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UConn’s return to prominence has been a family affair

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Dan Hurley got choked up when asked about his dad on the eve of UConn’s Sweet 16 game.

Tears flowed again before the Huskies’ Elite Eight game, this time from thinking about what he considers his other family.

“I love coaching this team. I’ve gotten emotional,” Hurley said after UConn steamrolled Gonzaga Saturday night. “I just can’t think about coaching this group for the last time. It makes me sad.”

Hurley will get to coach them at least one more game, next week in Houston.

UConn has blitzed its way through the bracket so far, winning each of its four NCAA Tournament games by at least 15 points.

The Huskies turned what was supposed to a dream Elite Eight game into a nightmare for Gonzaga.

UConn dominated at both ends, beating the Zags 82-54 in the fourth-most lopsided Elite Eight game since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

That puts the Huskies in the Final Four for the first time since winning the 2014 national title and back on track to once again being an elite program.

UConn will play Texas or Miami next Saturday in Houston.

“I saw them in November and I just thought they were such a complete team there,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’ve got great size. They have depth. Their bigs are different. So they bring different qualities.”

The run has been a gratifying one for Hurley.

His father, Bob, is one of the few high school coaches to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, a demanding coach who led St. Anthony High School to 26 New Jersey state titles.

Bobby Hurley, Dan’s brother, won two national titles as a player at Duke and led Arizona State to its third NCAA Tournament since 2018 this season.

Dan played at Seton Hall before working his way up the coaching ladder. He spent two years at Wagner before leading Rhode Island to consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Tasked with returning UConn to national prominence, Hurley gradually rebuilt the program, leading the Huskies to their first NCAA Tournament berth in five years in 2021.

The knock on Hurley: he couldn’t win in March. UConn got bounced out of the NCAA Tournament’s first round each of the previous two seasons, including to No. 12 seed New Mexico State last year.

The Huskies looked like national title contenders early this season, went through a funk, then started playing their best basketball at the perfect time.

After the win over Gonzaga, Dan now has some bragging rights of his own and celebrated with hugs from his family after clinching a Final Four spot Saturday night along The Strip in Las Vegas.

“We’re just blessed that we grew up in Jersey City and found basketball and had a dad that pushed us,” Hurley said. “And I’m just proud that he’s been able to travel with us and now I get to take my dad to a Final Four.”

And he’s taking that other family with him.

Collegiate athletics create a unique experience, the countless hours spent together chasing a common goal. College basketball players spend up to 11 months a year with each other between the season and offseason workouts, so bonds come naturally.

Some teams are closer than others. These Huskies are a tight-knit pack.

“You truly are — you’re family,” Hurley said. “And to do this together is special, not just the great moments, but having to pick each other up after great failures. Just doing it all together, the roller coaster ride. It’s like it’s a bond that you have with other people that most people don’t get to experience.”

Next up for Hurley and the Huskies is a truly unique experience: playing in the Final Four.

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AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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