A star is born.
It probably shouldn't have gone down like this. Cincinnati's Octavius Ellis got a huge offensive rebound---one of 23 for the Bearcats on the day---and kicked it out to Kevin Johnson, who promptly nailed a triple from the left wing, giving Cincinnati an 88-85 lead with under a second left on the clock in the third overtime session.
Cincinnati, assuming that they had won the American Conference quarterfinal and solidified a bid to the NCAA Tournament, proceeded to celebrate, not paying the slightest attention to the ensuing UConn inbounds.
That's when Jalen Adams happened.
Not everything has gone according to plan this year for Adams, a 5-star freshman who has been in Kevin Ollie's doghouse multiple times throughout the season. He has rotated in-and-out of the starting lineup, struggled mightily with his jumper (7-of-36 from "3" in the regular season despite walking on campus with the reputation of a shooter), and is always good for a few bonehead cough-ups every night (21.7% Turnover Rate, 18.3% Assist Rate).
But, with essentially 0.8 ticks remaining in UConn's season---because a loss surely would have equated to an unfathomable second consecutive NIT appearance---Adams singlehandedly extended the 2015-2016 campaign, draining an 80-footer off-glass at the buzzer in what is one of the greatest shots in recent memory.
"I felt we won the game and the game was taken away from us, so that's my opinion," Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said afterward.
"The clock didn't start nearly on time," he continued. "I've already watched it five times. So it's unfortunate that that happened to my kids."
Once the referees confirmed the Hail Mary, awarding the sparse attendance at Orlando's Amway Center five additional minutes of free basketball, Adams continued to put his stamp on UConn's improbable 104-97 victory over Cincinnati in four overtimes, sending the Huskies to Saturday's semifinal against top-seeded Templeâand, more importantly, most likely punching their ticket to the Big Dance.
Adams accounted for 8 of UConn's 16 points in the fourth overtime. He finished with a career-high 22 points, making multiple threes in a game for the first time since November, and even grabbed 8 rebounds for good measure. In 43 minutes, too.
"That's legendary stuff to make that shot at that time and just keep performing," Ollie said.
As special and timely as Adams was, he had a Robin to his Batman in Daniel Hamilton.
In the first half, Hamilton was well on his way to registering yet another clunker against a Cincinnati squad that's had his number over the years.
Those first 20 minutes resulted in 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists for Hamilton, but on 2-of-9 shooting---the eye-test was even uglier, featuring an airball step-back three-pointer and a couple off ill-advised, desperation floaters.
But from halftime on, Hamilton dropped 26 points on 7-of-15 shooting, noticeably more aggressive and with more confident, the latter of which is as big a key as any for him. His final stat line: a career-high 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Not to shabby for a guy who was snubbed from the All-AAC 1st Team.
Together, Adams and Hamilton combined for 31 of UConn's 42 points from the end of regulation on.
Adams made his money on drives to the lane, proving once and for all that he is the Huskies' best option as a slasher and lead guard. With his long strides and ability to finish among length, there aren't many defenders in the country that can stay in front of the 6-foot-3, 187-pound guard. He also showcased a pull-up jumper, including a ridiculous step-back three from the right wing that drew UConn within one, 42-43, early in the second half.
As for Hamilton, who had scored a total of 10 points (4-22 FG, or 18.2%) in the previous two meetings against Cincinnati, posting nauseating Offensive Ratings of 64 and 56 in the process, he seemed to feed off his nifty passes after the break, first on a set-play alley-oop to Shonn Miller and later on a dump-off to Amida Brimah for a dunk with the shot clock winding down.
From then on, Hamilton's midrange game was fantastic, whether it was leaning in the air for an extra moment to sink a floater or creating separation on the pull-up jumper.
UConn overcame an unbelievable performance from senior Troy Caupain, who scored a game-high 37 points, not committing a single turnover in 56 minutes despite being utilized on 32% of the Bearcats' possessions, per KenPom. Caupain, who did crack the 1st-Team All-AAC, was also awarded KenPom's game MVP. He scored on every UConn perimeter defender minus the walk-ons, and his unreal lefty runner in the closing moments of the 2nd-overtime would've received so much more hype had Adams not immediately countered with a running layup off the glass to tie it up.
The Huskies also survived Shonn Miller being limited to just 18 of a possible 60 minutes due to uncharacteristic foul trouble---although it is worth noting that Miller was hampered by whistles the last time out against Cincinnati.
At the end of the day, a star was born in Jalen Adams, and another one, Daniel Hamilton, got his swagger back.
The calendar goes January, February, UConn, April. Honestly, who wants to play this team now?