Is Illinois the only team capable of stopping No. 1-seeded UConn?

BOSTON — Top-seeded UConn has advanced through the NCAA Tournament like an avalanche barreling its way down a steep mountain. There’s no stopping it; the only option is to try to outlast it.

Through three tournament games, no team has figured out how to survive the Huskies. It’s not just a matter of other teams failing to win, either. No team even has been able to make it interesting.

Enter the Illini.

‘‘We’ve played a lot of college basketball,’’ Illinois grad transfer Marcus Domask said. ‘‘I’ve played a lot of teams that were supposed to beat us, if you say they’re supposed to beat us.’’

No one needs to say UConn is supposed to beat the Illini. It has been made obvious by the way coach Dan Hurley’s well-oiled machine has been eviscerating teams.

Since beginning their quest to become the first team to repeat as NCAA champions since Florida — coached by the Bulls’ Billy Donovan — in 2006-07, the Huskies have beaten teams by an average of 28.6 points. On Thursday at TD Garden, they leveled San Diego State 82-52. It was the largest margin of victory in a Sweet 16 matchup since 2017.

‘‘I’ve watched a lot of games,’’ Domask said. ‘‘Honestly, I’ve watched the exciting games. But they’ve been blowing out teams, so I haven’t really paid much attention to them.’’

If entertaining has been Domask’s standard, then there hasn’t been any need to watch UConn. Even as the Aztecs hung around in the first half Thursday, there was a sense the Huskies could bite whenever they wanted to. In the second half, UConn sent a message that its opponents are never as close as they think they are.

Still, if the story of the tournament has been the Huskies and their dominance, Illinois has been playing impressively, too.

UConn is averaging 81.6 points? The Illini are averaging 84.2.

The Huskies are great at offensive rebounding? Illinois has averaged 11.2 offensive rebounds to their 10.3.

Hurley’s team has shot 39.4% from the field, while Illini coach Brad Underwood’s squad has shot at a 43% clip.

‘‘I think [the lack of national attention] is good for us,’’ Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins said. ‘‘Because we don’t really need it. Attention will come when you’re the No. 1 team holding up the trophy.’’

If there is a team in the tournament with the confidence and skill to give UConn a run for its money, it just might be the Illini. That confidence was bolstered when they beat Iowa State in an uncharacteristic way Thursday. Guard Terrence Shannon Jr. missed much of the second half because of foul trouble, and Illinois relied on its defense.

But maybe the most significant of the Illini’s attributes is the calmness every player seemed to have.

‘‘Age-old maturity,’’ Underwood said. ‘‘I mean, Marcus is a 2,000-point scorer. Quincy [Guerrier] has played in 160 games. There’s nothing that they haven’t seen. Quincy’s seen UConn. There’s just some value in that. It’s not like you’re running a bunch of young guys who don’t know what they’re going to do. I know what this group’s going to do. I know how they’re going to react.’’

The Huskies have beaten their last nine tournament opponents, dating to their title run last season. Illinois, meanwhile, hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the tournament since 2005.

But Underwood has experience being a top seed in tournament play. In 2021, the Illini had Final Four expectations before a ‘‘bad day’’ against Loyola sent them packing early.

‘‘What makes this event so special is it’s not a series,’’ Underwood said. ‘‘It’s one game. If you don’t play well, you go home.’’

While the confidence with which Illinois is operating can be useful, it still has to show up Saturday and execute. The locker-room water fights and candid news conferences are fun, but a water gun won’t hold up against UConn.

If the Illini manage to pull off the improbable Saturday, however, winning the national title the 2005 Illinois team couldn’t becomes an even more tangible goal.

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