Despite spending Thanksgiving in the Pacific Northwest, the No. 20 UConn men’s basketball team certainly had a feast of their own on Thursday night, connecting on a program-record 17 3-pointers en route to a 83-59 victory over Oregon.
It wasn’t until four minutes into the contest that Big East Preseason Player of the Year Adama Sanogo took his first shot of the night, receiving a pass at the top of the key from Tristen Newton. Initially guarded by Nate Bittle, Sanogo worked in a post move to create enough space to drive to the rim. In the process, he caught the attention of two other Ducks: Rivaldo Soares, leaving Jordan Hawkins open, and N’Faly Dante, completely leaving Newton for an aggressive chase down swat attempt. With such tight defense, Sanogo missed but was able to grab his own rebound, drawing the attention of all four Oregon players on the court, with Bittle’s momentum dragging him to the baseline.
The junior nailed his second attempt over everyone because well, that’s what he does. However, the fact that UConn’s go-to-gameplan in their first five games – get the ball low to Sanogo – didn’t come to fruition until four minutes in, coupled with the sheer amount of attention the Ducks gave him, made it clear that this game would have to be won on the outside.
It certainly did. Open looks were found all night long, with Newton, Hawkins, Joey Calcaterra, Alex Karaban and even Sanogo hitting multiple threes in this one. The Huskies stretched the floor beautifully and hit their stride best when sharing the ball, as 23 of their 30 field goals were assisted.
While both teams shared some back-and-forth competition early on, it wasn’t until around nine minutes left when Connecticut broke the game open. The team went on a nearly four-minute 14-4 run, led by two big threes from Calcaterra off the bench. He finished with a very efficient 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, including three deep balls, with four assists.
Newton again flashed the brilliance he had on display at East Carolina, as the transfer guard had a game-high 23 points on 7-for-10 shooting with six assists, four rebounds and two steals. His five threes in the first half was integral for the Huskies’ 11-point lead at the break.
Freshman center Donovan Clingan looked really comfortable in an unfamiliar location on Thursday, amongst top competition down low in one of his first collegiate games. The Bristol native led the team in rebounds with eight and added nine points, four blocks and two steals, stuffing the stat sheet in an all-around performance.
Sophomore guard Hawkins was working almost exclusively from beyond the arc, taking 14 of his 16 shots from 3-point range. He finished with an 18 point performance, hitting some big threes down the stretch to extend Connecticut’s lead.
Sanogo had a quieter night than normal, but some early foul trouble held him to only 23 minutes played in the contest. He didn’t have as much work cut out for him in the post, but still finished with 12 points on an efficient 5-for-7 from the floor with six rebounds. The big man hit two threes in as many attempts, bumping up his season totals to six 3-pointers on nine shots, the best mark on the team. For a guy who hadn’t hit a single deep ball in his previous two seasons, this added tool to his game has really helped out the Huskies in the early goings of the season, and will surely help his draft stock down the road.
As much as the Huskies were riding their hot hands all night, the team played tough defense on the other end of the court. UConn forced 17 Oregon turnovers on Thursday night and held starting guards Will Richardson and Soares to a combined 17 points on 5-for-19 shooting. There was even an increased aggressiveness on the board, with Connecticut out-rebounding the Ducks 36-30, an impressive feat considering Oregon’s +11 rebounding margin entering the matchup.
Head coach Dan Hurley had stressed before Connecticut’s road trip that the competition level was about to get a lot tougher, and it definitely did, as the Ducks are a top-55 KenPom team with plenty of potential in a solid Pac-12 Conference. Despite the lack of fans in the stands, Oregon also held a semi-home advantage. It speaks to the character of this team to be able to continue this level of success, and UConn certainly hopes to keep that momentum going in the next round on Friday night.
With the win, the Huskies roll on to the second round of the eight-team Phil Knight Invitational, taking on No. 18 Alabama. The Crimson Tide won handily against their opponent as well, defeating No. 12 Michigan State 81-70 thanks to some great play from star freshman Brandon Miller. If Miller keeps playing like he has, UConn’s typically stout defense is up for a tough challenge.
The semifinal tip-off is set for 9:30 p.m. EST on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.