Whatever Kevin Ollie said in his reportedly brief halftime speech, clearly it was enough.
The 9th-seeded Huskies erased a nine-point halftime deficit, defeating 8-seeded Colorado, 74-67 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday afternoon. Daniel Hamilton once again came up big, Rodney Purvis knocked down shots from the perimeter and the UConn defense clamped down after the break, setting up a potential date with top-seeded Kansas on Saturday.
The Huskies have won five straight games and are now 7-0 in the tournament under Ollie.
UConn (25-10) struggled early to contain Colorado big-man Josh Scott, who scored 12 of his team-high 23 in the first half. The Buffaloes shot 50 percent in the opening half while Hamilton and the Huskies got good looks but failed to sink them.
After the break the Husky defense started forcing turnovers, which in turn set up easy looks for the offense. A Purvis steal and dunk cut the Buffaloes' lead to 42-37 with 15:07 remaining. On the ensuing possession, freshman guard Jalen Adams came up with a steal, feeding a cutting Hamilton who converted a three-point play at the rim, slicing the Colorado advantage to 42-40. Another Hamilton bucket and a pair of Adams' free throws setup a Sterling Gibbs three that gave the Huskies their first lead of the game, 47-46 with 11:39 to go.
From there, UConn was rolling.
Gibbs' deep connection sparked a 19-7 run fueled by Purvis' (19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) three-point shooting and Hamilton's (17 points, 10 rebounds) aggressiveness to the paint and to the free-throw line. Seniors Phil Nolan and Shonn Miller combined to slow Scott's production as the Buffaloes shooting percentage dipped to 45.1 percent for the game. Amida Brimah finished with seven boards and five blocks. The Buffaloes, the top three-point shooting team in the Pac-12, were limited to just 2-of-10 from beyond the arch.
Colorado cut the lead to 70-67 with 18 seconds to play but the Huskies—the top free-throw shooting team in the nation —were near perfect at the charity stripe. UConn finished 22-of-23 at the line in stark contrast to the Buffaloes who shot 19-of-30 (63.3%).
The Huskies now await the winner of top-seeded Kansas and 16-seed Austin Peay. Their next game will be on Saturday.