UConn survives the test, returning to the national title game by fending off Alabama in the Final Four

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tristen Newton waited for the ball screen at the top, then hit big man Donovan Clingan down the lane for an emphatic dunk. Connecticut's seat exploded.

Although it took longer than usual, the Huskies pulled away from Alabama on Saturday night to record an 86-72 win at State Farm Stadium. UConn advances to face Purdue in the national championship game Monday night, giving the Huskies a chance to become the first school to repeat as men's basketball national champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

The last step will not be easy. The Boilermakers beat NC State 63-50 in their first national semifinal on Saturday night, a contest in which they never trailed.

The title game will feature a battle between the big men — Purdue's 7-foot-4 Zach Eddy and 7-foot-2 Klingan. It will also feature two coaches who kept their teams in the top five in the AP Poll for the entire season. UConn spent seven weeks in first place, and Purdue spent five.

Entering Saturday, the Huskies were unchallenged in this tournament. They beat Stetson, Northwestern, San Diego State and Illinois by an average of 27.8 points. The only problem they encountered was during the trip to the Final Four, where mechanical and weather issues delayed the team's arrival until 3 a.m. Thursday.

That changed against Alabama. For more than 30 minutes, the Crimson Tide tested the Huskies (36-3). With 12:44 left in the second half, Grant Nelson hit a soft hook to tie the score at 56-56. Then the game turned.

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UConn guard Stefon Castle hit two foul shots and scored a breakout. Samson Johnson rolled to the basket and dunked. Alex Karapan returned the foul. Eight points in a row. Connecticut had its largest lead at 64-56. Alabama coach Nate Oats called time. It doesn't matter.

The Huskies played with balance in the final minutes, reducing the three-point deficit that hurt them in the first half. Steady from the start, Castle led UConn by 21 points. Clingan added 18 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots. Newton had 12 points and nine assists. Karapan and Cam Spencer each contributed 14 points.

UConn shot 53 percent in the second half.

Alabama, competing in the first Final Four in school history, finished 25-12. Mark Sears led the Crimson Tide with 24 points. After going 8-of-11 from 3-point range in the first half, they went just 3-12 in the second half.

And on Monday, UConn and coach Danny Hurley will try to repeat as national champions. For the past fifty years, this has been an almost impossible task. Other than Billy Donovan's Florida Gators, the only other school to repeat is Duke, which did so in 1992. Hurley's older brother, Bobby, was a standout guard on those teams.

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(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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