ORLANDO, Fla. — Kevin Ollie has said multiple times over the last two days that coaching is overrated and that it’s the players that make plays.
Over the course of the first two games of the American Athletic Conference Championship, sophomore Daniel Hamilton is making all of the plays.
Hamilton scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on Saturday afternoon as UConn defeated Temple, 77-62, in the semifinals of the AAC tournament, propelling the Huskies into the conference championship for a third straight season.
“He’s really stepping up, and this is what I always talk about,” Ollie said of Hamilton. “Players make plays this time of year. You can draw up something, but they got to go make plays, and Daniel is doing a great job of that.”
Hamilton was 8 of 14 from the field on Saturday, including 1 of 2 from three-point range. All of this, of course, comes just a day after UConn’s quadruple overtime game where he played 55 minutes and recorded 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
This season has been up and down for Hamilton. There have been stretches where he has been brilliant, and then there have been times where he has been a completely different player. When Hamilton is playing well, so are the Huskies.
“Nothing different. I’m just — I was getting the shots I wanted all year, I just am making them now,” Hamilton said. “The in-between game, coach told me don’t settle for so many threes, so I want to get in between. And once I get that, if the three’s open, I’ll take it. But I just want to get in the lane, shoot my floaters, and shoot my one or two dribble pull-ups.”
And that is what Hamilton has done well these past two games: getting to his spots in the lane. He took seven threes on Friday and only two on Saturday. Most of his looks are coming at the rim or from mid-range.
UConn (23-10) led by 11 at half time and as a team the Huskies shot 55 percent. Temple (21-11) did its best to make a comeback in the second half, getting as close as six points on two different occasions.
With the Huskies up 62-55 with 3:51 left, Hamilton drove into the lane from the left side and hit a tough jumper in the lane as the shot clock buzzer went off. That bucket pretty much closed the deal for UConn.
“He’s playing like a pro,” freshman Jalen Adams said. “He’s taking good shots, he’s taking care of the ball. He’s leading us out there; he’s definitely grown up a lot, even though he’s already a sophomore. He’s grown up a lot. He’s playing like a senior right now.”
Ollie added: “Daniel’s becoming that go-to person that we need. When we need a bucket, we can get him to get his shots, and get in the lane and get to his spot.”
Hamilton has just three turnovers in the first two games of this conference tournament.
It wasn’t all on the offensive end against the Owls, though. He also played a key part in shutting down Temple’s best player, Quenton DeCosey. Hamilton, along with Rodney Purvis, held DeCosey to 4 of 17 shooting (24 percent) and 14 points. DeCosey came in averaging 16.6 points and shooting 41 percent.
“I think my intensity was just there from last game,” Hamilton said. “Our intensity was just there, and I just didn’t want [him] to get no easy looks like he’s got the last two [regular season] games. We just wanted to contain him and have him take contested twos.”
After playing four overtimes on Friday, Hamilton and the Huskies didn’t show any sign of fatigue on Saturday. With the win against Temple, UConn likely cemented its spot in the NCAA tournament. But first, the Huskies will play in the conference championship game Sunday afternoon before the pairings come out.
“I came out here today and did the same thing (as Friday),” Hamilton said. “My teammates found me and I think going forward we’ll be able to be doing the same thing like we’ve been doing the past two days.”