weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Las Vegas’ initial voyage into NCAAs dominated by Connecticut

Updated March 25, 2023 - 11:27 pm

In a March when no No. 1 seeds lived for the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, Connecticut has decided to play like one.

Good luck to the three teams that will join the fourth-seeded Huskies in Houston for the Final Four. Good luck if UConn continues to perform as it did this week in Las Vegas.

If so, the Huskies will be cutting down more nets, to be sure.

Don’t purchase the T-shirts and hats just yet. But maybe keep them close by.

UConn on Saturday night secured its ticket to a national semifinal by whooping Gonzaga 82-54 before 18,119 at T-Mobile Arena, treating the Zags much as it did in taking down Arkansas in the Sweet 16. Just a butt-kicking of extreme proportions.

“What a performance by the boys,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “To do what we did to a team of the caliber — a program of that caliber — we just played at a super-high level. I’m surprised at the margin of victory, but not surprised where we are going.”

The atmosphere for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight was what you would expect and desire from a West Regional of the tournament. Electric.

Initial voyage

In this sense, Las Vegas hosted a successful event for its first voyage into March Madness. At least inside the building.

The hiccups came off the court for the UConn side of things. The switching of hotels once original rooms were found totally unacceptable. The team bus vandalized during a practice at UNLV.

But firsts always come with hurdles. Las Vegas — which hosts the Final Four in 2028 — will learn from this.

It better. Things work too well here for big events not to be on par with the nation’s best.

“It’s a great venue for the NCAA to come to, certainly having experienced it for the Pac-12 tournament,” said Dave Heeke, athletic director at Arizona and a member of the NCAA selection committee. “No matter what city we go to, there are always issues that happen. I think everyone here made it smooth for UConn, and things worked out.”

True that. They couldn’t have worked any better for the Huskies.

They’re just such a complete team. Hurley has built himself quite a roster of threats both inside and out, of post presences and shooters and athletic wings. They just swarm you.

It’s going to take some effort to beat them in Houston. Some effort for — if UConn gets past its first game — anyone to, on a one-day prep, come up with a game plan that counters all the Huskies offer at both ends.

“UConn was just terrific,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “And we didn’t have any answers. … And we can’t absorb a game like that when our offense is as bad as it was.

“But, again, UConn deserves credit. And I got to see them way back in (November). They were great then, and they were certainly great tonight.”

Not very challenging

This is the sixth trip to a Final Four for UConn and its first since its surprise title in 2014. But while the latter might not have been expected, this current run has been easy to predict as the bracket progressed. No one has been better. No one has looked as dominant.

“I think it becomes a little bit of a mental hurdle, especially like early rounds of NCAA Tournament, where you feel like maybe the burden of the history and tradition,” Hurley said. “But it also feels like, when you coach at Rhode Island and Wagner, you’re not always getting everyone’s best shot every single night.

“And when you play or coach at UConn, you get the other team’s best shot every single night. It’s their Super Bowl. So the climb to get to this point has been real, and it’s been more challenging than I thought.”

Things didn’t look all that challenging the past few days.

UConn is a machine right now.

Good luck to the other three in Houston if it continues to play this way.

Good luck, indeed.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.