UConn Athletic Communications / November 25, 2022
PORTLAND, Ore. – The UConn men’s basketball team has flexed its offensive muscles since the start of the 2022-23 season, averaging 86.5 points per game in its first six games, all of which have been wins.
And while the Huskies’ 80-game streak continued Friday in Game No. 7 of the Phil Knight Invitational semifinals, it was defense that propelled UConn to an 82-67 win over Alabama and a spot in Sunday’s championship game State of Iowa.
UConn (7-0), ranked 20th, was wild at times, defending high-scoring number 18 Crimson Tide (5-1), particularly Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller. Miller had 18 points but was never a big factor in the game, mostly due to suffocating husky defenses from Nahiem Alleyne and Andre Jackson Jr.
“We fell for him on half-court, 5-on-5, just fell for him,” said the UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We got into his airspace and got him to handle the ball. Any time he got involved in any kind of dribbling handoff 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 got Brandon out,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats. “They were quite physical with him. They didn’t let him make easy catches. They did a good job with him. We had to get him going. And second, their ball protection cover, our smaller guards struggled with that. They were a good size , they were aggressive in it, their bigs came up.”
However, the depth of UConn was again a key factor as foul troubles sent key Huskies to the bench for extended periods. But UConn’s reserve corps was up to the task.
As the UConn offense started clicking, it scored points in bundles. In a 10-10 tie by the 9:00 opening, UConn scored 14 unanswered points to take command 24-10. The lead grew to 33-18 at 4:23 at halftime until Alabama fought back to 35-30 at halftime.
The second half became a back-and-forth battle, with Alabama eventually tying the game three times, the last time 52-52 with 8:52 left. That’s when senior Tristen Newton and junior Adama took over Sanogo and fired 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 fight.
Sanogo finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks while Jordan Hawkins added 16 points, Alex Karaban 12 and Joey Calcaterra 10.
“We knew we had to be strong and play well to beat the Alabama team,” Hurley said. “This is a damn good team. The length, the point guard play and Miller who is obviously a great player. And the level of coaching, so it was a great win.”
UConn will have a day off on Saturday before meeting a team from Iowa State, who defeated No. 1 North Carolina 70-65, in Friday’s other semifinal.
“We’re used to being successful at these MTEs (multi-team events),” Hurley said. “The whole mindset of the program this year is we’ve been fighting for the last few years, we’ve fought in the Great East, we’ve fought in tournaments. But we’re trying to go from contenders to champions. Now we have a chance to do that on Sunday.”