UConn Athletic Communications / Nov. 25, 2022
PORTLAND, Ore. – The UConn men’s basketball team has been flexing its offensive muscles since the 2022-23 season began, averaging 86.5 points per game through the first six games, all of which were wins.
And while the Huskies’ streak of 80-plus games continued in game No. 7 Friday in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational, it was the defense that propelled UConn to an 82-67 victory over Alabama and a spot in Sunday’s championship game against Iowa State.
UConn (7-0), ranked No. 20, was ferocious at times defending the high-scoring No. 18 Crimson Tide (5-1), especially Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller. Miller had 18 points, but was never much of a factor in the game, mainly due the smothering Husky defense of Nahiem Alleyne and Andre Jackson Jr.
“We got into him in the halfcourt, 5-on-5, just got into him,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We got into his air space, made him handle the ball. Any time that he got involved in any type of dribble hand-off or ball-screen, we were super-aggressive. We wanted to chase him off the line and make him handle the ball.”
The strategy was more than effective.
“They took Brandon out of it,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “They were pretty physical with him. They didn’t let him get any easy catches. They did a good job with him. We needed to get him going. And two, their ball-screen coverage, our smaller guards struggled with it. They had some good size, they were aggressive in it, their bigs came up.”
UConn’s depth, however, was again a major factor as foul trouble sent key Huskies to the bench for extended periods of time. But UConn’s reserve corps was up to the task.
When the UConn offense did start to click, it scored points in bunches. Mired in a 10-10 tie through the opening 9:00, UConn scored 14 unanswered points to take command, 24-10. The lead grew to 33-18 with 4:23 remaining in the half, until Alabama fought its way back to within 35-30 at halftime.
The second half became a back-and-forth battle, with Alabama finally tying the game three times, the last at 52-52 with 8:52 to go. That’s when senior Tristen Newton and junior Adama Sanogo took over, sparking the Huskies to a 16-1 run (Sanogo 9, Newton 7) that put the game out of reach and sent UConn into the PKI title contest.
Sanogo finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks, while Jordan Hawkins added 16 points, steady Alex Karaban had 12 and Joey Calcaterra had 10.
“We knew we had to be tough and play well to beat that Alabama team,” Hurley said. “That’s a heck of a team. The length, the point guard play and Miller, who’s obviously a tremendous player. And the level of coaching, so it was a great win.”
UConn will have an off-day on Saturday before meeting an Iowa State team that knocked off No. 1 North Carolina, 70-65, in Friday’s other semifinal.
“We’re used to having success in these MTEs (multi-team events),” Hurley said. “The whole mindset of the program this year is, we’ve been contending the last couple of years, contending in the Big East, contending in tournaments. But we’re trying to go from contenders to champions. Now, we have a chance to do that on Sunday.”