UConn Huskies back to being among game's top dogs
ALBANY — Connecticut’s ascent back into the college basketball elite continues.
The fourth-seeded Huskies rode the interior scoring of Adama Sanogo and the second-half perimeter shooting of Jordan Hawkins to pull away from fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s and post a 70-55 West Regional second-round victory before 14,010 at MVP Arena on Sunday.
Fifth-year coach Dan Hurley has steered UConn into the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014, when it captured the national championship.
The Huskies (27-8) will play a regional semifinal against eighth-seeded Arkansas on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Razorbacks (22-13) upset top-seeded Kansas on Saturday in Des Moines. In three of UConn’s four national titles — the ones under coach Jim Calhoun — the Huskies were the West Regional champ.
“Playing at UConn, it’s just you deal with a lot more pressure and criticism,” Hurley said. “In the first and even second round of tournaments, it’s more of a burden to play at UConn than it is an advantage . . . being able to get that first one? I thought the team just was a lot looser today. Now you get to the Sweet 16, you can really just kind of go out and let it rip.”
Saint Mary’s (27-8) was going to have its hands full against the athletic and high-scoring Huskies regardless of the circumstances but was further hindered when starting forward Alex Ducas had to leave the game with a back injury with about five minutes left in the first half. Starting center Mitchell Saxen was limited to 23 minutes by foul trouble.
Ducas never returned to the game and Saxen came out with his fourth foul with 12:51 to play.
Gaels coach Randy Bennett described Ducas as “a bullet you need to have.”
“Losing Ducas there was unfortunate for them,” Hurley said. “He’s a hell of a player. It was sad to see him not being able to play that game out.”
UConn reeled off a 16-7 run after Saxen came out. It included four three-pointers from Hawkins for a 62-47 lead with 6:37 left.
“It felt great hitting those shots,” Hawkins said. “Finally found a rhythm.”
Said Hurley, “[Good] to have a perimeter weapon this time of year that can deliver big performances and create some separation during the game.”
Sanogo had 24 points and eight rebounds and shot 11-for-16. Tristen Newton had 13 points and five assists and Hawkins had 12 points on the four three-pointers in that critical stretch for UConn. The Huskies shot 54% for the game, including 45.5% on three-pointers, and limited the Gaels to 31.9% shooting in the second half.
“We just believed that . . . we could beat you inside with dominant center play, and we could also be the type of team that could go eight, nine, 10, 12 threes,” Hurley said. “We could go on runs, [but] obviously we hang our hat on our defense.”
Aiden Mahaney and Logan Johnson each scored nine points and Ducas had eight for Saint Mary’s.
With UConn playing an athletic and fast-paced style and Saint Mary’s preferring something more deliberate and precise, the pace of the game figured to be a factor. Saint Mary’s appeared to be getting the better of that until Newton pulled up for a three-pointer with three seconds left for a 31-30 Huskies lead at the break.
The biggest issue in those first 20 minutes, though, was the surprising departure of Ducas. He went to the floor at the end of a Gaels possession with the back injury. He stepped gingerly as he was helped from the floor and to the locker room and, when Saint Mary’s returned for the start of the second half, he did not come out with the team.
Ducas led all Gaels with eight points at halftime and had a pair of three-pointers in a 13-2 run that put Saint Mary’s up 17-9 with 13:15 left in the half. The Gaels did not trail the rest of the half until the three by Newton just before halftime.
Gonzaga 84, TCU 81: Drew Timme extended his one-of-a-kind college career by at least one more game, finishing with 28 points and eight rebounds to lead third-seeded Gonzaga into the Sweet 16 with a comeback win.
Timme made his first three-pointer since December — and only his third of the season — as part of a 13-1 run that helped Gonzaga (30-5) take a seven-point lead with just under nine minutes left after trailing most of the night.
After sixth-seeded TCU (22-13) pulled within three late, Timme made a twisting shot in the lane with a defender draped all over him to ignite a 4-0 mini-run that put the game out of reach.
Next stop for Timme and the Zags: Las Vegas for the West Regional semifinals and a meeting with UCLA on Thursday. — AP