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UConn comes back to beat Colorado in NCAA Tournament

Connecticut's Rodney Purvis celebrates during a first-round game

Connecticut's Rodney Purvis celebrates during a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, March 17, 2016. Credit: AP / Nati Harnik

DES MOINES, Iowa — Most people would consider what Connecticut did Thursday a late surge. That is because they have no idea what Connecticut’s definition of “late” is. The last time the Huskies were down 36-27 at halftime — the same score as yesterday — they had to go four overtimes to win.

They did speak about that long one at halftime here against Colorado, when they needed an emotional pick-me-up. “It was nothing new to us. At the same time, somebody had to talk up and get the team settled down. I was just able to do that,” Sterling Gibbs, a graduate student guard, said after Connecticut won the first-round NCAA Tournament game, 74-67.

Gibbs iced this one by going 6-for-6 from the line in the final minute, which was better than having to ice aching muscles after the four-overtime victory over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals last Friday. “This feels great, especially on my feet. After that Cincinnati game, I had blisters all over my feet,” said the player who was on the court for 54 minutes in that game.

Who knows if UConn even would have made the NCAA Tournament if Jalen Adams had not made a 65-foot fling at the buzzer of the third overtime? The point is, Connecticut (25-10) has a tougher edge because of it.

“I think that game helps us a lot, it kind of shows who we are,” said Gibbs, a transfer from Seton Hall (after having begun his college career at Texas).

Shonn Miller, who fouled out of the Cincinnati game after playing only 18 minutes, said, “I feel like that just prepared us better for games in the future. We’ve been through about every scenario that could be thrown at us.”

Connecticut showed again that it can do the things that winning teams do, such as sink free throws. The Huskies made 22 of 23 Thursday. Before making a few toward the end, Colorado (22-12) was shooting foul shots at an unsightly 45-percent rate. On his attempts, Gibbs said he heard his mom in the stands yelling, “Shoot them just like you shoot them in the backyard.”

UConn also knows how and when to turn up the heat. “We knew the pressure was coming. How do you handle the pressure? You attack. We didn’t attack the pressure. We wilted,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “They exerted their will on us and we weren’t able to answer the bell.”

Nor did they answer the five pivotal points Connecticut made on two steals — Rodney Purvis scored two of his 19 points and Daniel Hamilton got three of his 17 in that sequence — cutting the deficit to two with more than 14 minutes left. That was very early by UConn standards. No need for four overtimes.

“That,” Miller said, “was a plus.”

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