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Adama Sanogo is on fire heading into the Sweet 16

The junior big man’s offensive leadership is the key to a deep March run for Dan Hurley’s Huskies.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Neither the Iona nor the Saint Mary’s Gaels had any answer for Adama Sanogo last weekend. The junior big man leads all players in scoring through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament with 52 points as UConn made its first Sweet 16 since 2014.

Sanogo terrorized Iona’s frontcourt in the opening round, going 13-17 from the floor in a 28-point, 13-rebound performance, scoring most of those in the second half.

On Sunday against Saint Mary’s, Sanogo was scoring early and often, finishing with 24 points. He earned KenPom MVP honors in both of those contests and posted an offensive rating over 124 in both games while being used on over a third of the Huskies’ offensive possessions.

“I was thinking for us to win I have to be at my best,” Sanogo said after torching Saint Mary’s. “Today I was ready to do something positive. If it was scoring or something else. But for us to win, I had to be at my best. That was my mindset.”

Between the efficiency around the rim (24-33 shooting) and prowess on the boards (21 total rebounds), Sanogo became the first player since Blake Griffin to shoot 70 percent or better from the field and average 25 points and 10 rebounds per game, per ESPN Stats and Info. His 52 points were also the third most in UConn history in the first two rounds, trailing just Caron Butler and Richard Hamilton. This is some pretty great company here.

Sanogo has been on point for some time now, scoring 15 or more points in 10 of his last 12 games. The Bamako, Mali native may not be the tallest center but he does have elite footwork, strong positioning, and a soft touch around the rim.

The recent hot stretch marks another step forward this season for Sanogo, who started the year as the Preseason Big East Player of the Year and ended up making the All-Conference First Team for the second-straight season. While Jordan Hawkins and, occasionally, others have taken over games at times, Sanogo remains the heart and soul of this UConn offense. The Huskies are 19-0 when Sanogo scores 20 or more points since the big man stepped on campus in 2020.

In both of UConn’s last national title runs, the Huskies leaned on one player — Kemba Walker in 2011 and Shabazz Napier in 2014 — to help them cut down the nets.

Sanogo appears to be doing the same for the Huskies.

He’s put up the first double-double for a UConn player in the NCAA tournament since Alex Oriakhi in 2011 and is putting up numbers reminiscent of Emeka Okafor in 2004. For a month and tournament that is constantly defined by players rising to the occasion, Sanogo is the type of leader a team needs to make a championship run.

“This is about this time of year, having players that step up,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “There’s nothing but really excellent coaches left in this tournament and teams that are really hard to beat. It’s just a matter of which players have that little bit of magic that can go out and have the performances that Sanogo’s had.”

UConn heads to Las Vegas this week to take on an Arkansas squad that may be an 8-seed but is loaded with NBA talent and led by one of the country’s best coaches in Eric Musselman. Sanogo will once again have an advantage in the post — the Razorbacks don’t roll out anyone bigger than 6-foot-9 down low — but the Hogs’ faster pace of play may limit Sanogo’s effectiveness. It will be up to the Huskies’ guards to slow down the game when needed to let Sanogo get into position for a good look on the block.