While the UConn men’s basketball team looked dominant in their win over Oregon in the team’s Thanksgiving matchup, it was certainly no easy task if they would be slated to face off against a No. 18 University of Alabama roster that was going to be their toughest opponent up to that point.
The Crimson Tide were 5-0 up to that point and just got done with taking care of an even more difficult Michigan State Spartans roster that was ranked No. 12 in the country. Coach Dan Hurley had to be ready for this matchup and that preparation showed tonight.
Overall, the Huskies looked in sync defensively. The turnovers began to pile up and before the first half came to a close, the Crimson Tide were quickly in double-digit turnovers. While UConn started out the game slow from the field, the team was quickly able to turn it up thanks to the help of Adama Sanogo.
But, at this point in his career, the UConn big man is expected to do that. He’s expected to make those tough layups inside when defenders are ready to contest any look. Sanogo is ready to give 100% effort on the defensive end when it feels like opposing offenses are gaining momentum. Both of those circumstances occurred against the Crimson Tide and no one looked more ready than Sanogo.
A quick look at the stat sheet helps tell the tale of how dominant he looked in Friday’s evening matchup in Portland. He got the job done on the scoring end with 25 points, including a clutch three-pointer with under 6 minutes to go to help his team close out the game. While he only shot one three-pointer in Friday’s win, it’s quickly becoming clear that opposing defenders will have to respect the shot of UConn’s talented big man.
Pair the offensive dominance of Sanogo with a 2-block performance and some hard-nosed defense at the rim and the results are going to bode well for the Huskies. Of course, it’s pretty hard to win basketball games when only one player is dominating. That’s why there were plenty of other players who helped in the team’s impressive win.
Jordan Hawkins had to step up and he did just that with 16 points including three shots from beyond the arc. That first three-pointer helped give the team some momentum as the Huskies grew their lead to as high as 15 points in the first half. While the Crimson Tide did push back to cut the lead to 5 as the first half closed out, coach Hurley knew that Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats would have some high-powered offensive intensity for his team heading into the second half. But, just like the first half, the Huskies stepped on defense.
One of those defensive leaders was Tristen Newton, who ended the night with 4 steals and a block. Newton has been having a terrific series of games with this performance after dropping 23 points against Oregon on Thanksgiving. While he may not have had the level of offensive impact he had on Thursday, the Huskies would be fine if Newton was helping the team in other ways, especially on the defensive end.
Now, the Huskies have just one more challenge to close out an already fantastic performance in the Phil Knight Invitational. While the team wasn’t able to face off against a deadly foe in the No. 1 University of North Carolina Tar Heels, they’ll have another foe in Iowa State. The team definitely won’t be able to walk into an easy victory, but if the Huskies play to their identity, a phrase that coach Hurley repeatedly used with last year’s NCAA tournament roster, they’ll have a terrific chance to cap off a sensational series of games.