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Back-to-Back: UConn caps dominant season with its second straight title

The questions were basically the same, followed by similar reactions: a smile, a shake of the head, and a moment of proud, yet somewhat-surprised reflection.

After shooting an insane 72 percent as a team in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals against Xavier, UConn forward Alex Karaban reacted that way when asked to describe what transpired, calling his squad’s performance “unreal,” while noting it’s something he never saw before.

His quote spoke volumes considering the Huskies were just a year removed from one of the more dominant NCAA Tournament runs in history, followed by a dominant regular season.

Two weeks later, once again, Karaban sat at his locker, equally puzzled in a good way after UConn rattled off a 30-0 run on its way past Illinois to clinch a berth in the Final Four. “I just can’t believe it,” he smiled.

Over the last 13 months, somehow, someway, the Huskies topped each of their accomplishments along the way.

Their latest, and ultimately, most impressive moment came Monday night. The Huskies won their second consecutive national championship with 75-60 victory over Purdue, which spent the season with them on top of the rankings, to clinch the program’s sixth national championship.

One can argue that Alabama and Purdue, UConn’s Final Four opponents, each played relatively well. It didn’t matter. UConn still outscored them by a combined 29 points.

The Huskies played 40 games this season, winning 37. They won all 12 of their NCAA Tournament games over the past two years by double digits, including a tournament record plus-140 this go-around.

The numbers, as chronicled in-depth since tip-off in November, are simply astounding.

How did a program, in the darkest of places six years ago before coach Dan Hurley arrived, get to this point?

Hurley, never one for a quick soundbite, offered a short, but extremely telling statement during the celebration on Monday.

“We recruit NBA-talented players who do not make it about themselves,” Hurley said. “These were the best possible players to do this with.”

Tristen Newton was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, registering 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the final.

Stephon Castle established himself, despite being only a freshman, as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country and played a huge role in holding Purdue to a season-low in points. He also added 15 points of his own.

Cam Spencer was everywhere, finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds. His intensity fit into the UConn culture (Hurley’s favorite word) from the moment he arrived from Rutgers and resonated until the season’s final buzzer.

In the battle of his career against 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, a two-time Naismith National Player of the Year, Donovan Clingan held his own, fighting foul trouble while contributing 11 points, five rebounds and a block.

Of those players, Newton and Spencer have officially played their final games for UConn, as they are out of eligibility. Odds are, Clingan and Castle took the court for the Huskies for the final time as well, with the NBA Lottery looming for each.

It was hard to envision UConn getting back to this point and repeating after losing Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins to the NBA. Getting back and doing this in a more dominant way? Simply wild.

“To lose that much and for us to do what we did again, it’s got to be as impressive of a two-year run as a program has ever had,” Hurley said.

It’s hard to doubt UConn won’t be in the mix next year. Even with the talent, and champions, who will be leaving.

“For the last 25-30 years, UConn’s been running college basketball,” Hurley proclaimed on stage Monday night.

For the last two years, the Huskies have owned it.

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