In a men’s NCAA Tournament highlighted by big upsets, no top-three seeds in the Final Four, and three teams making their Final Four debuts, Connecticut was the anomaly. The Huskies dominated every squad they faced, and are taking home the national championship as a result.
With a 76-59 triumph over San Diego State on Monday night in Houston, UConn collected the fifth national title in its men’s program’s history. The Huskies won their six tournament games by an average of 20.0 points, and became the first team to ever win all six games by 13 or more points.
— UConn Men's Basketball (@UConnMBB) April 4, 2023
It marks the first national championship for UConn head coach Dan Hurley, who in his fifth season hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game with the Huskies until two weeks ago. Adama Sanogo was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player following a 17-point, 10-rebound night. Tristen Newton also put up a double-double for UConn, leading all scorers with 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds as well.
Yet, one of the unsung players who made a big impact on the game was UConn’s Andre Jackson Jr. The junior guard, who’s also a co-captain, led all players Monday with six assists. He added three points, three rebounds and two steals as well.
Andre Jackson's fingerprints were all over UConn's national championship game win with the way he picked apart San Diego State's defense seeing over the top, getting the ball where it needs to be and igniting the break off the defensive glass and spraying passes everywhere. pic.twitter.com/d9UFXnev1e
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 4, 2023
He’s one of a handful of Huskies who’ve been with the program their entire collegiate careers, and he said after the game that he’s been dreaming of this day since he arrived in Storrs from Albany Academy in New York.
“Every single day since I first got here I’ve been thinking about it,” he told the media in the locker room. “My first journal entry in my whole journal is, ‘I’m trying to be a national champion.’ It feels great to actually accomplish that.”
Coach Hurley had a long embrace with Jackson when he subbed him out of the game with 30 seconds left. Hurley has praised Jackson’s leadership all season.
“Andre is equal parts like lift people up and then also rip their you know what,” Hurley told the media on Friday prior to the Final Four. “He’s a high-level leader. He’s got all the tools in his bag. This guy kept the locker room together. He kept the team together when we were struggling. And that’s how we’re able to come out on the other side.”
UConn, which began the season unranked but won its first 14 games, hit a rough patch from Dec. 31 to Jan. 25, when it lost six of eight games. But the Huskies lost only twice the rest of the way, finishing 31-8 after Monday’s victory.
Jackson never led his team in scoring in any of those games, but he was the assist leader 19 times, including Monday. He was the team’s sixth leading scorer this season (6.8 points per game) but tied for first in assists (4.7) and steals (1.1), was second in rebounds (6.3) and second in minutes played (28.9).
The team was unsure how Jackson would contribute this year when he underwent surgery on his fractured right pinky finger on Oct. 12. He ended up only missing the team’s first three games, and says God taught him a lesson during that time away.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” he told the Journal Inquirer in October. “So I think that this is definitely a message from God to just stay consistent in my work and stay on the same path.”
Jackson has leaned on his faith in God since he was young. His basketball trainer was Clyde Clymer, who is also a pastor. The two formed an incredible bond with Clymer as a type of father figure and mentor, not just a trainer. Since Jackson was 9 years old, he and Clymer have had deep discussions about faith and basketball.
Prior to the championship game, Jackson said basketball and his faith have “always been connected.”
“I feel like God has put me in this position,” he told the media. “I feel like I’ve went through a lot of trials and tribulations in the past when it comes to basketball. So for Him to present me with a great opportunity like this, I’m really just looking forward to trying to seize it and give all glory to Him, as always.”
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With the dream fulfilled, Jackson will soon direct his thoughts toward next year. The “Swiss Army Knife” is receiving interest from NBA teams, though he likely wouldn’t be a lock to get drafted. In a jubilant locker room Monday night, however, he indicated he plans to return to UConn.
“Now I want to get another [title] while I’m here,” he said, via Joe Arruda of the Hartford Courant. “Only way I’m not coming back is if Coach tells me to leave.”
If Hurley has his way, Jackson will likely lead a UConn title defense.
“He’s a beautiful human being, and it’s not like ‘Coach Talk;’ he genuinely cares more about our success than his production,” Hurley said about Jackson in October. “He’s very mature that way. He understands his identity.”
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