Donovan Clingan, UConn power back into Final Four behind 30-0 run in 77-52 rout of Illinois

UConn forward Samson Johnson (35) slams a dunk against Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins (33) during the first half of the Elite 8 college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Thirty points in a row — that’s quite a run.

The NCAA Tournament streak UConn is putting together is pretty, pretty impressive, too.


The defending national champions scored 30 straight points to power their way back to the Final Four on Saturday night, steamrolling Illinois 77-52 — a March Madness record 10th straight double-digit victory for the top-seeded Huskies.

Donovan Clingan had 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, and UConn scored the first 25 points of the second half to turn a five-point lead into a blowout. The Huskies, who cruised to their fifth national title last year, seem inexorably headed for a sixth: Their NCAA Tournament wins this year have come by 39, 17, 30 and 25 points.

“We’re going to be tough to beat,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “It was a special level of basketball that we were playing.”

Actor Bill Murray, whose son, Luke, is a Huskies assistant coach, watched the game from a courtside seat and took video of the postgame celebration, where his grandchildren were showered with confetti. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Larry David was also part of a heavily partisan crowd the Huskies (35-3) called “Storrs North” for the East Region games that were played about 90 miles from campus.

UConn, which won the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and advanced to the Sweet 16 in Brooklyn, will now get on an airplane for the first time in almost a month and head to the Final Four outside of Phoenix. It will face West Region champion Alabama, which advanced with an 89-82 victory over Clemson later Saturday night.

The Huskies, who set a school record for victories in a season, are the first defending champs to make it back to the national semifinals since Florida won back-to-back titles in 2006 and ‘07.

That’s still a possibility for UConn, too.

“It’s not about really trying to win No. 6 or go back-to back,” Hurley said. “It’s this time of year, you love your team and you can’t imagine what it would be like to not get up the next day and still coach your team. It’s what you learn when you win the way we’ve won: It really is about the work, the journey, the process.”

Marcus Domask scored 17 points — 15 in the first half — for Illinois (29-9), and star Terrence Shannon Jr. was held to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. Shannon, who scored 29 points in Thursday night’s Sweet 16 victory over Iowa State and played much of the season while facing a rape charge in Kansas, snapped a string of 41 straight games scoring in double digits.

Illinois, which had the most efficient offense in the country this season, shot 25% (17 of 67) and scored a season-low 52 points.

Cam Spencer had his first career double-double, scoring 11 points with 12 rebounds for UConn, which reached the Elite Eight with a 30-point win over San Diego State on Thursday night. Hassan Diarra scored 11 and Alex Karaban had 10 points for the Huskies.

But the big problem for third-seeded Illinois was the 7-foot-2 Clingan.

The Fighting Illini (29-9) managed just four points in the first half when Clingan was in the game, with the Connecticut native recording nine points, six rebounds and three blocks before the break. Overall, they were 0 for 19 on shots challenged by Clingan.

The Illini had several lengthy scoring droughts, falling behind 9-0 and failing to score before the first media timeout; they was shut out again between the under-12 minute break and the one that came under 8 minutes, missing 11 shots in a row. Still, they trailed only 28-23 at the half.

That’s when things really fell apart.

Illinois missed its first 14 shots of the second — 17 misses in a row, in all. The 30-0 UConn run lasted for the last 1:49 of the first half and the first 7:19 of the second.

• • •


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mark Sears made seven 3-pointers and Alabama recovered from its early long-distance shooting woes with 16 3s to beat Clemson 89on, sending the Crimson Tide to the Final Four for the first time.

The Tide (25-11) will face defending national champion UConn in Glendale, Arizona, next Saturday.

Alabama knocked off top-seeded North Carolina to reach the Elite Eight.

Sears’ 3-pointers were one off his career high. He finished with 23 points. Freshman Jarin Stevenson airballed a 3 in the first half, when Alabama missed 12 of its first 13 from long range. He made a career-high five 3s and had 19 points off the bench.

Clemson (24-12) was seeking its first Final Four appearance, too, in the West Region final between two schools better known for their national championship football teams. Joseph Girard III led Clemson with 19 points, and Ian Schieffelin had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The Tide buried the Tigers in an avalanche of 10 3s in the second half to pull away.


LSU 78, UCLA 69

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Flau’jae Johnson had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Angel Reese put up her 26th double-double of the season and LSU beat UCLA 78-69 in the Sweet 16 on Saturday to continue its quest for a second straight national title.

Reese had 16 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out late in the game for the Tigers, who closed the game on a 14-2 run. Aneesah Morrow had 17 points and Mikaylah Williams added 12.

LSU advanced to the Elite Eight, where it will face Iowa in Monday night’s regional final.

Lauren Betts had 14 points and 17 rebounds for UCLA, which finished the season at 27-7. Londynn Jones and Gabriela Jaquez also had 14 points apiece and Kiki Rice scored 13 for the Bruins.

LSU led by seven points at halftime, but after making just two of their first 20 shots from 3-point range, the Bruins hit four of their next five.

Consecutive 3-pointers from Jones keyed an 11-2 run that gave UCLA the lead at 45-44, and the teams were tied at 48 headed into the fourth quarter. But the Tigers closed the game on a run of their own after trailing 67-64 with 2:46 left.

• • •


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Caitlin Clark had 29 points and 15 assists to lead top-seeded Iowa to a win over fifth-seeded Colorado in the women’s NCAA Tournament, setting up a rematch of last year’s national title game against LSU.

The Tigers, who beat the Hawkeyes in the championship game a year ago, topped UCLA in Saturday’s earlier semifinal in the Albany 2 Region. The teams will play Monday night.

Clark got the Hawkeyes (32-4) going early, driving to the basket for easy layups or throwing fantastic passes. About the only thing missing from Clark’s day was one of her signature midcourt logo shots.

She took a couple, but missed.

The NCAA’s all-time Division I scoring leader has dazzled off the court as well. She’s a transcendent player who has brought record ratings and attendance to the sport.

The sold-out crowd was filled with girls and boys wearing No. 22 Iowa shirts who cheered at every play their favorite player made.

• • •


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Freshman All-American JuJu Watkins drove the length of the floor for a go-ahead three-point play with 3:13 left and finished with 30 points, leading top-seeded Southern California past Baylor and into the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.

Watkins scored nine straight points for the Trojans in the closing minutes and powered a decisive 8-0 run. McKenzie Forbes added 14 points for USC (29-5), which will face third-seeded UConn on Monday in the Portland 3 Region final for a spot in the Final Four.

Sarah Andrews scored 17 points for Baylor (26-8), which was making its 20th straight March Madness appearance and was vying for its first Elite Eight spot since 2021, Kim Mulkey’s final season as coach of the Bears.

USC won national titles in 1983 and ‘84, but the Trojans’ deepest run in the tournament since was a regional final loss in 1994 under coach Cheryl Miller to Louisiana Tech.

Watkins surpassed Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell (873 points in 2014-15) for second on the all-time freshman scoring list.

• • •


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Paige Bueckers scored 24 points to lead third-seeded UConn and its injury-depleted roster back to the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA Tournament with a victory over No. 7 seed Duke.

A year after having to watch March Madness while sidelined by a knee injury, Bueckers was again the best player on the floor, lifting the Huskies into their 28th regional final. And this one will be among the more unlikely in coach Geno Auriemma’s 39-year tenure.

UConn dressed eight players and played only six. But it still has Bueckers, the 2021 national player of the year who has returned to that form after injuries limited or sidelined her for most of the past two seasons.

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