The UConn Huskies showed no signs of fatigue from playing three games in three days as they comfortably beat the Memphis Tigers, 72-58, to win their first American Athletic Conference tournament championship. It is the Huskies' first conference championship of any kind since 2011.
Though UConn was already probably in the tournament field after wins over Cincinnati and Temple, it never hurts to eliminate doubt and also add another solid win to the résumé. The Huskies earned the 9-seed in the South Region and will be taking on No. 8 Colorado in the first round. Cincinnati, Temple, and Tulsa also made the field. #AmericanRising
The Huskies stormed out of the gate and held strong despite a second-half push by the Tigers when they hit some foul trouble and the UConn offense went scoreless for about five minutes. Various players stepped up at different times to keep UConn ahead, with five players scoring in double-digits.
Daniel Hamilton, who took home tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, notched his 11th double-double of the season with a 12-point, 11-rebound performance. He struggled a bit from the field, going 3-of-11 overall and 0-for-4 from three-point range but found a way to make an impact- taking eight free throws (making six) and also dishing out six assists.
Omar Calhoun (10 points), Rodney Purvis (12 points), and Sterling Gibbs (13 points) all came through with some timely three-pointers, combining to hit seven while Calhoun and Gibbs also did a good job of getting to the line. As a team, the Huskies took 24 free throws, making 20 (83.3%).
The Husky defense held Memphis to just 23.1% shooting from the field in the first half, taking a 32-19 lead into the break. Memphis went on an 11-1 run to cut the lead to four, and kept up for about a minute before Gibbs and Calhoun got going from deep as the Huskies pulled away to put the game out of reach.
Memphis forward Dedric Lawson was the Tigers' only offensive threat, putting up 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting while going 7-of-10 from the line and also grabbing 11 rebounds.
The win caps an incredible three-game run for the Huskies. Even though their NCAA Tournament fate may have been sealed before the conference tournament, winning three games—two of them quite comfortably—should have the team (and its fans) in good spirits after an up-and-down regular season.
"I know I'm going to go in the gym and get some shots up," Hamilton said after the game. "We got to go in there, and we got to take care of business."
Can this UConn team make a surprise run in a season where many were ready to write them off?
"I think we're playing our best basketball right now," Kevin Ollie said in the post-game press conference. "We're clicking. We're playing great defense. Guys are stepping up and making good shots...and everybody just fell in their roles.
"It's just a special time of year."
It sure is.