UConn moves past Illinois to advance to second straight Final Four

BOSTON — Don Hurley stumbled across midcourt with 3:33 to play, the final time running out amid another March dismantling.

He faced the crowd in front of his bench, spread his arms wide and fired up the Huskies fans who packed TD Garden. “Our—!” he shouted.

Up 29 points as time ticks down, he can at least exhale.

“It felt like we finally had it,” Hurley said with a laugh.

For now, UConn is used to celebrating the final buzzer. For the second year in a row, the Huskies are headed back to the Final Four. For the second year in a row, they dominated Saturday's Elite Eight with a 77-52 victory over third-seeded Illinois in a game that didn't feel all that close.

In what was a tight 20 minutes, the Huskies used a 30-0 run — including 25 straight points to start the second half — to turn the tie game into a 53-23 laugher.

UConn's 7-foot-2 center, Donovan Klingen, was at the center of it, disrupting Illinois defensively and attacking the rim. Klingen finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in just 22 minutes, but his impact went beyond the box score. There were altered shots and tipped rebounds.

When he was on the floor, Illinois — the nation's second-most efficient offense — couldn't score.

In Klingen's first 17 minutes on Saturday, UConn outscored Illinois 34-4. Yes, four.

Klingon was also in the middle of a game-deciding run. After he drained a pair of free throws to put the Huskies up 33-23, Klingon met Illinois' Quincy Currier at the rim.

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At the other end of the floor, he collected a Stephen Castle pass and completed a slam with both hands, meeting his teammates in front of the UConn bench for a chest bump as Illinois called a timeout.

“It was like, 'Oh,'” guard Hassan Tiara said.

UConn beat fifth-seeded San Diego State by 30 points on Thursday to reach the Final Four with four wins by an average margin of 27.8 points. All 10 of the Huskies' NCAA Tournament wins over the past two seasons have come by double digits.

Illinois, with its high-powered offense, was considered one of the few teams that could challenge the UConn machine. It seemed to catch the Huskies on a day off. Connecticut tied a season-low with three 3-pointers and endured 1-of-12 shooting from guards Tristan Newton and Stephen Castle.

But the Huskies held Illini point guard Terrence Shannon Jr. to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting and kept the Illini off the scoreboard for the first four minutes of the first half and 7:19 of the second.

“Your defense is elite, it's ours, and your offense is elite, it's ours, and when the rebounding margins show we're an elite rebounding team, we're usually playing harder than our opponent and we're sharing the ball. Different guys,” Hurley said. said. “Our first-team All-American point guard (Newton) didn't make a field goal today, we shot 3-of-17 from 3 and went on a 30-0 run. Hence the depth.

“We're not flawed in any particular way, which makes you bulletproof in this competition to get away with a bad shot or bad performance from a star like Tristan.”

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(Photo: Winslow Townson/USA Today)

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