HOUSTON — San Diego State needed a buzzer-beater to win. The University of Connecticut started hot and never looked back. Both are headed to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
San Diego State University rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to reach its first NCAA men’s title game on Saturday, as Lamont Butler hit an 18-foot jump shot at the buzzer to defeat Florida Atlantic 72-71 in the national semifinals. In the late game, UConn cruised past the University of Miami 72-59 and now stand one victory from the program’s fifth national championship.
The Huskies won NCAA crowns in 1999, 2004, 2011 and 2014.
UConn and San Diego State will meet in Monday night’s championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston.
San Diego State (32-6) never led in the second half until the final shot of the game. The Aztecs got the ball back trailing by one point with seven seconds to play, but Butler pushed the ball upcourt and patiently waited for his shot.
“The plan was just to get downhill,” Butler said. “I looked up, there was two seconds left so I got to a shot I was comfortable with.
“And I hit it. I’m happy.”
Ninth-seeded FAU finished its season at 35-4.
Teams seeded No. 9 or worse are now 0-9 in the Final Four.
San Diego State’s Jaedon LeDee hit a short jumper to cut FAU’s lead to 71-70. After FAU’s Johnell Davis missed a contested layup, the Aztecs did not call a timeout and got the ball to Butler, who let the basketball fly with about two seconds to play. He drained the shot, which sent his teammates racing onto the floor to celebrate.
Both teams were playing in their first Final Four and battled all the way until the end. San Diego State trailed by double digits early in the second half, but deadly 3-point shooting and dominance on the offensive boards helped the Aztecs rally.
San Diego had several chances to take the lead, but 11 of 19 free throw shooting was crucial.
Saturday’s games marked the first time since seeding was introduced 44 years ago that no No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds reached the Final Four.
The Owls, who have been underdogs in every game but one during this tournament, led 40-33 at the half. But San Diego State cut the lead to two points twice halfway through the second half.
Florida Atlantic regained a five-point lead, but the Aztecs cut it to three, 65-62, with 5:08 to play. San Diego State continued to whittle away, tying the game at 65-65 with 4:18 to play. FAU regained the lead at 67-65.
Matt Bradley’s free throw with 2:04 left cut FAU’s lead to one.
Alijah Martin led Florida Atlantic with 26 points. Bradley led San Diego State with 21 points.
San Diego State became the seventh team from the state of California to reach the Final Four.
Florida Atlantic became only the fifth team since 1979 to reach the Final Four after entering the tournament without ever earning a victory.
In the nightcap, UConn (30-8) continued its dominant march through the tournament. They won their first two tournament games by an average of 19.5 points and then crushed No. 3 Gonzaga by 28 points in the Elite Eight. That was the biggest margin of victory in the Elite Eight in the past 31 years, according to CNN.
UConn started hot against Miami (29-8), rolling to leads of 9-0 and 14-4. But the Hurricanes bounced back to tie the game at 19.
But the Huskies went on a 16-5 run to end the half and led 37-24 at the intermission. Miami could get no closer than 10 points during the second half.
Amana Sonaga led UConn with 21 points and added 10 rebounds. Isaiah Wong led the Hurricanes in scoring with 15 points.
“We kind of body blowed (Miami) until we could knock them out,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said after the game. “We’ve been striving for five for awhile.”
Miami is noted for its football and baseball programs. The Hurricanes have won five football championships and four College World Series titles. It was their first appearance in the Final Four.