At the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon, amongst some of the best Nike-branded men’s basketball programs the NCAA has to offer, No. 20 UConn channeled their inner Nike – the goddess of victory, that is.
With a big 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game late Sunday night, the Huskies took home the in-season tournament title – the program’s first since the 2013-2014 2K Sports Classic.
The Huskies came out of the gate immediately showing their aggression, getting to the line early and often by attacking the rim. By halftime, Connecticut had taken 20 free throws compared to Iowa State’s three. UConn only shot 34.5 percent from the floor in the first half, but their ability to get to the stripe allowed them to break away.
UConn also was highly active on the glass, particularly in the first half. The Huskies went into the break with 27 rebounds, including 14 offensive, to the Cyclones’ 11 total.
Thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Hassan Diarra to finish the first half, the Huskies entered the break with a 10-point lead over the Cyclones.
Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley, interviewed at halftime, knew that a big counterattack was brewing in the Iowa State locker room, citing the team’s comeback victory over No. 1 North Carolina on Friday afternoon. Hurley said that the Huskies would need to kill the Cyclones’ drive, and that’s exactly what they did.
Iowa State came out of the gate ready to roll, forcing five turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half while conceding none. The Cyclones brought the game within seven and had plenty of momentum with the ball in their hands. In response, the Huskies connected on two major alley-oop dunks: an and-1 from Andre Jackson to Donovan Clingan and another ball from Tristen Newton to Jackson a possession later. UConn went from up by seven to up 12 with a big momentum swing.
About halfway through the half, the Cyclones countered yet again with a strong 10-3 run, but a big 3-pointer and dunk on back-to-back possessions from Alex Karaban brought the lead back to 10 and kicked off an 11-2 run for the Huskies. This put the nail in the coffin for UConn, who extended their lead to 14 with just under five minutes to play. It was all but finished, giving Connecticut two PK85 tournament trophies, with the women winning the Phil Knight Legacy event earlier that day.
At the end of it all, it was Clingan who took home the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award, finishing the night with a game-high 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting and 10 rebounds. The big man was everywhere, absolutely dominating down low on a night when Big East Preseason Player of the Year Adama Sanogo was off his game.
It was an interesting night dynamic-wise for UConn, as the team saw most of their successes without key players Sanogo and guard Jordan Hawkins. Hawkins, following a couple of solid showings in Portland, had two points in the first half, picked up two fouls within the first minute of the second and didn’t see the court again.
In the absence of their star guys, guard Andre Jackson was the glue that held the entire team together. The junior finished his night with 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, and was seen delivering athletic blocks, diving after balls and energizing his teammates nearly every possession.
Besides Jackson and Clingan, the depth of this UConn team was truly on display, as players like Newton, Karaban and Calcaterra all had their moments to step up. It was truly a team win, one that some star-reliant Husky squads wouldn’t have been able to pull off in the past. This team is loaded with talent, and it was truly on display against elite competition this weekend in Portland. Don’t be surprised if this team launches up 10-15 spots in the AP Poll on Monday.
With the win the Huskies extended their dominant streak, as they are the only team in Division I men’s basketball to have won every game this season by 15 points or more. While that pace will certainly be hard to keep up as the season progresses, they look to continue their breakout start to the year on Thursday, when Connecticut hosts Oklahoma State at Gampel Pavilion. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on FS1.