UConn forward Alex Karaban (11) reacts after scoring a 3-point basket next to Jaden during the second half of an NCAA collegiate basketball game at the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Oregon on Friday, November 25, 2022 Bradley, the guard from Alabama (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Since the preseason, coach Dan Hurley has spoken about his UConn basketball program taking the next step and going from a championship contender to a win.
The 20th-ranked Huskies get their first championship shot of the season on Sunday.
After impressive victories over Oregon and No. 18 Alabama, UConn (7-0) meets Iowa State (5-0) in the Phil Knight Invitational final (10 p.m. ESPN) at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.
The Huskies advanced to the finals by playing their best basketball yet in Friday’s semifinal win, tearing apart previously undefeated Alabama (82-67) with outstanding defense and an explosive offense. They forced 21 turnovers while junior Adama Sanogo led a second-half surge that broke a tie and ended with a game-high 25 points.
There is mounting evidence that UConn could be in for a joy ride this season.
The huskies are superb at both ends of the course.
They have scored at least 80 points in each of the first seven games for the first time in program history, keeping opponents at 58.7 points. They share basketball averaging 19.3 assists, down from 14 per game last season.
Her greatly improved depth was demonstrated at PKI. Hurley left with a nine-player rotation. There is often little to no drop off when players come off the bench. Five Huskies scored nine or more points in both games.
They were also on target from the perimeter, sinking a program-record 17 3-pointers against Oregon and converting nine more against Alabama for a 26-of-61 overall (42.6 percent) in the PKI. Defense must be on the alert when five different Huskies convert 39 percent or more from across the arc.
Under the basket, the center combo of Sanogo and newcomer Donovan Clingan has given opponents seizures. Sanogo leads the team in scoring (20.6 points) and rebounds (7.1), while former Bristol Central star Clingan has 8.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and the team’s best 2.6 blocks in Scored 15.3 minutes per game.
The state of Iowa also got off to a dream start.
The Cyclones completed a difficult path to reach the PKI Finals, defeating No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 behind senior Caleb Grill’s career-best 31 points in Friday’s semifinals after beating Villanova, 81-79 in OT, had defeated in the first round.
Their backcourt, dominated by Grill (12.0 points) and senior Jaren Holmes (17.8), is considered one of the best in the Big 12. Transfer Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 center, is the player to watch inside.
Osunniyi, a two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year before coming to Iowa State, and Holmes, both of whom joined from St. Bonaventure and previously played against UConn at the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, NJ last December. Osunniyi had 10 points and five rebounds and Holmes had 19 points for the Bonnies in a 74-64 loss.
Similar to UConn, Iowa State plays disruptive defense, forcing 21.4 turnovers per game and keeping opponents off the field 37 percent.
And the Cyclones will surely take some momentum from their big surprise win on Friday.
It all adds up to a fun and highly competitive matchup.
UConn will shoot for its first championship in a multi-team event during the regular season since winning the 2013 2k Sports Classic, beating Indiana in the finals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
No. 20 UCONN vs. IOWA STATE
Location: Moda Center, Portland, Ore
Tip: 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Records: UConn 7-0, Iowa State 5-0
Last game: UConn defeated No. 18 Alabama, 82-67, in Friday’s Phil Knight Invitational semifinals; Iowa State defeated No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in Friday’s semifinals.
Probable Starters; UConn, 6-5 year guard Tristen Newton (12.6 points, 5 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-4 sr. Guard Nahiem Alleyne (7.4 points), 6-5 so. Guard Jordan Hawkins (13 pts), 6-8 r-fr. Forward Alex Karaban (10.4 points, 3.4 reps), 6-9 jr. Forward Adama Sanogo (20.6 pts, 7.1 reps)
state of iowa, 6-3 yr Guard Caleb Grill (12 pts), 6-4 sr. Guard Jaren Holmes (17.8 pts, 4.4 assists), 6-1 fr. Guard Tamin Lipsey (4 pts), 6-8 sr. Forward Aljaz Kunc (8.4 pts, 6.6 reps), 6-10 sr. Middle Osun Osunniyi (10.6 points, 3.8 reps)
Remarkable: Phil Knight Invitational Championship Game. … Series: Tie 1-1, with UConn winning the 2014 NCAA Sweet Sixteen 81-76 and losing 77-64 in the 2012 NCAA tournament opener. … By defeating North Carolina, Iowa State recorded the program’s third win ever against a top-ranked team. …member of the Big 12. …Cyclones brings back four players, including two starters, from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. … Grill had a career high when he connected seven 3-pointers against North Carolina. … top reserve: 6-4 sr. Guard Gabe Kalscheur (10 pts). …Cyclones outsells opponents by nearly 22 points per game while averaging 77.4 points. The defense has forced 107 turnovers this season. … Hot: Transfer Joey Calcaterra shoots 60.9 percent (14 to 23) from 3 pts. Offer. Cold: Mrs. Donovan Clingan 9 for 18 from the foul line. … Huskies have had their best start to Hurley’s five seasons in charge. … Injury update: Samson Johnson (foot) is out indefinitely. … Next: UConn hosts Oklahoma State in the Big East-Big 12 fight at the Gampel Pavilion Thursday at 6:30 p.m.