Nobody’s In UConn’s League

Great teams don’t always produce great games. This is a lesson that the UConn Huskies taught in Monday’s 75-60 win over the Purdue Boilermakers, which secured UConn a second straight national title, claimed at a stroll.

There was some pregame hope that this matchup between two No. 1 seeds would provide something more to think or talk about than UConn’s relentless, exhausting greatness. Purdue came into the game armed with all the interesting narratives—the consistent underachievers, felled by a 16-seed in last year’s tournament, finally on the cusp of redemption—and the kind of star player that you don’t see very often in college basketball anymore. Zach Edey, the 7-foot-4 senior center who averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds on his way to back-to-back national player of the year honors, raised a new and interesting set of problems for the Huskies to solve. It was supposed to be an enticing matchup: the great player versus the great team.

A glance at the box score would tell you that Edey held up his end of things. He played 39 minutes and finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks. His teammates, meanwhile, contributed next to nothing: Six Boilermakers played at least 12 minutes without scoring more than five points, and the team only made one of its seven three-point attempts. And yet while watching the game, it never really felt like Edey was being hung out to dry by his teammates. Instead, it felt like their struggles were the direct result of UConn’s orchestration, which directed Edey’s every move and methodically sapped any chance Purdue had at keeping pace with the Huskies.

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So much of Edey’s value to Purdue is in the panic he can induce in opponents. You put a giant like that in the teeth of a college defense and feed him post touches, and suddenly everyone’s flying around trying to double him and rotate to open shooters. UConn, however, looked like they were content to kick their feet up and take a little snooze whenever Edey got a touch. For most of the game, they were comfortable letting Donovan Clingan—no pipsqueak at 7-foot-2—guard Edey straight up. Even after Edey scored a flurry of buckets in the first half, UConn stayed in its scheme, and eventually Purdue’s possessions started to take on a ponderous, non-threatening quality. Edey would get the ball in the post, Clingan would load up on his left shoulder, and then after a few seconds of thought, Edey would either get a shot up or kick out to a blanketed shooter, at which point the possession would more or less die. Edey shot 15-of-25 from the field, and without any open or effective shooters to pass to, he wasn’t able to score at an efficient enough rate to keep Purdue in the game. When Clingan did spend some time on the bench with foul trouble, UConn was able to double and rotate with enough speed and effort to keep Purdue from taking advantage.

On the other end of the court, Purdue’s defense was getting diced up by UConn’s whirring offense. Every possession was a sequence of screens, re-screens, dribble handoffs, and cuts that just kept going and going and going until an open shot or lane to the basket presented itself. UConn showed plenty of bravery here, too, repeatedly driving straight at Edey and finishing at the rim. Perhaps this, too, was part of UConn’s defensive strategy: Expending so much energy on offense seemed to leave Edey a step slow on defense, and UConn’s guards kept getting to the rim before he could get his feet off the ground or even put a hand up to contest.

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If this all felt a bit boring or perfunctory, that’s not UConn’s problem. They just did the same thing they’ve been doing since last year’s tournament, which is define the parameters under which the game will unfold, and then dare their opponents to do something about it. Nobody’s been able to take them up on that challenge yet, which is why Monday night’s game was the 12th straight tournament game that UConn has won by double digits. This is one of the best two-year runs that college basketball has ever seen, and the depth of UConn’s dominance shows up in how little there is to say about it. “What could you say?” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said after it was all done. “We won—by a lot again.”

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