(CNN) [Breaking news update, published at 11:38 p.m. ET]
The University of Connecticut captured its fifth men’s basketball national title with a 76-59 victory over San Diego State University on Monday night at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Huskies tied Duke University for the most men’s national championships since 1985.
[Original story, published at 11:38 p.m. ET]
After a March Madness full of twists and surprises — all four No. 1 seeds to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in NCAA men’s basketball tournament history — it’s time for the grand finale as UConn faces San Diego State on Monday for the title.
But, if the final matchup was a bit of a surprise for all those filling out their pre-tournament brackets, it was the culmination of an impressive month for the No. 4 UConn and No. 5 San Diego State.
UConn has a chance to win its fifth title in 25 years but, despite this pedigree, it hasn’t appeared in a championship game since 2014.
“It means a lot to us. It means everything we work for,” star forward Adama Sanogo said after reaching the final. “The work paid off, and it’s still going on and on and on and can go on Monday night.”
The Huskies snapped a long streak of poor performances from the very first game of this tournament. They won their first two games by an average scoring margin of 19.5 points, before dropping No. 3 seed Gonzaga with 28 points in the Elite Eight.
The massive victory was the largest winning margin in the Elite Eight in 31 years, as UConn held the ‘Zags to a season-low 54 points.
“We feel like we’re the best defense in the country,” UConn guard Tristen Newton said, according to ESPN. “We feel like people don’t play teams like us every year. The Big East is a real physical league, and coming from those conferences, I don’t feel like they have teams that play defense like the Big East does.”
Then, in the Final Four, Sanogo and Donovan Clingan helped shut down the threat of Norchad Omier, as UConn beat No.5 Miami 72-59.
“The effort that these guys gave defensively was unbelievable,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley in his post-match press conference.
“What Adama did in his fight against one of the most physical inside guys we’ve ever faced. What Tristen did in terms of his floor game, his first half, in particular.”
A double-double by Sanogo, who contributed 21 points, 10 rebounds, 9-for-11 from the floor, sealed the victory.
Against the San Diego Aztecs, however, UConn will face a similar imperial defense that was on full display in the Final Four, limiting FAU to just eight shots after halftime.
San Diego State’s defense was key to its success and negated the threat of top-seeded and tournament favorite Alabama in the Sweet 16, blocking eight shots and forcing 14 turnovers as the Aztecs won, 71-64.
San Diego State sealed its berth in Monday’s title game in the most dramatic fashion possible when Lamont Butler sank a buzzer-beater over Florida Atlantic to win 72-71, prompting ecstatic celebrations on the court.
“Coach made the decision to call a timeout at the end,” Butler told reporters afterward in a press conference.
“It was about seven seconds after we got the ball, and he told me to go down, get something on the sideline. They did a great job cutting me off. As soon as I looked up, there were only two seconds left, I knew I had it to make a shot. I got a shot I was comfortable with. Go into a pull-up; it’s fun to go in.”
Also in the Elite Eight, the Aztecs only trailed their opponent after a controversial foul call with 1.2 seconds left and the game tied at 56 for the Aztecs.
Prior to this season, San Diego State had never even reached the Elite Eight but has shown in its last two games that it has the will to continue.
“We always get knocked down,” the Aztecs’ Matt Bradley said afterward, according to ESPN. “But the biggest thing we always do is get up and keep fighting.”