UConn destroys Drew Timme, Gonzaga to punch first Final Four ticket since 2014

LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga was merely the latest team to find out in this NCAA men’s tournament that Connecticut has the answers to pretty much any question.

Big, deep, versatile and skilled, No. 4 seed UConn rolled through the West Regional without a hint of trouble, punctuated by Saturday’s dominant 82-54 win over No. 3 seed Gonzaga. The Huskies, who beat Arkansas by 23 points in the Sweet 16, now head to the Final Four as the prohibitive favorites to win the national title.

For UConn, the sixth Final Four trip in school history completes a near decade-long saga to regain relevance after disappearing from the national stage following its surprise championship in 2014 under second-year coach Kevin Ollie.

After Ollie followed that run with four disappointing seasons and an NCAA investigation that found multiple rules violations, UConn hit the reset button in hopes of recapturing its dominance of the Northeast corridor that Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun built in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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UConn turned to Dan Hurley, the son of legendary New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley, who had led Rhode Island to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Two years into Hurley’s rebuild, UConn left the American Athletic Conference and rejoined the Big East, where it had experienced most of its success under Calhoun before the league’s basketball-centric private schools split off from the football schools and left UConn in conference purgatory.

UConn forward Adama Sanogo (21), guard Nahiem Alleyne, middle, and guard Jordan Hawkins, right, celebrate after a play in the second half.
UConn forward Adama Sanogo (21), guard Nahiem Alleyne, middle, and guard Jordan Hawkins, right, celebrate after a play in the second half.

But now, everything seems back in alignment at UConn — and its basketball product looks spectacular again.

Gonzaga, which advanced to the Elite Eight with a late 3-pointer by Julian Strawther to beat UCLA on Thursday, managed to stay close for a half.

But after senior big man and leading scorer Drew Timme picked up his third and fourth fouls within the first 2½ minutes of the second half, Gonzaga’s hopes quickly cratered.

With Timme on the bench, UConn attacked relentlessly on both ends of the floor and expanded its seven-point halftime lead to 60-37 in fewer than six minutes. At that point, the rest of the game was mostly an exercise in time management for UConn, which went ahead and expanded the lead to 30 anyway.

The Huskies got 20 points on six 3-pointers from sharpshooter Jordan Hawkins, 12 from freshman forward Alex Karaban and 10 from big man Adama Sanogo.

After struggling early in Big East play and losing six out of eight games during one stretch in January, UConn entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. It hasn't cooled off since.

For Gonzaga, which shot 33.3 percent, Saturday marked a third Elite Eight loss in the last eight NCAA Tournaments.

Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Elite 8: UConn pummels Gonzaga, earns first Final Four slot since '14