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Adama Sanogo is one of UConn’s all-time greats

The big man cemented his legacy for life with an epic NCAA tournament run.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Adama Sanogo is like Thanos. He’s inevitable. This postseason, opponents had no answer for stopping him this March.

The junior big man from Bamako, Mali was magnificent when it mattered the most, averaging 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in six NCAA tournament games with four double-doubles in this span.

As the centerpiece of the Huskies’ juggernaut offense, Sanogo was relied upon early and often and consistently delivered. He shot 66 percent from the field on 75 shots in the tournament and was used on over a quarter of UConn’s possession in every game except for one — the title game, where he still scored 17 points, added 10 boards, and went 7-8 from the free throw line.

While Sanogo did most of his damage around the paint, part of what made Sanogo such a problem was his ability to adapt to his opponents. Against Iona and Saint Mary’s in the opening round, Sanogo pushed Gaels' big men around as he scored 52 points in the opening weekend’s two games.

Sanogo then had his way with Arkansas in the Sweet 16, finishing with 18 points on 9-11 shooting.

Against Gonzaga, Sanogo saw the frequent double teams thrown at him and quickly dumped off passes to cutters like Andre Jackson for easy buckets as he tied a career-high in assists. In the Final Four, Miami sagged off Sanogo on the perimeter to brace for him driving to the hoop. He made them pay by hitting two threes at the top of the key in the first three minutes of the game — his first made 3-pointer since March 1.

As defenses tried to adjust, Sanogo was always one step ahead.

“That is something that I worked on all summer, especially shooting. I know guys, they don’t expect my shots,” Sanogo said after Miami. “So as soon as I saw him dropping, and I wait a second to see if he’s going to close out, and he didn’t close out, all right, this is my shot.”

Most impressive of all, Sanogo did all of this while observing Ramadan. Since the Sweet 16 game, Sanogo did not eat or drink from sunrise to sundown.

“It’s definitely hard because it’s my faith, and this is something I didn’t start doing this year. I’ve been doing this since I was in high school. I used to do it during AAU,” Sanogo said. “I’m used to it. The last eight years I’ve been doing it.”

For a program that has almost always had a star as the face of the championship teams — Khalid El-Amin in 1999, Kemba Walker in 2011, and Shabazz Napier in 2014 come to mind — Sanogo did more than enough this tournament to put himself in the conversation with those players, and all big men to play the game, as head coach Dan Hurley said.

“He’s obviously cemented himself into the pantheon of greatest...with all the production and back-to-back First Team All-League, and now this, to have the national championship just puts him in a position in one of the most storied programs in college basketball,” Hurley said. “He’s an all-time great.”

Sanogo’s numbers this season back up Hurley’s sentiment. His 671 points this season are more than any center in UConn history and the 10th most ever at UConn. He’s just the third person in program history to score 650-plus points and pull down 250-plus rebounds in a season, joining Donyell Marshall and Caron Butler.

Out of those three, no one was more efficient than Sanogo, whose 60.6 field goal percentage was nearly 10 percent better than Marshall and 12 percent better than Butler.

Even with increased usage this season, Sanogo improved basically every single critical stat.

He went from shooting 50 percent on twos last season to 63.7 percent this season, and shot 76.6 percent from the free throw line this year, an eight-percent improvement from last season.

His most obvious growth came around the perimeter. After attempting just one 3-pointer in his first two years in Storrs, Sanogo tirelessly worked on stretching the floor in the offseason. The result? Nearly 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc on over 50 attempts. While Sanogo was already tough to guard last year, his ability to stretch the floor forced defenders to come much farther out to guard him.

It was no surprise for him to be named to the All-Big East First Team for a second-straight season, but he was not in the running for league player of the year and only earned an honorable mention from the All-American teams.

In the vaunted “Year of the Big Man” in college basketball, Sanogo was often overshadowed by the likes of Purdue’s Zach Edey, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, and Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner. But Sanogo outlasted — and outplayed — most of them en route to a national championship and Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.

Sanogo has two years of college eligibility remaining but has not made a decision on his next chapter.

“I’ve got to talk to my family,” Sanogo told Hearst’s Mike Anthony. “It’s not about me. I’ve got to see. I’ve got to talk to my family, talk to the coaches, and see.”

After seemingly accomplishing almost everything there is to do at the college level, one assumes that the NBA Draft is an option. Regardless of his final decision, Sanogo’s leadership on the way to UConn’s fifth title cements him as a program legend and a major win for Hurley, who swooped in to flip Sanogo from Seton Hall to UConn in 2020.

With all he has accomplished during his entire career at UConn, Sanogo will forever be remembered as one of the best big men UConn has ever seen, and may one day be immortalized on the wall as one of the Huskies of Honor.