No. 20 UConn runs away with Phil Knight Invitational Championship
The sun has risen and set many times in the past years and the words “UConn is Back” haven’t rung true. Many fans and analysts have uttered them, but it was never correct. Now early into the morning of Monday, November 28, it is safe to say that the Connecticut Basketball Huskies are back, without a hint of a doubt.
This proclamation comes following the No. 20 Huskies’ dominant Phil Knight Invitational run, where they won their three contests by a combined 57 points, including Sunday’s 71-53 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones in the Championship game.
Freshman sensation Donovan Clingan had an incredible performance, notching 15 points and 10 rebounds to take home tournament MVP. He’s performed way over expectations this year, with most initially expecting him to be a project. Maybe he was going to get a few minutes here and there, but it was going to be the Adama Sanogo show. Until it wasn’t. Sanogo scored a mere four points and Clingan was the one in the limelight with the NBA scouts and experts watching.
The Huskies separated themselves midway through the first half and although there were times when it looked like the game could have gotten away from them, UConn stayed calm. Much of this composure came from transfer guard Tristen Newton, who hit a pair of threes in the second half that prevented things from getting out of hand. Newton finished the game with 13 points and three assists, but each stat was timely and he stayed efficient with 50% shooting.
After struggling to find his groove for the better portion of the past week, Andre Jackson had one of the better games of his career Sunday. He hit key shots at critical times, including an NBA-range triple and was ferocious on the glass. Jackson finished with 10 points and 12 boards and will look to keep this positive momentum going in the coming weeks.
Freshman forward Alex Karaban also had a solid outing, scoring 10 points and defending well throughout the game. This was enough to get him on the All-tournament team, another accolade for the young star. His and Clingan’s success speaks well to coach Dan Hurley’s underrated 2022 recruiting class that has produced a pair of immediate-impact freshmen.
Tamin Lipsey opened the game with an alley-oop lob to Osun Osunniyi, which the Huskies followed with a shot clock violation. Hawkins freed himself up for a layup but Gabe Kalscheur responded with a gorgeous stepback. Osunniyi converted an and-one to get the Cyclones up four early.
Joey Calcaterra gave UConn their first lead with a triple and Hassan Diarra got three points the old fashioned way to complete the 8-0 run. Osunniyi and Hason Ward traded dunks and both teams had trouble finding the hole, with neither squad scoring a field goal until Karaban netted a deep ball three minutes later.
Clingan pushed the lead to 10 with a shot goaltended by Iowa State and Calcaterra was on the better end of a bad three point foul. Lipsey sprinkled in some shots, but it was all Huskies with a few minutes left in the half, thanks to an early 24-8 lead on the boards.
Aljaz Kunc made the UConn defense pay with an open three, but Nahiem Alleyne and the Huskies answered with a 4-0 run. Iowa State looked to have closed the period with a 6-0 run, but Hassan Diarra hit an incredible buzzer-beating shot to increase the advantage to 10. It felt like the Huskies were getting every loose ball and rebound and it showed on the scoreboard.
Hawkins started off the second half in just about the worst way possible, with a personal foul as his third of the game and then a technical as his fourth. Sanogo picked up his fourth a minute later and all of a sudden the Cyclones decreased it to a six point contest. Newton nailed a much needed three and Jackson lobbed the ball to Clingan for the flush to keep Iowa State at arm’s length. Newton rewarded Jackson with an alley-oop of his own, getting the Huskies up 12.
The Cyclones went on a 7-0 run but once again Newton hit a three to calm things down. Jaren Holmes and Karaban traded threes, which the freshman followed with a monster slam. Jackson broke up a lob with incredible athleticism, but he did a less good job the next time, goaltending Holmes’ shot. Calcaterra broke free for a layup and Jackson uncharacteristically splashed a very deep three. The Cyclones made an effort to claw back, but were unable to do so, as the Huskies closed it out with a 18 point win.
This victory is particularly impressive when noting the poor play of Hawkins and Sanogo, the team’s best two players. Hawkins found himself deep in foul trouble early and played just six minutes the entire game. Sanogo also had some foul issues, but was more lackluster in general during his 22 minutes. The idea that UConn could win like this in a game where their top two players played so poorly is a testament to how deep they are and their potential when all the pieces are clicking.
The Huskies, who should be ranked much higher the next time they play, will get a chance to improve their record to 9-0 this Thursday when they host Oklahoma State.