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Notes & Quotes: UConn beats Iona to advance to Round of 32
After a challenging first half, the Huskies looked like an elite team for the final 20 minutes.
Dan Hurley’s UConn Huskies won their first NCAA Tournament game as his 4th-seeded squad toppled 13-seed Iona, 87-63, at MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y.
After falling in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, the Huskies flexed their skill and depth as they rode a dominant second half to the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2016.
“It definitely feels like the weight is off our shoulders,” said Andre Jackson, who finished with seven assists, five rebounds, and 10 points, including a three-pointer to open the game. The Huskies (26-8) advance to play 5-seed Saint Mary’s (27-7) in the Round of 32.
Iona gave UConn everything it had in the first half, hitting nearly half its shots and 6-of-11 threes as the Gaels took a 39-37 lead into the break.
But then Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins took over.
Sanogo scored 22 points with 10 rebounds — in just the second half — on his way to 28 and 13, respectively. Hawkins shook off a scoreless first half to finish with 13 points, notching a four-point play to start the second.
“Big-time effort,” said Hurley, who won his 250th career collegiate game. “Bench was great, the starters were great… Obviously, a big win.”
On Sunday, the Huskies will be looking to advance to the program’s 19th Sweet 16.
“They've got all the metrics to win a national championship,” Rick Pitino said of UConn after the game. “They average 17 assists. They're plus-9 on the glass against great competition. They shoot 46 percent from the field. They shoot the three well. Their backup units are just as good as their starters.
“They got it all.”
What Went Well
Big Dogs Eat: Trailing by two at the break, this team’s heavy hitters made sure the second half told a different story. Hawkins converted a four-point play on the opening possession. He and Sanogo teamed up for the first 17 as UConn built a 54-43 lead in the opening five minutes and never let up. Sanogo looked unstoppable with the ball down low.
Iona head coach Rick Pitino: “They came out in the second half and just dominated us.”
Jordan Hawkins: “I always have confidence in my game. Once I saw the first one go in, I was like, you got it. … Adama was a man against boys.”
Andre Jackson: “First half, [Hawkins] had a little bit of trouble getting to his spots, but I think in the second half he put that behind him… He contributed a lot to the win.”
Better Than Freshmen: Donovan Clingan posted eight points, eight rebounds, and a block in nine minutes off the bench in the first half. The freshman finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting with nine rebounds and two blocks in his first NCAA Tournament game. Alex Karaban turned in a solid six points along with four rebounds and three assists.
Donovan Clingan: “It's definitely a dream come true. I remember as a little kid watching UConn play and advancing in the tournament and stuff and just dreamed of being there one day. Now to be here, get my first NCAA Tournament victory, it means a lot to me.”
Hurley: “Our centers have devastated the other team because obviously you have a dominant player in Sanogo, and then you bring an outstanding 7-footer in. When we're at our best, our centers are giving us 30-plus points and high-double-figure rebounds.”
Demonstrated Depth: The Huskies have a lot of players that can score and lately the bench has been more consistent. The Husky bench tallied 26 points as Nahiem Alleyne added eight and Joey Calcaterra had six. They kept UConn in the mix in the first half while Iona shot at a 48.5 percent clip with six 3-pointers.
Hurley: “I think our bench kept us in it.”
Pitino: “Their backup units are just as good as their starters.”
Old Reliables: Defense and rebounds, the staples of Hurley’s program, both were on display in full strength. UConn held Iona to 25 percent shooting in the second half and destroyed the Gaels on the glass overall, 45-29.
Andre Jackson: “It was just a battle. [On his mindset] Honestly, just stay in the game as long as possible, just keep throwing punches and just keep taking punches.”
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What Needs Work
First-Half Punches: The Huskies found a clear-cut next level in the second half. This was an experienced, well-coached opponent that put a scare into UConn in the first half by hitting shots and frustrating their stars. It’s a blueprint that worked for Marquette and one that maybe a team like St. Mary’s could execute with better results than Iona.
Pitino: “The first half was just about as well as we played all year, but the second half was about as poor as we'd played.”
Andre Jackson: “In the first half we weren’t playing as good of defense. [In the] second half, coming out, playing better defense, that really allowed us to get separation.”
The Huskies and Gaels had five lead changes in the first half but the analytics seemed to be bullish on UConn throughout. The Huskies’ win probability got to 95% five minutes into the second half.
Hurley is 3-5 in NCAA play. His other two victories came at URI, where he advanced to the Round of 32 twice before being hired by UConn. … The Huskies last advanced to the Round of 32 when they beat Colorado, 74-63, as a 9-seed in 2016’s Round of 64 under Kevin Ollie. UConn then lost to top-seeded Kansas, 73-61. … Their last Sweet 16 without a Final Four appearance was 2006 and their last season to end in the Sweet 16 was 2003… This is UConn’s 36th tournament appearance. … UConn is 5-1 all-time in the Iona series; this was their first postseason meeting.
Sunday, vs. Saint Mary’s, 6:10 p.m. on TNT
Like Iona, St. Mary’s is also called the Gaels. They beat No. 12 VCU 63-51 in the 2 p.m. game in Albany and are ranked 12th in the nation in KenPom, which favors UConn by three points going into their matchup.