58 with 9:05 on the clock.
San Diego State also had a short 5-0 run to start the period that shook the Owls' momentum.
Women's Final Four does big ratings for ESPN
With South Carolina's Aliyah Boston and Iowa's Caitlin Clark facing off in the women's Final Four on Friday night, ratings were expected to be high.
They were record-setting for ESPN, the network announced Saturday.
ESPN, which broadcast both NCAA Tournament semifinal games, said the LSU-Virginia Tech early game averaged 3.4 million viewers with a peak of 5 million across network platforms. That was up 57% from last year's early game.
Iowa-South Carolina averaged 5.5 million with a peak of 6.6 million, up 72% from last year's late game.
Both games drew record audiences for a college basketball game – men's or women's – on ESPN+, the network said.
— Mike Brehm
Florida Atlantic has lead at halftime
The Florida Atlantic Owls are up 40-33 over the San Diego State Aztecs at the half. The Owls' lead was as large as 10, but Keshad Johnson made a 3-point shot with 39 seconds on the clock to keep the difference single digits.
"We've been able to open up some gaps and drive those gaps," Owls head coach Dusty May said on the CBS broadcast. He said his message to the team in the locker room will be to keep playing, "frame by frame, possession by possession."
San Diego State is shooting 13-of-29 from the field, but has gone 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Aztecs senior guard Matt Bradley is the game's leading scorer with 11 points. He's made three treys. For the Owls, freshman guard Nicholas Boyd has nine points.
Florida Atlantic and San Diego State off to hot start
Florida Atlantic and San Diego State are playing in their first Final Four game. The Owls made a statement first, going up 5-0 with a three-point bucket from Nicholas Boyd and a jumpshot from Johnell Davis. The Aztecs crept ahead with back-to-back baskets from Matt Bradley, but Florida Atlantic took the lead again with a 16-3 run. The Owls are up 21-17 halfway through the first half.
When does Men's NCAA Tournament Final Four start?
The first national semifinal between Florida Atlantic and San Diego State tips off at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The second game between UConn and Miami will begin 30 minutes after the first game finishes, at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET.
The winners of the two semifinals will meet in the men's national championship game, which will be played on Monday, April 3, starting at 9:20 p.m. ET.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga has elite March Madness dance moves
The Miami Hurricanes football team of the 1980s won three national championships and was known for its dance moves, flips, touchdown celebrations and sack celebrations.
The men's basketball team carries on the legacy as this season, head coach Jim Larrañaga has led his players to the program's first Final Four. Since taking over the Hurricanes in 2011, he has led Miami to four Sweet 16 appearances and back-to-back Elite Eight berths, including this year's run.
All along the way, he has shimmied and two-stepped along with his team in each victory celebration, delighting fans across the country.
"It's really about March Madness is the big dance," Larrañaga said on CBS' Final Four Show. "You have to have fun. And everybody loves dancing."
- Victoria Hernandez
BIG DANCE: Jim Larrañaga has some elite March Madness dance moves
Final Four predictions
The NCAA men's tournament field has been whittled from 68 to four in a matter of two weeks of postseason games. The remaining quartet arrives in Houston with just one of the top 16 seeds remaining. That school, No. 4 Connecticut, will be joined by three first-time Final Four participants – No. 5 seeds San Diego State and Miami (Florida) and No. 9 Florida Atlantic.
Here's who the USA TODAY Sports has to win:
FAU vs. San Diego State
Dan Wolken: FAU
Paul Myerberg: SDSU
Eddie Timanus: SDSU
Erick Smith: SDSU
Miami vs. UConn
Will Florida Atlantic stay together after Final Four?
In the era of the transfer portal, the most pressing concern for FAU is retaining a talented but overlooked roster put on national display during four successive NCAA men's tournament wins.
"Without a doubt, it's going to be fluid every single day," coach Dusty May said. "And until the ball is tipped up next season, you may not know truly who your roster is going to be, and it's part of it. Luckily, I'm still relatively young and have a lot of energy, because I don't think there's going to be a day where you can just relax and not fear your phone buzzing."
– Paul Myerberg
How Michigan's Fab Five legacy runs through San Diego State
San Diego State's Final Four run traces back to the glory and heartache of the Fab Five era at Michigan, where current Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher was an assistant under Steve Fisher.
“I’ve heard from all five of them,” Dutcher told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “They texted me 'Good luck,' 'Congratulations,' 'Go get ‘em.' "
– Brent Schrotenboer
Connecticut's Sanogo manages fasting for Ramadan while leading team's Final Four run
HOUSTON — Nine minutes before Saturday’s second national semifinal is scheduled to tip off, Connecticut center Adama Sanogo is going to eat.
It won’t be much. Maybe just some oranges and coconut water, but he will get something in his stomach. And that’s going to be a lot better than what Sanogo had to deal with last weekend at the West Regional in Las Vegas.
“I’m not trying to think about it,” he said. “The more you’re thinking about it, the more it’s hard to do it.”
Sanogo, a native of Mali who has arguably been UConn’s best player during the NCAA men’s tournament, is Muslim and currently observing Ramadan, a month where he is not allowed to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
- Dan Wolken
SDSU assistant Mark Fisher, living with ALS, is helping Aztecs at Final Four
The assistant confined to a wheelchair helps explain the makeup of the men’s Final Four.
More specifically, to understand how fifth-seeded San Diego State earned the school’s first trip to the Final Four where it will be playing Saturday against Florida Atlantic in Houston, it helps to know Mark Fisher, who serves as an assistant to Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher.
He is the son of Steve Fisher, the retired basketball coach who won a national championship with Michigan in 1989 and took the school back to the Final Four in 1992 and 1993 with the celebrated "Fab Five."
More importantly, Mark Fisher, 44, has no use of his arms and legs.
But before tip-off here is some essential reading to get you ready.
– Josh Peter
From FAU's nasty locker rooms to the Final Four
HOUSTON — In May of 2008, Craig Angelos was looking for something that would give Florida Atlantic basketball a spark. So he drove two miles from campus and went to church.
The purpose of the trip wasn’t prayer, even though the program could have used some. Angelos, then FAU’s athletics director, had gone to meet with Mike Jarvis, the former George Washington and St. John’s coach who had moved to Boca Raton and become an influential member at Spanish River Church. They did the interview right there in the pastor's office.
“He was a great coach, but I also thought, he’s part of this 6,000-member church right by FAU,” said Angelos, now a senior deputy athletics director at Long Island University. “So if we have any of his friends come to games, maybe 100 or 200 or even 1,000 because they want to support their fellow church member, that’s a huge plus. In Boca, you need a guy who can do more than just coach.”
Will Miami's Norchard Omier play football?
HOUSTON — The University of Miami birthed one of the great basketball-to-football conversions of all time when Jimmy Graham, a four-year basketball role player for the Hurricanes, picked up football as a graduate student in 2009.
NFL scouts saw enough of Graham’s size, speed and athleticism in that one year of college football to make him a third-round draft pick. He went on to catch 713 passes in the NFL, make five Pro Bowls and become one of the best tight ends of his generation.
People who watch Miami for the first time Saturday when they play Connecticut in the Final Four may get flashbacks when they see center Norchad Omier, a 6-foot-7 block of steel whose physical profile suggests he could be a big-time NFL prospect.
- Dan Wolken
Here are some stories to get you ready before tip-off.
WHO IS TAKING THE TITLE?: See USA TODAY staff's Final Four staff predictions
EXPECTING SURPRISES: Five bold predictions for the men's NCAA Tournament's Final Four
ANOTHER RUN?: Three ways Florida Atlantic's team can stay together
30 YEARS LATER: Fab Five legacy lives with San Diego State at Final Four
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Final Four recap: San Diego State defeats FAU; UConn downs Miami