UConn starting forward Adama Sanogo is fasting as part of his observance of Ramadan. His hunger has impacted most of the games that he’s played during March Madness.
‘It’s just something that if you feel empty, you should do it,’ Sanogo said on Friday. ‘This is something I’ve been doing since I was little. It happens to be during the Tournament, so I guess I have to do it.’
Yes, Adama Sanogo is hungry and Saturday night in Houston, the Mali-born 6-foot-9 big man feasted for the Huskies.
Saturday night, he led the Huskies with 21 points and 10 rebounds as the Connecticut Huskies beat the Miami Hurricanes 72-59 to advance to the school’s fifth national championship game. There, they’ll play San Diego State – who beat Florida Atlantic on a buzzer-beater earlier in the day.
This entire tournament, playing UConn has been simultaneously blink-and-you’ll-miss-it as well as blunt-force trauma. They’ve won games by 24, 15, 23, and 28 – often on runs that are so quick that teams don’t realize how large the lead is until they’re stuck in it.
Miami was just their latest victim of this style of play – having never led the game and being down by 20 at one point, ending with a humiliating 13 point loss.
UConn breezed past Miami to secure its spot in the National Championship game Saturday
Huskies junior forward Adama Sanogo was the game’s leading scorer with 13 points at halftime
Sanogo’s first-half performance helped the Huskies establish a first-half lead
Jordan Hawkins quickly proved that the issues surrounding his non-COVID related illness were nothing to worry about. The concerns over his availability to start had gripped UConn fans all over the country.
But it was on UConn’s first shot of the game that the sophomore guard from Gaithersburg, Maryland caught a pass and knocked down a 3-pointer to start the game off right for the Huskies.
The Huskies big man Sanogo showed that he was a threat from everywhere on the floor as he hit a three pointer for the second basket of the game. Moments later, he did it again.
It took more than three-and-a-half minutes for Miami to grab a basket as guard Jordan Miller drove the lane to hit a layup.
But by the under 16 media timeout, UConn’s top two-way player Andre Jackson Jr. had picked up his second foul after guarding Miami’s top scoring threat Isaiah Wong. He was benched after just four minutes of game time and Virginia Tech transfer guard Nahiem Alleyne stepped in to cover the Hurricanes shot-maker.
UConn’s starting guard Tristen Newton buried a shot from beyond the arc to go up 14-4 just under the 14 minute mark. By the 13:10 point, Miami had only gone 1-12 from the field compared to UConn’s 5-10 shooting mark.
The thing the Huskies do better than most teams in this tournament is their ability to prevent teams from getting a second chance at grabbing points. Early in the game, they were amazing on the glass at preventing the ‘Canes shots from getting to the net.
Under the 13 minute mark, Wong drilled a 3-pointer to keep the deficit in check. Freshman Donovan Clingan – who was substituted in for Sanogo as he fasted during Ramadan – responded by drawing a foul on a basket but missed the And-One chance.
Freshman Donovan Clingan (right) was substituted in for Sanogo as he fasted during Ramadan
Huskies guard Tristen Newton (2) shoots the ball during the first of the Final Four matchup
But the Huskies got sloppy. A poor pass from Hawkins led to a turnover and a layup from Harlond Beverly to make it a 16-9 game at the first-half under-12 minute timeout. A turnover from Hasan Diarra around the ten-minute mark made it a 16-13 game. Miami tied the game at 19-19 with a clutch step-back 3-pointer from Nijel Pack at the 8:23 mark.
UConn’s offense hadn’t been looking like its usual self. At the 7:40 media timeout, the Huskies had turned the ball over six times and had committed six team fouls to Miami’s three team fouls.
But coming out of that timeout, something Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley said must have gotten the team’s heads on the same page.
‘We needed to put more pressure on the paint,’ Hurley said in the post-game press conference in a question asked by DailyMail.com. ‘I thought we had a little bit of Fool’s Gold to start the game… no matter what [assistant coaches] Kimani Young and Luke Murray tell you, it was not their idea to let Adama get two threes to start the game.
‘We needed to do more paint. And we needed to get our defensive edge back. And they were all over the offensive glass which usually doesn’t happen to us.’
The defense looked stronger, Newton and Sanogo made layups, the passing was crisper. UConn had extended their lead to 25-19 and after missing a shot, sent Miami’s second chance attempt back with a block from Sanogo around the 5:30 mark.
The energy in NRG Stadium was palpably swinging toward UConn. It was punctuated with a Clingan block that was smacked so hard it traveled far off the elevated court and into the student section. Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga called timeout and the Connecticut faithful began chanting the name of their school around the building.
Harlond Beverly was allowed to make it a 16-9 game at the first-half under-12 minute timeout
Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley reacts passionately on the sidelines
At the under-four minute media timeout, Miami had gone 4:24 without scoring. Interestingly enough, UConn was simultaneously on an 8-0 run but hadn’t hit a shot in a two-and-a-half minute span. The Huskies’ lead stood at 27-19.
Alleyne changed that with a bucket at the 2:30 mark after the guard grabbed his own rebound. Miami had ended their drought earlier. Calcaterra’s triple was his second make of the night and Connecticut held a 32-21 lead as the game hit a minute.
Pack nailed a triple just as the clock went under that mark and Alleyne knocked down a jumper to bring things up to a 34-24 lead. A buzzer-beating tre’ from Alex Karaban sent the teams to the locker room with a 37-24 advantage.
But even with this lead intact, recent history still remained on the minds of those in attendance. Afterall, just last week, this same Miami team came back from a massive deficit to knock off Texas and secure their spot here in Houston.
Sanogo scored the first two baskets of the second half to put UConn up 41-24. Even as Norchad Omier put a layup on the board for the ‘Canes, Karaban responded with a 3-pointer.
The two coaches were in separate head spaces. Hurley turned his back to the play on the court to pump up the UConn fans that were right behind him. Moments later, Larrañaga was breathless and screaming out directions as Isaiah Wong tried to set something up.
Connecticut guard Joey Calcaterra’s triple was his second make of the night
Hurricanes forward Norchad Omier (15) reaches for the ball against forward Alex Karaban (11)
At the under-16 minute media timeout, UConn was up 46-28. Even when Miami went on a 7-0 run in a matter of a minute, and Hurley had called a timeout at the 14:18 mark, UConn was still up 49-37.
A tricky stretch of play on offense for the Huskies was rewarded with a Jackson layup to make it 51-37, but the ‘Canes answered on a Beverly three. The next possession, Hawkins was fouled from beyond the arc. He knocked down two of three free throws to make it a 53-40 game at the 12:30 mark.
Isaiah Wong kept Miami in the game. Five points from him cut UConn’s lead to just eight with 11:48 to go. Karaban’s baseline miss was cleaned up by Clingan to put the lead back at ten and a Hawkins three just half a minute later made it a 13 point game as the game entered the sub-ten-minute mark of the second half.
When Miami had taken a timeout at the 8:26 mark, the Huskies were up 60-45. Omier scored just out of that timeout, but a UConn breakout pass led to a massive dunk by Jackson.
At the 6:00 mark, Bensley Joseph’s 3-pointer for Miami cut the deficit back to 10 points. A steal from Wong couldn’t lead to anything productive as Calcaterra’s steal prevented his shot. Miami began their full-court press against the Huskies, but began committing fouls. At the 5:00 mark, they had out-fouled UConn 6-1.
By the time the game hit 4:30, Miami was still trailing by ten at a scoreline of 64-54. Hawkins tried a deep ball off a turnover, but he missed. But the guard grabbed his own rebound and slung it over to Karaban – whose drive into the lane led to an and-one shot the freshman forward missed. UConn was winning 66-54 by the time the under-four minute media timeout kicked in.
Newton celebrates after scoring as UConn pulled away from the Hurricanes early on
Miami guard Harlond Beverly scores for the Hurricanes in the first half
Miami continued to search for a weakness in the Huskies armor but they just didn’t have enough time. Out of that timeout, an alley-oop from Newton led to Jackson sending it home emphatically.
The Huskies fans in the stadium began cheering as they have so many times when they have been closing games out.
At the 1:50 mark, UConn’s lead was 70-54 powered by a 6-0 run over the course of two minutes. Three free throws from Wong made it 70-57. Time kept ticking. UConn brought in their bench players.
Miami just couldn’t respond – ending the night with more offensive rebounds but shooting 20-62 on the day. All the while, UConn just continued to break their spirits. Death by blunt force trauma once again.
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