The Hurley Risers: UConn coach lifts men’s program to new heights after back-to-back titles

After UConn’s victory over Purdue in the men’s national title game, the Huskies’ Donovan Clingan, right, hugs Alex Karaban. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

UConn coach Dan Hurley enjoys the moment after capturing his second consecutive men’s national title Monday night at State Farm Stadium. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Everything.

That was the motto for this year’s UConn men’s basketball team and it accomplished just that.

“We’ve worn the everything shirt the whole year,” coach Dan Hurley said. “Everyone in this organization gave everything so that we could win everything this year. We wanted to give everything so we could win absolutely everything,”

Hurley raised the national championship trophy after the Huskies defeated the Purdue Boilermakers in a matchup that fans looked forward to all season 75-60 Monday night at State Farm Stadium.

Hurley and Co. are the first team and coach to win back-to-back national titles since Billy Donovan and Florida did it in 2006-07.

As the confetti poured down and the smiles glistened from the bright lights with all of State Farm Stadium’s focus at center court, the Huskies accomplished a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in nearly 20 years and surely could be entering their name into the blue-blood conversion.

As soon as the microphone was passed from broadcaster Ernie Johnson, Hurley let out a scream that sounded as if it could be heard hroughout the Valley.

“Jersey city,” he shouted, showcasing how proud he is of his roots.

The Huskies just haven’t been good all this season, they have been dominant. Winning a whopping 37 games, including 13 of their last 14, UConn sucked the life out of every opponent they faced.

But maybe the most impressive thing the Huskies did en route to winning their sixth title was winning all of these games despite losing five of their seven top players.

Losing NBA talent such as Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr., and Adam Sanogo, UConn faced a slight rebuild going into this season, but Hurley stuck to his tough, old-school formula and even snagged key players in the transfer portal such as Rutgers transfer and graduate guard Cam Spencer to go along with a top-five recruiting class, headlined by five-star guard Stephon Castle.

With talent and key starters gone, Spencer, graduate guard Tristen Newton, and 7-foot-2 sophomore center Donovan Clingan stepped up their games and leadership to get back to what UConn is best known for: winning.

UConn guard Tristen Newton hugs coach Dan Hurley after the Huskies rolled in the second half to beat Purdue. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

“This was our goal from day one. So to do it with your brothers and your family that you go to war with every day is just really special right now,” Spencer said when asked about winning the title game.

Hurley did not back off when scheduling some non-conference games. Playing the likes of Texas, Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga, whom all made the NCAA Tournament, prepared this new-looking UConn test for games in March.

Pairing a decently strong non-conference schedule with playing in the Big East conference, arguably the best conference in basketball, allowed UConn to play tournament-level teams on a nightly basis.

Despite the league only securing three tournament bids, the Huskies took advantage of every team. With only two losses to Seton Hall and Creighton, UConn cruised through to a Big East regular season and tournament title.

Entering the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, the Huskies did not take a step back in any game, no matter whom their opponents were.

UConn trailed only for four minutes and six seconds before the national championship. Yes, you read that correctly: four minutes and six seconds throughout six games, and only trailed for just over a minute against Purdue.

Going along with only trailing for just over five minutes the entire tournament, the Huskies set a new record for point differential by a national champion. The team eclipsed a +140 point differential this tournament, which passed the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats +129.

In a matchup of the giants, the world was ready for a Clingan and Zach Edey battle down low in the paint. Edey would go on to finish with 37 points and 10 rebounds, but Clingan really made it hard for the 7-foot-4 senior center to really get going in the second half.

However, it was the guards for the Huskies that dictated the way this game was won. The constant pressure from Castle and Newton disrupted the flow for the sophomore guard duo of Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer.

The defense was so good that the UConn defense limited the Purdue guards to just 17 points.

“It was a big part of our game plan just trying to limit as much as we can from the guards,” Castle said. ”I thought we did a good job of that, just playing confident on the other end. I feel like Coach put us in great positions to be successful all anytime and it worked out for us.”

The relentless effort and gas-on-the-pedal mentality are what helped Newton win the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player award. He capped the night off with 20 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Through all the glory, Newton remains humble and gives Hurley all the credit for their efforts Monday night.

“I wouldn’t take any credit for setting the tone,” Newton said. “It was all Coach (Hurley). Last year was last year. Credit to Coach (Hurley) for setting the tone and everyone just follows his lead.”

Hurley has implemented a winning mentality in Storrs and he wasn’t afraid to let everyone know it. He wears his emotion on his sleeve, especially when discussing the victory.

“Obviously what could you say? We won – by a lot again,” he said with a smile.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Addison Kalmbach expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Kalmbach has interned in broadcast operations at FOX Sports and as a digital reporter with PHOENIX Magazine and Detroit City FC. He also has done freelance work for R1S1 Sports.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.