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UConn uses strategy of shutting down Purdue’s perimeter shooters to get decisive victory

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — UConn left Donovan Clingan on the loneliest island, stuck deep in the paint to wrestle massive Purdue center Zach Edey.

Even when Edey bulled his way to shots at the rim, the Huskies refused to give their big man help, knowing the two-time national player of the year would get his points.

UConn had a much bigger concern than the 7-foot-4 man in the middle: Purdue’s perimeter shooters.

And, boy, did the Huskies shut them down.

Chasing the Boilermakers off the arc all night, UConn held one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams to one made 3 and became the first team since 2007 to repeat as national champions with a 75-60 win on Monday night.

“Not everyone can do what they just did,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “You just have to give credit to their defense and their coach and the way they’re wired.”

UConn has become one of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams under coach Dan Hurley, finishing No. 1 in KenPom.com’s efficiency ratings this season.

What has made the Huskies great is they’re a gritty, downright dominating defensive team.

UConn held its first four NCAA Tournament opponents under 60 points and limited Alabama, the nation’s highest-scoring team, to 72 points in the national semifinals.

For the national title game, Hurley cooked up a plan to stay connected to Purdue’s shooters while living with whatever Edey was able to get against Clingan.

Edey finished with 37 points, but needed 25 shots to get there and didn’t hit a shot during a 10-minute stretch as UConn began taking control.

The Huskies instead shut down what the Boilermakers do better than almost every other team.

“They just made a decision, like we can defend the perimeter and we can take this away from you, then you’re just going to get the ball to your best player, he’s going to go one on one,” Painter said. “They were going to live with that.”

And they won with that.

Purdue was the nation’s second-best 3-point shooting team during the regular season at 41%, giving the Boilermakers the perfect outlet when teams inevitably double-teamed Edey.

UConn barely even let Purdue get looks from 3 in the national title game.

Freshman Stephon Castle led the charge, hounding Purdue point guard Braden Smith every step. The rest of UConn’s defenders swarmed the 3-point arc and recovered quickly when they did get beat, holding the Boilermakers to 1-of-7 shooting from 3.

Impressive against a team that averaged 8.3 made 3-pointers and 20.5 attempts per game before Monday night.

Purdue’s lone made 3 was the fewest since Michigan sank just one in 1996. The seven 3-point attempts was the fewest in a national championship game since UCLA in 1995.

“We were just locked in on not letting those other guys beat us,” said UConn’s Cam Spencer, who had 11 points.

While Edey was feasting, the rest of the Boilermakers got caught in a wave of Huskies.

Smith shot 4 of 12 and made Purdue’s lone 3-pointer. Fletcher Loyer had no points on 0-of-5 shooting. Lance Jones, Purdue’s third-leading scorer, took just three shots and had five points. Mason Gillis had no points and missed both of his shots.

UConn’s guards outscored Purdue’s 55-17.

“We didn’t want to give up 3s. We didn’t care if Zach took 25, 28 shots to get 30, 35 points” Hurley said. “The whole game plan was no Smith, no Loyer, no Gillis, no Jones. Keep that collective group under 18, 20 points, they have no chance to win no matter how well Zach played.”

He’s right. Now UConn has its sixth national title and the NCAA’s first repeat championship since Florida in 2006-07.

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