Advertisement

March Madness: UConn's incredible 30-0 run powers Huskies past Illinois and into Final Four again

UConn showed Illinois and the rest of the country just how dominant it can be in an incredible eight-minute stretch on Saturday.

The No. 1 overall seed scored 30 consecutive points from the final two minutes of the first half to the 13:16 mark of the second half in its dominating win over the Illini to advance to the Final Four. The final score ended up being 77-52, but that was trivial after Connecticut delivered a proverbial TKO to Illinois and a warning shot to the rest of college basketball before and after halftime.

Illinois tied UConn at 23-23 with 1:51 to go before halftime thanks to a short jumper from Marcus Domask. After that bucket, the Illini didn’t score for 50 minutes of actual time before Justin Harmon made a layup with 12:39 to go.

Illinois was blitzed in that span. And much of that came in the second half. UConn led by five at halftime and then sprinted away in the second half by scoring the first 25 points of the period in the best stretch of basketball any team has played during the NCAA tournament this season. Heck, it was probably the best stretch of basketball by any Division I team.

It was that good.

Illinois couldn’t do anything right and the Huskies couldn’t do anything wrong to start the second half. The Huskies stole the ball from Illinois, grabbed offensive rebounds and simply let Donovan Clingan dominate like he had since the opening tip.

Alex Karaban scored 10 points during the run and Clingan finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

Another big win by UConn

The defending national champions won every NCAA tournament game by 13 points or more a season ago and won their first three games of the 2024 tournament by even bigger margins. The closest tournament game that UConn has played this season came in a 17-point second-round win over Northwestern that was a formality for much of the second half.

The victory is the 11th straight for UConn and the team’s 25th in its last 26 games. There was a good reason why UConn was favored to win a second straight national title ahead of the NCAA tournament. You’re seeing it now.

If UConn does win back-to-back national titles, it will become the first team since Florida in 2006 and 2007 to repeat. Are you willing to back anyone else to win the national title?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 30: Donovan Clingan #32 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrates a point against the Illinois Fighting Illini during second half in the Elite Eight round of the 2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at TD Garden on March 30, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
UConn scored 30 consecutive points to put Illinois away and advance to the Final Four. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (Jamie Schwaberow via Getty Images)

Illinois’ start was a mirage

Illinois did a great job of preventing UConn from running away from the game in the first half. The Huskies started the game on a 9-0 run, but Illinois clawed back into the game.

But Illinois’ contention was more indicative of UConn’s struggles than its own play. The Huskies were 1 of 11 from the 3-point line in the first half and its four starters outside of Clingan were a combined 1 of 17 from the field.

Illinois had a clear game plan to go after Clingan inside. The Illini entered the game averaging nearly 85 points per contest and were clearly not scared of UConn’s dominant big man. He wasn’t scared of them either. At one point in the first half, Illinois coach Brad Underwood quipped in an in-game interview that the only way to make Clingan be less dominant would be to shrink him by a foot.

Underwood vowed that his team would keep attacking the basket anyway. And that turned out to be an idea that didn’t bear fruit. As UConn put the game out of reach early in the second half, Illinois missed 18 of its first 19 shots out of the break.

Illinois finishes the season at 29-8 with the loss and is still searching for its first Final Four berth since it lost the national title game since 2005. This season was their first Elite Eight appearance since that title game loss to North Carolina, however, and Saturday night’s defeat to UConn was the first time all season that the Illini had lost by more than nine points.