Bring on the Wildcats.
The University of Connecticut was able to stick to their brand of basketball as they focused on their defensive identity to move on to round two in the Big East Tournament, defeating Seton Hall 62-52.
That defensive focus could be seen the most in the first half as the Huskies held the Pirates to just 18 points. Seton Hall couldn’t truly break through on offense. Even Kadary Richmond, who triumphed over UConn earlier in the season with a 27-point performance, was held to just 14 points in the Seton Hall loss.
“I think we made everything really hard on them,” said head coach Dan Hurley. “At the rim, we made everything really challenging.”
UConn played as advertised on offense with valuable contributions from all their starters with the absence of freshman Jordan Hawkins and an off night from Adama Sanogo. Seniors Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole were a huge part of UConn’s offense on Thursday. Both players combined for 34 points to lead the team’s offensive barrage. Cole was very effective from beyond the arch as the senior shot 3-5 from the three-point-line.
Despite UConn’s huge scoring nights from the seniors, the stat sheet didn’t do enough to address the impact of sophomore Andre Jackson. The guard played some of his best defense as he held the Pirates to a minimal offensive impact. Jackson was able to show off his passing ability too with some great feeds to his fellow Huskies and control UConn’s offensive tempo.
“He has had such a huge impact all over the court.” said Hurley. “Guys like Andre and Isaiah make things so easy for those guys because they’re so unselfish.”
In order to get those offensive contributions, UConn had to be a force on the rebounding end and they did just that, out rebounding the Pirates by 13.
It felt like just another home game for the Huskies. UConn legends like Jim Calhoun and Emeka Okafor could be found in the audience. Even the moms of former UConn legends Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier were in attendance. UConn chants, clothing and more could be found in Madison Square Garden as they looked to give the Huskies an advantage.
“We’ve got the best fans in the world here at UConn,” said Cole.
UConn now moves on to one of their biggest tests of the year, a rematch with Villanova University on the biggest basketball stage in the world, Madison Square Garden. Villanova moved on to play the Huskies after a huge 17-point comeback to win by just a single point. If the Huskies can play a similar defensive performance to Thursday’s win, that would bode well for UConn’s chances to advance toward a Big East championship.
That Villanova rematch is scheduled to take place on Friday at 10 p.m.