UConn eliminates Alabama, to play Purdue for title


With what began as a close second half against No. 4 Alabama turned into an 86-72 rout from No. 1 UConn as the Huskies will go for a chance to repeat as national champions in the Final Four. 

The Huskies will play No. 1 Purdue after the Boilermakers defeated No. 11 North Carolina State 63-50 in the earlier session.  Tip-off is scheduled for 6:20 p.m. (PST) on Monday.

Alabama began the second half with a 7-4 run to cut the deficit to one point, but UConn continued its trend of never trailing in the second half of the tournament and answered with a 7-0 run. 

Both teams swapped the lead in the first six minutes and created a thrilling back-and-forth. Alabama forward Grant Nelson laid down a poster dunk on center Donovan Clingan at 15:03 to trail 55-53. 

But UConn held a 64-56 lead after Alabama had tied it and were helped by guard Stephon Castle’s eight points. Castle tied his career and season high scoring total with 21 points and finished 7-of-13 from the field. 

Alabama went cold from the 3-point line in the second half, shooting 25% (3-for-12) after going 8-for-11 in the first half (73%). Mark Sears did what he could to help the Crimson Tide and led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. 

Even though Nelson had a double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds for Alabama, UConn held a significant edge on the boards with 37-29. 

UConn had five players in double-figures.

The announced attendance for Saturday’s Final Four games at State Farm Stadium in Glendale was 74,720.

That is the highest attendance number since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022-23 Final Four peaked at 73,860 for the semifinal games. The national championship drew a crowd of 72,423.

Alabama fans proud of team in loss to UConn

Two brothers from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, were downcast but proud of their home team following Alabama’s Saturday loss to Connecticut.

“It’s our first time making it to the Final Four, so it’s really cool to come out here and see what it’s all about,” Jerry Lawrence said near State Farm Stadium.

“I think we showed we belong and we can compete with these blue bloods who win the championship every year,” said his brother, Cooper. “We’ll be back.”

He said the team holds a special significance in the American South.

“In the north, there are Patriots fans, there are Bears fans, there are Yankees fans,” he continued. “In the south, it’s Alabama, it’s Auburn.”

“It’s all we have, when they probably have five other teams. So it means a lot to us,” he said.

Now that their team is out of the running, the brothers have something else to look forward to: Alabama spring football.

Asked for their final message to Arizona Republic readers, Cooper Lawrence responded with only a solemn, “Roll damn Tide.”

Auburn fans pull for Alabama’s foe in semifinal game

Entering a bar near State Farm Stadium, Robert Russell said he and his friends aren’t usually active fans of Connecticut’s basketball team. But they were on Saturday.

“We are (UConn fans) today, because they played Alabama. We can’t have Alabama winning,” said Russell, who graduated from Auburn, Alabama’s famed rival.

He and his friends, also Auburn graduates, have made it a tradition to attend the Final Four tournament in recent years.

UConn defeated Auburn in Saturday’s semifinal.

Russell said of the result: “It was about what we expected and hoped for. Couldn’t have gone better.”

UConn has opened up a 10-point lead, 73-63, with four minutes to play.

Maybe this time, Alabama doesn’t have enough left in the tank to catch up. The Crimson Tide has gone more than four minutes without a made basket and are being outrebounded 35-26.

The Tide was 8 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half and are just 2 of 10 in the second. UConn is in position to take this one and advance to the national championship game for the second year in a row. 

It’s 67-61 UConn with 7:34 to play in the game, and the Huskies and Alabama have continued to shoot the ball well. Bama is 23 of 47 for 49 percent, and Connecticut is 23 of 49 for 47 percent. Neither team has shot the ball well from 3-point range in the second half, as both have made just 2 of 7 3s. Again, as it has been for much of the second half, UConn seems ready to pull away, but Alabama refuses to go away. 

Alabama just won’t go away. The Crimson Tide was energized by some tough baskets from forward Grant Nelson to tie the score at 56. But as the game reached a timeout at the 10:27 mark, UConn held a 64-56 lead after an 8-0 run. There have been six ties and seven lead changes in the game, and Stephon Castle’s 21 points for the Huskies lead all scorers. Alabama has had a hard time keeping UConn off the offensive glass, and UConn also has made 10 more free throws than the Crimson Tide.

UConn has taken a pair of eight-point leads early in the second half and is threatening to break the second national semifinal open.

The Huskies lead 55-47 with 15:31 to play, and opened the second half making five of their first eight shots. Alabama has had an answer every time, but the Tide have to find more answers on defense. 

After a high-scoring first half between No. 1 UConn and No. 4 Alabama, the Huskies took a narrow 44-40 lead in the Final Four matchup. 

Alabama made UConn pay at the 3-point line early on, knocking down three deep shots in its first four made field goals. The Crimson Tide kept the long-range offense going and shot 73% from the line, making eight of 11 attempts. The Huskies, on the other hand, haven’t fared as well from beyond the arc, going 5-for-15 (33%). 

The Crimson Tide have shot 50% overall, going 14-for-28, while the Huskies have shot 46.7% (14-for-30). 

UConn held the largest lead of the half, seven points, with 1:15 to go, but Mark Sears scored five points in the final 50 seconds, including a 3-pointer. Sears leads the Crimson Tide with 11 points. 

The Huskies edged the Tide in rebounds, 18-15. Stephon Castle leads UConn with 13 points in just under 16 minutes of play. 

It’s an up-and-down game between Alabama and UConn as the tempo on offense for both sides really picked up leading into the under-four minute media timeout.

UConn took a 35-31 lead on a driving layup by Tristen Newton. With 3:12 to go in the half, Alabama is living off its 3-point shooting (7 for 10) and Connecticut has taken advantage of more free throws (12 to 3 attempts for Alabama).

It’s 28-28 at the under-eight minute timeout of the first half.

Both Alabama and UConn are shooting the ball well. The Crimson Tide are 6 of 9 from 3-point range, with Aaron Estrada hitting one from long ranger just before the stoppage in play to tie the score. Leading up to the timeout, Alabama had made 6 of its last 7 shots and the Huskies 5 of their last 6. Estrada leads Alabama with eight points and Stephon Castle’s 12 leads UConn.

Ahead of Connecticut’s game against Alabama, Patrick Villa said UConn’s basketball team has a special place in his heart. Villa grew up in Connecticut, graduated from UConn and has been a fan of the team since he was a kid.

“It’s a small state,“ Villa said. “When people ask: ‘What do people do in Connecticut anyways?’ It’s like, ‘We watch basketball, we win basketball championships, and we eat pizza.”

Connecticut doesn’t have a major league men’s team, added his friend and fellow UConn alumnus, Mark Rue, meaning the school’s performance is especially important. Rue said it’s been nostalgic to continue attending games since they graduated.

“As you get older, year by year, you still have that camaraderie,” Rue said. “Cheering with strangers and all that, it’s one big whole family. We call it ‘Husky Nation.’”

“We’re here to watch the Final Four and watch UConn win another championship. Simple as that,” Villa said.

Midway through the first half, Alabama holds a 23-20 lead over UConn. 

Alabama is shooting 9-for-15, while the Huskies are 6-for-14. The Crimson Tide has made 5 of 7 3-point attempts. 

Rylan Griffin leads Alabama with 6 points. 

UConn is led by Stephon Castle with eight points. 

Decarlo Ward was in a good mood following Purdue’s 63-50 victory over NC State. Ward had placed a bet on Purdue winning by at least 7 points, a prediction that ended up coming to pass.

Ward, who lives in Tucson, drove to Glendale to watch the game at a nearby bar with his son, DJ, and his nephew, Micah.

What’ll he do with his $38 earnings?

“I’m probably going to treat these young men to dinner,” he said with a grin.

Also enjoying Purdue’s semifinal win was Julia Ozab, a 1995 Purdue alum who grew up in Indiana, Purdue’s home state. She’s been rooting for Purdue ever since she was 14. Now, she lives in Eugene, Oregon.

“I was a season ticket holder the entire time I was a student, so this is a big deal. This is phenomenal, just to be with it and a part of it. … It’s all worth it. To be honest, yes, obviously, I wanted them to win, but I’m just so glad they’re here after so long. We’ve had some rough calls,” Ozab said. “Coach (Matt) Painter, the Purdue coach, was actually a player when I was there, so it’s neat to see him come full circle.”

Grant Hubbard of Indiana, a Purdue grad who worked as the university’s mascot, Purdue Pete, while he attended the school said his bachelor party weekend coincided with the game and Purdue’s win. “It was a pipe dream that came true.”

Colin Conclasure, a Purdue alum from Indiana, remembered the heartbreak his team suffered in recent NCAA tournaments, especially last year’s loss as a No. 1 seed to a 16 seed, only the second time that has ever happened in this event,

“As far as the game, it’s about the homecoming for us as well as a good game by Purdue “Very much, all of our past years of watching them lose and heartbreak, it all paid off.”

About reaching Monday’s final, he said, “It’s crazy. People are looking at me like, ‘Are you excited?’ and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know. … I ran into my parents, I ran into friends from school that I hadn’t seen in years. At the end, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, they’re still going.’”

That sentiment was echoed by Jesse Brubaker of Indiana, a Purdue alum, who noted the college community of people he recognized at the game. “There’s people in this game I haven’t seen in forever, literally forever.”

Brubaker compared this experience to the sports event Indiana is probably best known for, the Indianapolis 500. “We’ve obviously never been to the Final Four, so to be there is just insane. Being in Indianapolis, you feel that for the ‘Indy Five (Hundred)’ every year, but when you get that same atmosphere for college sports, it was just one of those events where you just felt a weird feeling, and it just so happened that we won.”

Kirby Beck, a junior at Purdue, said he’s “ecstatic” that his team is heading to the finals. “I am so hyped that they are going to the championship,” said Beck, who flew to Arizona to watch the game. He says his father graduated from Purdue, too. He thinks it’s historic that he’s attending Purdue while Zach Edey, who has twice been voted the Associated Press’ Player of the Year, is on the team.

“It’s pretty exciting that I get to be in school while he’s here,” Beck said of Edey.

Austin Brandt, a recent Purdue graduate, said his favorite moment of the tournament so far was when Edey cut off a piece of the net as a memento and gave a part of it to Gene Keady, a Hall of Fame coach who never made the Final Four.

“We’re pretty ecstatic, to say the least,” said Brandt, who flew to Arizona from his home in the Midwest with his college roommate, Nathan Hughes, to attend the game. Both are thrilled that Purdue has made it to the championship.

NC State fans saddened by loss, thrilled for the experience

Decked out in cardinal-red NC State gear, Garrison Trotter and Tim Hoke walked dejectedly through Westgate Entertainment District next to State Farm Stadium after Purdue’s victory over their alma mater.

“I’m pretty depressed, can’t lie,” Trotter said.

“As much as it sucks, we made it this far,” Hoke added. “We beat all expectations by being here.”

One a senior at NC State, the other a recent alum of the school, the pair flew across the country to attend the game, which they described as “once-in-a-lifetime.”

They said they’ve enjoyed being in Arizona and resolved: “We’ll be back next year, that’s it,” Hoke said. “Wherever the final is, we’re there.”

The 2025 men’s Final Four is scheduled for San Antonio, Texas.

“We came all the way from Hawaii just to cheer them on,” said David Camacho of Hawaii, a 1985 North Carolina State alum who flew to Phoenix with his family for their first March Madness game. “We tried hard. Shooting wasn’t so good; defense was really good.”

UConn: Tristen Newton, Stephon Castle, Alex Karaban, Cam Spencer, Donovan Clingan.

Alabama: Mark Sears, Grant Nelson, Rylan Griffen, Nick Pringle, Aaron Estrada.

Purdue immediately pushed the lead to 10 out of the halftime break. But NC State was able muck the game up, frustrating Zach Edey on the offensive end with perfectly timed reach-ins by opposing defenders, and chopped down the lead to six points.

That was closest the Wolfpack would get as the Boilermakers ran away in the second half for a 63-50 win.

While Edey was the best player on the court in the game, he didn’t score his first basket of the second half until the 11:31 mark. Still though, Edey made his presence felt with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks, all while playing the whole game. Edey is the first player in NCAA tournament history with 20 points and 10 rebounds in six straight games.

DJ Burns Jr. fell into foul trouble, limiting his minutes on the court. The frenetic nature of the game clearly took its toll on Burns Jr., with only four free throws shot by NC State in the whole game. Burns Jr. finished with 8 points, 4 assists and 1 rebound. DJ Horne lead all N.C. State scorers with 20 points to go with 6 rebounds.

A three by guard Lance Jones put the Purdue lead at 45-33 with 12:40 left in the game, the largest lead of the game at the time. The Boilermakers held the advantage the rest of the way, building a lead as large as 20 points, including a 14-1 run at the end of the game to put the Wolf Pack away. Purdue led the whole game.

No. 1 Purdue will play the winner of No. 1 UConn and No. 4 Alabama for the national championship.

Purdue guard Braden Smith appeared to have picked up his fourth personal foul, adding to his terrible day, but remained in the game as the foul was assigned elsewhere. He’s 0-for-7 shooting, 0-for-4 from long range and has five turnovers, but also eight rebounds and six assists.

The Boilermakers are in control, regardless, using a 12-1 run to establish their largest lead of the game, 61-43, with 3:12 remaining.

Zach Edey has 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds. Lance Jones has 14 points. Fletcher Loyer has 11.

DJ Horne leads N.C. State with 20 points on 8-for-20 shooting.

Edey is the first player in NCAA tournament history with 20 points and 10 rebounds in six straight games.

DJ Horne hit a jumper to pull N.C. State to within 49-42 with 7 ½ minutes to play.

Purdue’s Zach Edey has a double-double, with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Lance Jones has 12 points for the Boilermakers.

Horne has a game-high 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting.

DJ Burnes hit a fadeaway over Zach Edey to break N.C. State’s scoring drought and cut its deficit to 45-35.

Edey responded with a hook shot over Burnes as the big men battled.

Horne drilled a three to trim the deficit to single digits, at 47-38, at the second media timeout.

The teams combined to miss 10 consecutive shots until Mason Gillis hit three to give Purdue a 42-33 lead with about 13½ minutes remaining.

Then Lance Jones hit a three to put Purdue ahead 45-33, matching its largest lead of the game.

Purdue had been scoreless for more than 5 minutes, missing four consecutive shots until the longballs.

N.C. State had been scoreless for more than 3½ minutes, missing seven consecutive shots.

Michael O’Connell did not start the second half for N.C. State, replaced by Jayden Taylor, after he tripped and limped off the court in the first half.

Lance Jones hit a three to give Purdue a 38-29 advantage and Trey Kaufman-Renn hit a free throw to re-establish a double-digit lead, at 39-29, two minutes into the second half.

DJ Horne hit a pair of free throws, the first foul shots for N.C. State all game, trimming Purdue’s lead to 39-33 at the first media timeout.

Horne has a game-high 15 points for the Wolfpack.

Zach Edey has 14 points to lead Purdue.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2024 was introduced at halftime of the Purdue-North Carolina State game. The 13 inductees include former Phoenix Suns star Walter Davis, and former Suns player Vince Carter. Current Portland Trailblazers head coach Chauncey Billups is also an honoree.

The rest of the class is: Bo Ryan, Jerry West, Doug Collins, Charles Smith (HS coach), Herb Simon ,Harley Redin, Dick Barnett, Michele Timms, Michael Cooper, and Seimone Augustus.

Connecticut is the nation’s third-smallest state and, ever since the Hartford Whalers of the NHL left for North Carolina in 1997, there’s been no men’s major-league sports presence in a state that sits between New York and Boston. There is only the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.

It’s one reason why UConn’s basketball teams have cultivated such a passionate fan base. For most of the country, the Huskies are how many people connect with the Nutmeg State.

“Being from Connecticut, there are no professional sports teams, so it (UConn) is the one place to put all your energy to,” said Khang Nguyen, who has been rooting for UConn ever since he went to college there in 2018.

The UConn women’s team has won 11 national championships; the men’s team is here for the Final Four seeking a sixth title, and second in a row.

Of course, it’s not just UConn fans enjoying Arizona’s second Final Four. This is an event that captures the imagination of many sports fans, whether they have a rooting interest or not.

“I’m just glad to be in an area where I can watch the game,” said Marcus Washington, an Arizona State alum originally from Colorado who has loved basketball “all my life.” Saturday’s opening national semifinal is Washington’s first March Madness game, and he’s not rooting for anyone in particular; he’s just happy to watch basketball.

Another fan enjoying his first March Madness experience was Joel Ozoemena of New Jersey, a longtime fan of college basketball who’s rooting for Purdue and UConn. “To just get into a sporting event, Final Four’s pretty hard to get into,” said Ozoemena, visiting Phoenix for the first time. “It’s beautiful, a really, really nice area. I definitely want to come back and really check it out.”

Purdue fan and former basketball player Elijah Campbell of Los Angeles is here rooting for Purdue, and noted one big difference between the metro areas. “Compared to LA, traffic here is a breeze.”

In a brisk half of play, which featured seven minutes of game action without a single foul called, No. 1-seed Purdue leads its Final Four matchup against No. 11 NC State 35-29.

Purdue jumped out to a 12-4 lead, prompting a timeout from NC State coach Kevin Keatts.

The largest lead was 12 points.

But the stellar play of guard DJ Horne, a former ASU guard, brought the Wolf Pack back in the game with his 13 points to cut the lead down to six.

Purdue has dominated the boards, 21-12. Edey, who played the entire first half, has 14 points and 8 rebounds so far.

DJ Burns Jr., who at times look winded on the court with the long stretches of continued play, has been stymied by the Boilermakers’ interior post defense. He only has 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting.

Edey is also making a difference with passes out of the low block, screens out high and N.C. State isn’t going at him on defense. Purdue is 5 for 12 from 3-point range at halftime in no small part because they are getting open shots when the Wolfpack defense drops down when the ball goes inside to Edey. 

N.C. State guard DJ Horne is in double figures with 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting, helping the Wolfpack claw to within a single possession, trailing Purdue by just 32-29 with 20 seconds remaining in the first half. Nobody else on the team has more than five points. 

Fletcher Loyer answered with a three, giving the Boilermakers a 35-29 lead at halftime.

Zach Edey has a game-high 14 points and eight rebounds.

There was an unusual sighting on press row during the opening game of the Final Four: Bill Murray, the legendary actor and comedian, was sitting among reporters courtside.

Murray’s son, Luke Murray, is an assistant coach for UConn. The younger Murray joined UConn’s staff in 2021 following three seasons as an assistant coach at Louisville. Before that, he was an assistant coach at Xavier, where Bill Murray was a regular fixture during big games.

UConn is set to play Alabama in the second semi-final, following the conclusion of Purdue vs. NC State.

Purdue’s Zach Edey, now the back-to-back college basketball men’s player of the year, said Friday that he would like the U.S. government laws regarding college athletes’ name, image and likeness usage to change. 

Edey is a native of Canada, and therefore cannot benefit from NIL deals because international student-athletes are not eligible to profit in such a manner except in their native countries. 

Edey has made some money in Canada on an NIL deal, some promotional  work he did prior to this season,  but said he is “missing out on a lot of money,” and wants the law changed in the U.S. for non-American-born college athletes. 

“I obviously have lost out on a lot of money this year. At the end of the day, it needs to change, for sure. I understand kind of the legal process. It takes a while,” Edey said. “It’s not like it’s an NCAA rule. It’s an American law. Anytime you try to go change that, I understand it takes a while. But I do think it needs to change.”

N.C. State forward DJ Burnes sat with two fouls, while the Wolfpack used a 6-0 run to cut what had been a 12-point deficit in half, at 28-22.

They extended the run to 9-2, with Jayden Taylor hitting a three to bring N.C. State within 30-25 with 3:24 remaining in the first half.

Edey has 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting and seven rebounds to lead Purdue.

Horne has nine points for N.C. State.

Purdue leads N.C. State 26-16 at the second, under 12-minute TV timeout, which didn’t come until 6:29 remained in the first half.

Zach Edey has a game-high 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and four rebounds.

Lance Jones drilled his second three to give Purdue its first double-digit lead, up 21-11 with about 10 minutes to play in the first half.

N.C. State guard Michael O’Connell tripped over his own feet after a steal and left the game limping, then forward Diarra Mohamed missed a dunk and appeared to be accidentally poked in the eye.

D.J. Horne leads the Wolfpack with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting.

Edey started out 5 for his first 7 shots, and when not knocking down hook shots in the paint he set up teammates when he passed the ball out of a post-up. The Boilermakers made two 3-pointers from Edey kicking the ball back out to shooters on the perimeter, and Purdue leads 26-16 with 6:29 to play in the first half. 

Purdue raced to a 9-2 lead in the first three minutes and was up 12-4 at the first media timeout.

Trey Kaufman-Renn led the Boilermakers with four points while Fletcher Loyer and Lance Jones added three points apiece.

DJ Horne had all four points for N.C. State, which is being beaten on the boards, with Purdue owning a 7-1 lead in rebounds.

Four offensive rebounds have turned into 10 second-chance points for Purdue.

Among the celebrities spotted at Saturday Final Four at State Farm Stadium were broadcaster Jim Nantz, former Purdue and NFL QB Drew Brees, former NBA player Danny Green, and former NBA player Grant Hill.

Also spotted in the crowd were Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.

Purdue: 2 G Fletcher Loyer, 3 G Braden Smith, 4 F Trey Kaufman-Renn, 15 C Zach Edey, 55 G Lance Jones

NC State: 0 G D.J. Horne, 12 G Michael O’Connell, 14 G Casey Moresell, 23 F Mohamed Diarra, 30 F D.J. Burns

When: Saturday, 3:09 p.m. Pacific time (6:09 p.m. ET)

Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

TV channels: TBS/TNT/truTV 

Announcers: Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Bill Raftery and Grant Hill (analysts), Tracy Wolfson (reporter)

Streaming: Sling TV

STREAM THE GAMES: Watch March Madness Final Four games on truTV, TBS, TNT with Sling TV

How to watch Alabama vs. UConn in Final Four

When: Saturday, 5:49 p.m. Pacific time (8:49 p.m. ET)

Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

TV channels: TBS/TNT/truTV 

Announcers: Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Bill Raftery and Grant Hill (analysts), Tracy Wolfson (reporter)

Streaming: Sling TV

STREAM THE GAMES: Watch March Madness Final Four games on truTV, TBS, TNT with Sling TV

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Alabama vs UConn Final Four picks, predictions, odds: Who wins March Madness game?

Alabama coach Nate Oats reveals advice from Nick Saban sparked Final Four run

UConn’s Dan Hurley says Bobby Hurley will be in Final Four when Arizona State supports him

Dan Hurley’s UConn Huskies unfazed with pressure that comes with being defending champion

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