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No. 22 UConn emerges victorious in 2OT thriller with No. 19 Auburn

After 50 minutes of high-intensity basketball, UConn advances to play Michigan State in the semi-final of the Battle 4 Atlantis

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball outlasted Auburn in a double overtime slug-fest behind Adama Sanogo’s career high 30 points to defeat the Tigers 115-109. With the win, the Huskies (4-0) advance to the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis and will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State at noon.

“That was a heck of a first round [game]. Maybe I’ll talk to the director and email her about the seeding because that seemed like a heck of a tough first round game,” Dan Hurley said postgame.

With Bruce Pearl as head coach, Auburn is a team that loves to pressure, speed up the game, and jack up 3-pointers. Early on they were executing this formula to perfection. The intense pressure they were putting on the UConn guards was not handled well, forcing seven turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game.

Sanogo was UConn’s savior early on, and quite frankly, throughout the entire game. He scored UConn’s first 10 points, and was the only Husky to even attempt a shot within the first five minutes.

Sanogo’s matchup with former five-star center and UNC transfer Walker Kessler was one of the critical parts of this game. It was clear in the game’s first few possessions that Bruce Pearl wasn’t going to double Sanogo, hoping the bigger body of Kessler (7-foot-1, 245 lbs) would be enough resistance to Sanogo’s skilled offensive game. This did not pan out in the slightest. Sanogo took his lunch money, his backpack, his shoes, and his dignity, using brute strength and touch to dominate Kessler on his way to 30 points and six rebounds.

Although nothing else on offense was really happening for UConn other than multiple turnovers, the Tigers responded as threes started raining down for Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr., He made three in a one minute span, including a ridiculous Steph Curry-esque walkup moonball. Auburn’s lead stretched to 11, and UConn was officially in the danger zone.

After a quick timeout from Hurley, the Huskies were a completely different team, playing with a heightened sense of urgency and ripping off an 11-0 run in 2 minutes led by the pinpoint three point shooting of Tyler Polley and RJ Cole. Tyrese Martin even got in on the action from downtown, hitting a three of his own. Auburn’s magic had seemed to wear off.

UConn was then able to extend their lead as their hot long range shooting continued, this time at the hand of Jordan Hawkins. The talented freshman continues to impress, scoring 16 points off the bench in his third career game. UConn led 45-34 at the half.

Early on in the second half, UConn genuinely appeared to simply be the better team, getting out to a 15 point lead with 15:12 remaining as Martin slammed home a fast break opportunity created by Andre Jackson. Auburn was able to scrape and claw within single digits a couple of times over the next eight or so minutes, but UConn always had an answer, until the Tigers clawed back after the under-8 timeout.

After leading 69-59 with 7:13 remaining, Auburn proceeded to outscore the Huskies 24-14 the rest of the way. After going 1-6 in the first half, freshman phenom Jabari Smith, the highest rated recruit Auburn has ever signed, started getting better looks and knocking them down. A 3-pointer by Smith with 2:37 remaining gave Auburn their first lead since the eight-minute mark of the first half.

UConn was in need of an answer on offense, and got it in Tyrese Martin who exploited the defense of the smaller guard matched up on him, grabbing two quick buckets down low.

Auburn sophomore guard KD Johnson answered with a free throw with 33 seconds left to go up by two.

After RJ Cole responded with a free throw of his own, he missed the second, but Whaley got the rebound. He passed it out to Jackson, who fed Polley for a three from the top of the key to put UConn ahead two.

Johnson then channeled his inner Derrick Henry, exploding through the UConn defense for a lay-in on the other end to tie the game. A desperation three by Whaley at the buzzer came up short and sent the game to overtime.

The overtime periods were littered with big plays, but also heartbreaking ones. Polley made three more long-range shots to bring his total to six on the day, and Sanogo continued his dominance with an additional eight points in the extra periods.

When UConn was up two with 16 seconds left, Hawkins took a pass from Cole, jogged over half court, and then picked up his dribble to get the ball back to Cole. While he was bringing the ball back to his right hand to gather it for a pass, it inadvertently slipped out and Johnson was right there to steal the ball. He went right to the rim, converted the layup, and and sent the game to a second overtime.

UConn came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the second overtime period, the thought of having the game stolen from them fresh in their minds. A quick nine points combined from Polley and Sanogo put the Huskies up 109-100 with one minute left. Two free throws from Jalen Gaffney officially put the game on ice.

Observations

  • Three of UConn’s starter’s fouled out (Jackson, Martin, and Whaley).
  • UConn scored 115 points over the 50 minutes played. Only five players on UConn made a field goal (Sanogo, Martin, Cole, Hawkins, and Polley).
  • The intense Auburn pressure forced UConn into 24 turnovers
  • Sanogo continues to be a force inside, scoring a career high 30 points on 12-25 FG. He also committed 8 turnovers.
  • UConn as a team went 15-26 from three-point range. Polley breaks out of his slump in a MAJOR way.
  • Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Isaiah Whaley, and Jalen Gaffney each attempted only one field goal
  • UConn once again held a big rebounding edge. They ended the game +13 in this category.
  • The Huskies were dynamite from the charity stripe, going 32-38 from the line (84.2%).
  • Whaley fainted immediately after the game, but according to Hurley and UConn, is doing fine and plans to play against Michigan State.