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Mar 26, 2024 5:18 pm

San Diego State out to avenge title game loss to UConn

San Diego State UConn Trammell

BOSTON — San Diego State didn’t have to wait long for another shot at UConn in the NCAA Tournament.

Less than a year after falling to the Huskies in the national championship game, the Aztecs will have a chance to redeem themselves on Thursday when the East Region teams collide in the Sweet 16.

Fifth-seeded San Diego State (26-10) seemed eager to set up a rematch with the defending national champions, putting together an 85-57 drubbing of No. 13 seed Yale on Sunday in the second round of the tourney.

Jaedon LeDee poured in a game-high 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go along with nine rebounds for the Aztecs, while Darrion Trammell added 18 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Trammell, who was on the San Diego State squad that came up just short of a title in 2023, believes the Aztecs now have what it takes to get past UConn (33-3) this time around.

“We’re just excited to get another crack at (the Huskies),” Trammell said. “Obviously they won a national championship last year, but I feel like we were right there. Just to get another chance at it, I think we’re up for the opportunity.

“We have the team to do it.”

However, Huskies coach Dan Hurley doesn’t think any team is capable of dethroning UConn.

“We are bulletproof,” Hurley said following the Huskies’ 75-58 victory over ninth-seeded Northwestern on Sunday. “Elite offense, elite defense.

“Didn’t love the offensive rebounding today and didn’t love the second-half defensive rebounding but, again, 20 assists, seven turnovers. … It’s tough to lose when you have that level of quality.”

Top-seeded UConn got 20 points and 10 assists from Tristen Newton against the Wildcats, while Donovan Clingan also recorded a double-double (14 points, 14 rebounds). The Huskies went just 3-for-22 from beyond the arc (13.6 percent) but still managed to shoot 53.7 percent from the field.

Even with that success, UConn doesn’t have all the odds in its favor, as no defending champion has reached the Elite Eight since Florida did so in 2007.

Hurley is determined to change that.

“We’ve been confident the whole year. I think last season changed how heavy we feel going into these games,” Hurley said. “Obviously you’re nervous and you know the history of NCAA champions not being able to get out of the first weekend.

“But we’re different.”

What the Huskies do have working for them on Thursday is a venue within driving distance of the UConn campus.

Boston’s TD Garden is about 90 minutes away from Storrs, Conn. With what is bound to be a primarily hostile crowd, San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher is hoping his guys stay loose.

“This is the time of year to be fearless and don’t worry about making a mistake. Play your best,” Dutcher said. “And we have experience in the tournament and I think some of that experience showed over the last two games.”

The Aztecs are playing in back-to-back Sweet 16s for the first time in program history. Prior to last season, the Huskies hadn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2014, but they have twice made three straight (1994-96 and 2002-04).

Newton is one of five UConn players with a scoring average in double figures, posting a team-high 15.3 points per game. Cam Spencer (14.4 ppg) and Alex Karaban (13.7) trail close behind.

Clingan averages 12.8 points and a team-best 7.4 boards.

LeDee leads San Diego State with 21.5 points per contest. The Aztecs’ next best scorer is Reese Waters at 9.8 points per game.

The Huskies are seeking their 13th Elite Eight appearance, while San Diego State is looking for its second.

–Nick Galle, Field Level Media

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