No. 20 Connecticut set a school record by making 17 3-pointers Thursday night in an 83-59 rout of Oregon at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
No. 18 Alabama also used the 3-point arc to its advantage as it toppled No. 12 Michigan State 81-70 in the final game in the first round.
The Huskies and Crimson Tide will clash Friday night in a semifinal game where the arc could once again play a major role.
That UConn (6-0) uses long-range shooting as much as it does is surprising to some. The Huskies’ identity was as the first defensive team under coach Dan Hurley, who was attacked by his defense and relied on scoring in court or through penetration.
But this UConn team has more shooters than Hurley has ever had, and it showed them all against Oregon, with 45.9 percent coming from outside the arc. East Carolina transfer Tristen Newton lost five in a row by one point in the first half as he scored 21 of his team-high 23 points.
“Unlike some of our previous teams, we can go running because we have several guys who can hurt you from the three-point line,” said Hurley. “We have a good passing team, we have a good shooting team. We’ve put our opponents in a difficult position because we have the two big guys who are a big concern.
That would be Adama Sanogo and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan. Sanogo averages 19.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, while Clingan contributes 9.5 points and 6.8 boards per game. With gunners like Newton and Virginia Tech transfer Naheim Alleyne on the fringe, the Huskies present a dilemma for most foes.
Alabama (5-0) won’t be like most of the enemies UConn has played. In fact, the Crimson Tide will be the first ranked opponent to the Huskies and vice versa. For both programs, this will be a yardstick game.
Freshman Brandon Miller has injected Alabama with an explosive scoring opportunity that didn’t always exist last season. Miller pumped in 17 of his 24 points in the first half against Michigan State.
Alabama has shown it can outperform the Huskies from deep. It drilled a whopping 21 3-pointers on November 18 when it destroyed a visiting Jacksonville State 104-62. Miller had 28 points on just 12 shot attempts in that game, hitting 7 of 9 from long range.
“Taking 12 shots and going off the line 3 of 5 and finishing with 28 points, that’s going to be as efficient as you’re going to see,” said Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats.
Miller has averaged 21 points and 9.2 rebounds, while Ohio transfer Mark Sears topped the stats with 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. And Sears hasn’t shot as efficiently as two seasons with the Bobcats.
The winner will play for the tournament title on Sunday against No. 1 North Carolina or Iowa State, who will meet in a semifinal on Friday afternoon.
– Field level media