LAS VEGAS — Jordan Hawkins scored 20 points and UConn blew past its fourth straight NCAA tournament opponent, earning its first trip to the Final Four in nine years with an 82-54 blowout of Gonzaga on Saturday night.
The Huskies (29-8) have felt right at home in their first extended March Madness run since winning the 2014 national championship, playing their best basketball of what had been an up-and-down season.
“The Big East Conference is the best conference in the country, so we went through some struggles,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “But once we got out of that league and started playing nonconference teams again, we’ve been back to that team that looked like the best team in the country.”
UConn controlled the usually efficient Bulldogs at both ends in the West Region final, building a 23-point lead early in the second half to waltz right into the final section of the bracket.
The Huskies’ two NCAA Tournament first-round exits under Hurley are now well in the rearview mirror.
“If you’re playing for him, you’ve got to play up to that standard or else you’re not going to be out there,” UConn guard Andre Jackson Jr. said.
These elite Huskies did what the UConn women couldn’t for once and are headed to Houston, where they will play either Texas or Miami.
The Bulldogs (31-6) didn’t have the same second-half magic they had in a last-second win over UCLA in the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga allowed UConn to go on a late run to lead by seven at halftime and fell completely apart after All-American Drew Timme went to the bench with his fourth foul early in the second half.
The Zags shot 33% from the field — 7 of 29 in the second half — and went 2 for 20 from 3 to stumble in their bid for a third Final Four since 2017.
Timme had 12 points and 10 rebounds, receiving a warm ovation after being taken out of his final collegiate game with 1:50 left.
Alex Karaban scored 12 points and Adama Sanogo had 10 points and 10 rebounds for UConn.
The Zags started off like they had a Vegas hangover, firing off two air-balled 3-pointers and a wild runner by Timme. Once Gonzaga shook out the cobwebs, the Bulldogs kept the Huskies bridled with defense, with hard hedges on screens and Timme sagging off Jackson to protect the lane.
UConn countered by getting the ball into the strong hands of Sanogo, the facilitator. The UConn big man picked apart Gonzaga’s double-teams for five first-half assists, including two for layups. Karaban hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Huskies up 39-32 at halftime.
It got worse for Gonzaga to start the second half.
UConn pushed the lead to 12 and Timme picked up his third and fourth fouls in the opening 2 1/2 minutes — one on a charge, another on a box-out under the rim.
The Huskies really got rolling when Timme took a seat, using their defense to get out in transition and set up 3-pointers. A 14-3 run put UConn up 60-37 and Gonzaga coach Mark Few took the calculated gamble of bringing Timme back in.
It made little difference.
UConn kept up the pressure and kept making shots, blowing out yet another opponent and looking an awful lot like the favorite to win it all.