UConn dominated San Diego State to win the men's NCAA basketball championship
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
UConn is the 2023 NCAA men's basketball national champion. They beat San Diego State last night, 76-59. The Washington Post's Chuck Culpepper was at the game. He joins us now from Houston. Chuck, talk us through what happened last night because UConn never seemed to be in doubt of winning this game.
CHUCK CULPEPPER: Well, we had a senseless tournament for three weeks, and it came to a little bit of sense at the end with UConn doing what it had done through the whole thing, which was to control a game. And it took a 16-point lead in the first half. San Diego State, this unexpected finalist, brought it back to within five with 5:19 to go, which was quite a jolt given the way UConn had played. But then UConn did what it does and which is hard to do, which is to have so much talent and know-how and cohesion that they pulled it away again.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Normally in these situations, Chuck, we play a highlight of the final call, but we listened to all of them, from TV to radio, everywhere. They're all just kind of like, eh, because UConn has been so dominant. All of their games in the tournament, they've won by an average of 20 points. I mean, this is as dominant as a team can possibly get.
CULPEPPER: Yeah. I'm surprised you - I'm a little surprised you don't want your listeners to hear, maybe, sound of somebody just dribbling out the clock while the clock runs down and nothing happening and then a horn. But they won their six games by an aggregate of 120 points. There are four champions since 1985 in the current format who have done that, won by at least that many. I think they're the fourth highest all-time, UConn is. And it just - they never played a game where you had to make one of those escapes that, you know, shortens the lifespans of your fans and that we all know March Madness to be about. And they just never had to run across that. And there are teams from time to time - Villanova in 2018 was one - where that's true, but it is kind of rare.
MARTÍNEZ: Tell us about the person that was named MVP, UConn center Adama Sanogo. Why was he the best player at the tournament?
CULPEPPER: Well, he put together extraordinary numbers, including 50 of 75 from the field. So two-thirds of his shots he made, which is - and just really commanded the scene out there game after game. And I think we often - you know, we'll hear the pre-game introductions, and we'll hear that a player is from Mali, as he is, or Ghana, as a San Diego State player was, and we go, you know, this is a regular thing now in our - in this little neighborhood sport that we have over here in this part of the globe, college basketball. But it is extraordinary that these young - they're teenagers when they come here, usually, to play at high schools, and they come all this way on their own. And they - you know, and when they have a stage like last night and when they soar like he did on it, it's really quite something to think about.
MARTÍNEZ: UConn has five national championships, all since 1999. Does this now put them in the same class as the college basketball blue bloods such as Kentucky and UCLA?
CULPEPPER: It's absolutely up there. And you would have to - and it really didn't get started with that kind of thinking until Jim Calhoun got there as coach in 1986. So - but it's absolutely up there with them. And, in fact, you would have to think about the fact that with five titles on the last quarter-century, two more than anybody else, they can make the argument that they're above all the others, if you wanted to stipulate that that argument, you know, sort of hinges on titles alone, which is the hardest thing to get.
MARTÍNEZ: Chuck Culpeper, sports reporter with The Washington Post, thanks.
CULPEPPER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.