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 — 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.

“We were getting the same shots we’ve always gotten, and Clingan erased a few of them,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s good. I mean, doesn’t everybody have him projected in the (NBA) lottery or close to it? He does a great job of protecting the rim.”

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.

“I didn’t expect that. But tons of credit to UConn,” Underwood said. “I thought we were in a good spot at half, especially after the slow start. … We obviously came out in the second half and got blitzed.”

By the time Clingan took a break with 14:35 to play, the Huskies led by 23. On the next Illinois possession, Samson Johnson — who subbed in for Clingan — blocked Shannon under the basket and finished the fast break at the other end with a layup that gave UConn a 48-23 lead.

“It felt like no shots were going in. And it felt like they were getting out in transition and scoring every single time,” Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins said. “You look up, and you’re still at 23.”

UP NEXT: The national semifinals are April 6 in Glendale, Arizona. Alabama will be making its first Final Four appearance.

Alabama beats Clemson 89-82 and reaches 1st Final Four ever

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Every time Clemson tried to cut down its deficit, Alabama fired up a 3-pointer. Over and over and in such quick succession that the Crimson Tide looked like a video game.

Mark Sears made seven 3-pointers and Alabama recovered from its early long-distance woes with 16 3s to beat Clemson 89-82 on Saturday night, sending the Tide to the Final Four for the first time.

“Man, just feeling a lot of emotion,” said Sears, the only Alabama native on the team. “Being from the state of Alabama and to do it with this group of guys, it’s amazing.”

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 and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region.

Freshman Jarin Stevenson airballed a couple 3s in the first half, when Alabama missed 12 of its first 13 from long range. He ended up making a career-high five 3s and had 19 points off the bench.

“We don’t win this game without him,” Sears said. “Jarin hit 3 after 3 after 3 and kept us in this ballgame. He was huge.”

Tide coach Nate Oats added, “Jarin grew up tonight.”

The Tide donned red T-shirts with the entirely appropriate slogan “Net Worthy” as they celebrated while a bucket of red-and-white confetti was dumped on them. Oats walked into the postgame news conference wearing the net around his neck.

Clemson (24-12) was seeking its first Final Four appearance, too, in a matchup of 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. Sears hit a 3, turned and put his fingers to his lips.

After he sank the Tide’s eighth 3 of the half, Sears playfully stuck out his tongue and nodded his head as he ran up the court.

“I live for those moments. This is what March Madness is about,” Sears said. “When you’re a kid, you want to be in these moments. It feels like my dream came true today. My dream definitely came true today.”

Clemson had allowed only 14 3-pointers in its first three March Madness games.

“They get those 3s up fast and it seems like they’ll never miss,” Girard said.

The Tide were shooting before the Tigers could get back downcourt and set their zone defense.

“There’s not very many teams that play that way,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

The Tigers tried desperately to keep up and finished 8 of 26 from 3-point range. While Sears was putting on a show, Girard, who struggled offensively in the regional semifinal, hit back-to-back 3s and PJ Hall added another that left Clemson trailing 68-62.

“They hit big-time shots and we couldn’t quite get the misses we needed them to make,” Hall said. “Credit to them, man, they went out there and hit them. It was big-time basketball.”

Girard’s 3 cut Clemson’s deficit to 76-73. But Nick Pringle was in the midst of scoring eight in a row for the Tide, making 4 of 6 free throws down the stretch. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Sears stepped back left of the key and sank the Tide’s 10th 3 of the half for an 82-75 lead, drawing applause from Alabama alum and seven-time NBA champion Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry.

“What a basketball game. The shot-making was elite,” Brownell said. “Their second-half performance was outstanding and for whatever reason we had a hard time guarding them.”

The fourth-seeded Tide were in the Elite Eight for just the second time in school history. They lost in the 2004 regional final to UConn.

The sixth-seeded Tigers upended second-seeded Arizona in the regional semifinals to earn their second Elite Eight berth in 44 years.

Clemson broke the game open with an early 16-4 run, including six straight by RJ Godfrey, to take a 26-13 lead.

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