West final pairs red-hot No. 4 UConn, No. 3 Gonzaga

UConn was unceremoniously sent home in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, so the Huskies were flying well under the radar when this year’s version of March Madness began.Three games later, nobody is taking the fourth-seeded Huskies lightly. They have won those games by an average of 20.7 points to crash the West Region final and will battle third-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday night in Las Vegas for a spot in the Final Four.The fabulous run has UConn (28-8) in the Elite Eight for the first time since winning the national title in 2014. Taking the next step won’t be easy, as the Bulldogs (31-5) have won 12 straight games to reach the Elite Eight for the fifth time in the past eight NCAA Tournaments.But after thrashing Arkansas 88-65 in the Sweet 16 for their 12th win in 14 games, the Huskies are playing as well as any team in the tournament. And the journey began after that embarrassing 70-63 loss to New Mexico State 12-plus months ago.Coach Dan Hurley met with Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. and apologized for not putting more talent around them. He promised it would be different in March 2023.”We were in Coach’s office, and he really just told us things are going to change now,” Jackson recalled. “And he just told us we’re all captains. And we hold part of that on our shoulders, too — we’re going to take part of that blame when you feel that pain.”We really, from that moment on, from that day on, we just really held each other to a higher standard and just told each other we’re going to push for a national championship.”Sanogo, UConn’s star, has team-best averages of 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds. He is averaging 23.3 points and 9.7 rebounds and shooting 75 percent from the field (33 of 44) in the NCAA Tournament.Hawkins had a team-best 24 points against Arkansas to raise his season average to 16.1. He has knocked down a team-high 98 3-point baskets. Jackson is a playmaker who averages 6.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.Together, they helped the Huskies become a dangerous team.”We’re playing our best basketball right now because we know we have a good team,” Sanogo said. “We play for UConn. UConn is the place, people care about you, people want to see you do good. We know it’s awesome, and every time we play, we want to show people wrong.”Gonzaga coach Mark Few doesn’t need much convincing.