Faith on Full Display at UConn

Faith on Full Display at UConn

In Articles, Sports by Carter Brooks

The yearly spectacle that has come to be widely known as “March Madness” has officially come to an end for 2024.

Sure, the most important pieces of the puzzle of March Madness actually occur in April, but both the male and female basketball tournaments continue to draw international attention.

Both the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Division I National Championships are seven-round, single-elimination basketball tournaments consisting of 68 teams vying for a shot at the United States’ national championship. Moving from the “play-in” to the first and second rounds, the 68-team pool is quickly narrowed down in advance of the Sweet Sixteen round, before the Elite Eight, Final Four, and Championship Games take all the attention.

The 2024 running was no different. In fact, it drew even more popularity than most years, largely due to the female tournament garnering attention all over North America, as some of the game’s most talented females put their work on display.

22-year-old star Iowa guard Caitlin Clark completed yet another tournament, eventually falling in the championship final to South Carolina. A practicing Catholic, Clark has been the focal point of women’s basketball for the past year-and-a-half. Her faith may not be as widely discussed as that of the more outspoken evangelist Paige Bueckers of the University of Connecticut, but the duo have been two of the more prominent faith-led student-athletes over the past few runnings of March Madness.

The two faced off in the Final Four, to which Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes took down the UConn Huskies by a single bucket, 71-69. Despite the outcome, Bueckers praised God in her courtside interview with ESPN just minutes after the season-ending loss.

“Just so much gratitude. I’m a living testimony. I give all glory to God. He works in mysterious ways,” Bueckers said of her return to the Final Four following a season-ending injury in 2022. “Last year, I was praying to be back at this stage. He sent me trials and tribulations, but it was to build my character. It was to test my faith to see if I was only a believer in the good times. I just kept on believing. I did all I could so God could do all I can’t.”

Clark’s Huskies went on to fall in the championship final to South Carolina 87-75.

But sticking with the UConn theme, the men’s Huskies did more than just make it to the Final Four; the team performed dominantly in the championship and earned its second-straight title under the guidance and tutelage of head coach Dan Hurley. Connecticut became the first team since the 2006-07 Florida Gators to win back-to-back national championships.

Beating the University of Purdue Boilermakers 75-60 in the final, Hurley’s squad picked up its second consecutive national championship and its sixth title in seven visits to the Final Four.

And for Hurley, the second championship meant even more to him than the first. Considering he lost a significant chunk of his team from the 2022-23 season, the ability to win for a second year in a row certainly showed more about the culture and coaching than it did of the assembled group of players.

“It’s the best two-year run I think in a very, very long time,” Hurley said after the game. “Just because of everything we lost from last year’s team, to lose that much and to do what we did again, it’s got to be as impressive a two-year run as a program’s had since prior to whoever did it before Duke. To me, it is more impressive than what Florida and Duke did because they brought back their entire teams. We lost some major players.”

Staying grounded in his faith, Hurley knows the pressures that come with head coaching a defending champion. He spoke on The Ed Mylett Show last summer on that very topic.

“My foundation is super strong,” he said. “My foundation starts with my faith: my faith in Jesus Christ…That foundation that I have at home and my faith, like I can handle anything that comes with this job, the criticism, the losing, the going through tough stretches. I am built to handle everything that comes with this job because of my background and my foundation.”

He backed it up when asked about some of his idiosyncrasies, routines, and daily game-day practices.

“When I get back in the locker room after a great victory, I find just a couple minutes to pray—to pray to God—to be grateful and thankful for giving me and the team the strength,” Hurley shared.

But he also doubled down to speak of his practices when in doubt, when struggling, and amid loss.

“When you’re going through the struggles, too, it’s the faith, your faith in God, that gets you through the tough times. Whether it’s good times or bad times, your faith in Jesus Christ is what’s going to be your rock.”

Now, with two championship rings and many answered prayers to boot, Hurley will undoubtedly be on watch as next year’s national championship rolls around.

Because who wouldn’t bet on a proven winner with a strong faith and belief in God?

Carter Brooks
Carter Brooks is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, coaching hockey is his favorite pastime.
Carter Brooks
Carter Brooks is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, coaching hockey is his favorite pastime.