Is this March?
Kevin Ollie's UConn Huskies are clearly aware of what month the calendar reads as they take their second win in as many days, this time over the Temple Owls, 77-62. They move on to face the winner of Tulane vs. Memphis in what will be the Huskies' third consecutive AAC Tournament championship game appearance.
Temple got the best of UConn at the start, jumping out to a 12-4 lead in the opening seven minutes while the Huskies committed five turnovers. UConn settled down, however, started making some stops, and then good things happened.
Jalen Adams hit a three and Sterling Gibbs took a steal across the court for a layup to quickly close the gap. An Amida Brimah putback layup—after two Shonn Miller buckets—put UConn ahead, 15-14, at the 10:27 mark and the Huskies would lead the rest of the way.
Rodney Purvis hit a couple of big threes to push UConn's lead to double-digits with 5:21 remaining in the first half. The Huskies finished strong to take a 39-28 lead going into the break.
Temple made a push in the second half, closing the lead to six after a Josh Brown three-pointer with 11:27 left in the game. After UConn weathered that storm, the Owls got to within seven with 4:22 remaining. While Husky faithful feared the worst, UConn's playmakers showed great poise in rising to the moment and closing this one out.
"We thought we jumped on them early," Temple guard Josh Brown said. "But they kind of had a different look coming out of that first timeout. So they threw the next punch, and we weren't able to bounce back until the second half...they just played with more grit, I guess."
Daniel Hamilton and Shonn Miller led the charge for the Huskies, tying for the team scoring lead with 19 points each. Hamilton may have become the "alpha dog" UConn has been looking for all season, and just in time. Hamilton also grabbed 11 rebounds, completing his tenth double-double of the season, and has scored 51 points so far in the AAC Tournament.
"Daniel's becoming that go-to person that we need," Ollie said after the game. "When we need a bucket, we can get him to get his shots and get in the lane and get to his spot... he's been mentally strong and focused and determined to get the job done."
Miller played a key role in UConn's half-court offense- much to the delight of anyone who has been watching this team closely all year. He hit 8-of-12 attempts from the field and was a strong presence in the low-post on both sides of the court, grabbing seven rebounds. Miller also did a lot of dunking.
Jalen Adams had another spectacular game, building off of the success of a great performance the day before, finishing with 11 points and eight assists. His driving floater with 2:13 left probably sealed the deal for the Huskies; his ability to get to the rim when the UConn offense was stalling helped the Huskies keep Temple at bay.
UConn's defense was up to its usual tricks, holding Temple to just 35.9% shooting from the field. Though Temple got to the free throw line more often than UConn, the Owls struggled at the charity stripe- hitting just 12-of-22 freebies.
After the game, Ollie praised the defensive performance of Rodney Purvis on Quenton DeCosey early on, adding that Daniel Hamilton closed the deal at the end of the game. DeCosey finished with 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
When asked why UConn has been so successful in March, ever since the days of Jim Calhoun, Ollie paid homage to his former head coach, current mentor, and architect of the UConn dynasty.
"It starts with Coach Calhoun and ends with Coach Calhoun," he said. "He always told us to play our best basketball in March."
Simple as that. UConn will tip-off at 3:15 p.m. tomorrow for the conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament auto-bid.