No. 4 UConn men’s basketball is on to the Elite Eight after a dominant performance against 8-seed Arkansas on Thursday night, 88-65, leading from start to finish.
Jordan Hawkins didn’t hit a 3-pointer until the second half, but led the way with 24 points, as he was assertive driving to the rim and was a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line. He was joined in double figures by Adama Sanogo (18 points, eight rebounds), Alex Karaban (11 points, seven rebounds), and Nahiem Alleyne (10 points) in a Sweet 16 shellacking.
UConn was aggressive on the boards early. It took Arkansas nearly six minutes to grab a defensive rebound and by then, the Huskies had a lead and a trio of offensive boards, including two from Karaban that led to points.
The UConn offense was clicking early on, too. The Huskies were 17-28 from the field in the first half, including 4-9 from beyond the arc, with eight players finding the scoresheet. UConn had 1.48 points per possession in the first half, but did have six turnovers on 31 possessions.
Despite missing all of his deep shots in the first half, Hawkins was aggressive and got to the basket frequently, getting to the line six times as he scored 10 points in the first half, breaking a two-game streak of being scoreless in the opening 20 minutes. Sanogo also got going early and often as the UConn attack spread the wealth.
Arkansas hung in there for a little, keeping the game to within two possessions for most of the early going, though the Huskies were playing well from the start. Jordan Walsh scored to bring his team back to within three with 12:04 left in the half but that was the closest they would come.
Tristen Newton hit a 3-pointer 22 seconds later and the Huskies went on a 14-0 run over the ensuing 4:02. UConn went into half up 17 points and kept it rolling in the second half. Just 90 seconds in, a Karaban lay-up, on which he got fouled, put the Huskies up 20 points for the first time. UConn’s ball movement was tremendous, as the Huskies assisted on 22 of 31 field goals made.
It was a show of exactly what makes the Huskies great. Hawkins was driving to the basket, they grabbed rebounds and scored on those second chances, while forcing tough shots on the defensive end, which the Razorbacks were unable to convert, going just 32 percent from the field on the night.
The Razorbacks play up-tempo but are reliant on getting the ball inside and taking midrange shots, rather than shooting 3-pointers. Eric Musselman’s team takes just under 16 outside shots per game and only makes 31.7 percent of them, which is No. 317 in the country.
Arkansas was in line with those averages in the first half, converting on three of seven from beyond the arc, but struggled shooting in the second half, on both inside and outside looks.
The Razorbacks missed their first eight shots out of the break, which continued an 0-3 streak at the end of the first half. They would go 8:51 between field goals, a streak that ended on a 3-pointer from the right wing by Anthony Black.
That shot sparked a 10-0 run over just 27 seconds. The Huskies lost focus and turned the ball over three straight times, with a dead-ball technical foul on Andre Jackson as well, who had a strong game overall with seven points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
This would bring the lead from 29 points back to 19, but a pair of triples from Hawkins and Nahiem Alleyne allayed any concerns of a comeback bid from the 8-seeded, but highly talented, opponent.
UConn (28-8) is back to the first Elite Eight for the first time since 2014. The last time the Huskies’ season ended in the Elite Eight was 2006.
Next up, the Huskies will play No. 3 Gonzaga for the right to head to the Final Four. Tip-off from Las Vegas is on TBS at 8:49 p.m. on Saturday.