March Madness builds in Connecticut with top seed UConn, underdog Yale playing in East Region

Sat, Mar 23, 2024
NCAAB News (AP)

March Madness builds in Connecticut with top seed UConn, underdog Yale playing in East Region

NEW YORK (AP) - UConn was certainly expected. Yale, not exactly.

Indeed, these are heady days for Huskies and Elis all over Connecticut, with two Nutmeg State schools playing in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. And if both win second-round games Sunday, they'd even square off against each other in the Sweet 16 back in New England.

"It's just great. It's great for Connecticut. It's great for the state," said Dan Hurley, coach of top-seeded UConn. "I know we say Storrs, Connecticut, is the basketball capital of the world, and we don't run from that. But maybe just the state of Connecticut kind of feels like the basketball capital of the world and we add Storrs to New Haven. Maybe we stretch that a little bit right now."

With their campuses separated by about 63 miles along I-91 and I-84, the high-profile Huskies have been a national power for decades, of course, while the Bulldogs scrap away from the spotlight in the scholastic Ivy League.

Yale, however, has already authored a couple of the most dramatic March Madness moments this year, rallying in the final seconds to sink Brown on a buzzer-beater for the Ivy League title and then coming back late again to upset SEC Tournament champion Auburn 78-76 in the first round of the NCAAs behind 28 points from John Poulakidas.

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"I tried to be as calm as possible, celebrate obviously the win somewhat, but to be calm and just let the guys know that we have more work to do," coach James Jones said Saturday.

Up next for the 13th-seeded Bulldogs in Spokane, Washington is a matchup with No. 5 seed San Diego State, which lost to UConn in last year's national championship game.

Third-team AP All-American Jaedon LeDee scored 32 points as the Aztecs (25-10) held off No. 12 seed UAB 69-65 on Friday.

"Yale had a big win yesterday, but they're not surprised to be here," San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. "You don't schedule at Kansas, at Gonzaga, at Santa Clara unless you think you're going to be good. They were preparing for this moment by playing teams like that."

Fresh off the second NCAA Tournament win in school history, Yale (23-9) is looking to land the Ivy League in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season, following Princeton's underdog run a year ago.

UConn (32-3) has much bigger goals, trying to become the first repeat NCAA champion since Florida in 2007. First-team All-America guard Tristen Newton and the Huskies, after sailing past No. 16 seed Stetson 91-52 in Brooklyn, prepped Saturday for ninth-seeded Northwestern - a game scheduled to be broadcast on five Connecticut radio stations Sunday night from Greenwich to Norwich.

"We haven't done much yet. The ultimate goal of this tournament is to win the whole thing," Newton said. "You know, the Big East, it was cool and all, but you can't get complacent when you're trying to go for an historic thing."

High-scoring guard Boo Buie and the Wildcats (22-11) outlasted No. 8 seed Florida Atlantic 77-65 in overtime Friday. And even though coach Chris Collins has called UConn a "juggernaut" multiple times this weekend, he and his players are sure they can compete with anybody after taking down a top-ranked Purdue team twice in the past two Big Ten seasons.

Northwestern has advanced a round in each of its three NCAA Tournament appearances (all since 2017), but the program has never reached the Sweet 16.

"We played against great teams all year long," Buie said. "We are just going to have to be dialed in and locked in from the jump for all 40 minutes. But it gives us great confidence because we've done it before. We've seen it, and we all believe in ourselves a bunch."

UConn center Donovan Clingan could pose a particular problem for Northwestern, which is minus two starters in junior guard Ty Berry and 7-foot senior center Matthew Nicholson following season-ending injuries.

The tall task, so to speak, of trying to contain the 7-foot-2 Clingan could fall heavily on the shoulders of 6-10 sophomore Luke Hunger.

"I know going into this game, my team needs me to dominate my matchup," Clingan said.

Wins by UConn and Yale would pit them against each other Thursday night at the East Regional in Boston, an easy drive or train ride from both Connecticut campuses.

Mystic Seaport to the Long Island Sound, a Yankee Doodle dandy.

"I was always a UConn fan growing up. I've watched Yale, just growing up - they are a good program and stuff," said Clingan, raised in the Connecticut town of Bristol. "It's cool to see another school from the area do well."

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Spokane, Washington, contributed to this report.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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