Connecticut: 74, Colorado: 67
In a game of runs, the ninth-seeded UConn Huskies held on to top the eighth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes in a first round clash. The Huskies fell behind early in the first half, trailing by as much as 11 with three minutes to go in the first half as Colorado exerted their will down low. Through Josh Scott’s early domination (13 first half points), Colorado took a nine-point lead into the locker room, up 36-27 at the first buzzer. The Buffaloes (22-12) shot 50 percent against the stout Husky defense in that first period.
However, a motivational halftime speech from head coach Kevin Ollie had the Huskies poised to play in the second half. UConn (25-10) would trade baskets early in the second half with Colorado, but eventually locked in on defense and went on a 16-4 run, and took their first lead with a little over eleven minutes left in the game. During this run, critical steals by Daniel Hamilton (17 points) and Rodney Purvis (19 points) ignited the UConn transition game. From that point, the Huskies, with a combination of their tough perimeter defense and timely three-point shooting, extended their lead and dominated the tempo. With three minutes to go, an and-one by Purvis extended the lead to 66-53. Up to that point, the Huskies were outscoring Colorado 39-17 in the second half. Surely, the game was in hand. Not quite.
Colorado, which had uncharacteristically been struggling from the line during this game, began drawing fouls and quickly clawed their way back into the game from the line. UConn’s Shonn Miller, who was never a factor due to foul trouble, committed his fifth infraction with 1:43 left, and the free throws from Scott (finished with 23 points) made the score 66-59. Colorado’s 10-0 run made the game 66-63 with a minute to play, and took several years off the lives of many Connecticut residents. Luckily, clutch free throw shooting from Sterling Gibbs, who hit 6-6 in the final minute, allowed UConn to weather Colorado’s rally and hold on for the victory.
UConn’s three-point defense: Colorado came into this game averaging over eight made triples a game, and shooting 39% from deep. However, even in the first half when Josh Scott was dominating this contest, the Huskies’ perimeter defense ensured Colorado would not win this game from beyond the arc. George King and Dominique Collier combined to shoot just 1-4 from deep, and as a team, Colorado made just two of ten three-pointers. Guard Xavier Talton was particularly poor, going 0-5 from deep. The tenacious defense of Purvis, Gibbs, and Jalen Adams on the perimeter ensured everything the Colorado guards did, whether it was shooting the ball or passing inside, was challenged.
How Did UConn Win?
Colorado came into this game as one of the top rebounding teams in the country, as they averaged over 42 a game. They predictably dominated the glass in the first half, outrebounding UConn 22-16 on their way to a nine-point lead. But, the Huskies stepped up in the second half, and wound up winning the rebounding battle 36-33. The defensive intensity of the Huskies, combined with this tenacity on the glass, limited Colorado’s second chance points and caused the Buffaloes’ offense to stagnate.
The other key stat in UConn’s win was free throw shooting. As mentioned in the preview article for this game, the Huskies are the number one team in the country from the line. The Huskies lived up to this ranking, going 22-23 from the line in the game. The only miss was from reserve big man Steve Enoch. Gibbs, Purvis, and Hamilton combined to go 14-14 from the line, and the ability to hit these free throws kept Colorado’s ferocious rally towards the end at bay. By contrast, Colorado shot just 19-30 from the line.
Star of the Game
In a Husky team with a balanced lineup, one star does not usually emerge. However, against Colorado, it was Daniel Hamilton leading the charge. The talented wing played 38 minutes, and poured in 17 points, second on the team behind Purvis’s 19. Hamilton also grabbed ten rebounds, and played solid defense on Colorado’s wings. Perhaps most importantly, Hamilton was 5-5 from the free throw line, helping UConn win this game.
Dud of the Game
Colorado needed to get points from its wings to win. No matter how good Josh Scott is, he wasn’t going to win this game singlehandedly. George King averaged nearly 14 points a game, and shot 46 percent from three. However, he only scored five points against the tough defense of the Huskies, and made only one of two three-point attempts. The defense of Purvis and Hamilton made sure King never had the space to show off his deadly shooting touch.
Stat of the Game
Undoubtedly free throw shooting decided this game. Behind Josh Scott, Colorado got to the line much more than UConn during the flow of the game. Colorado’s 30 attempts were double the 15 taken by the Huskies prior to crunch time. Scott himself took 18. However, UConn lived up to their billing and made 22-23, including 8-8 in the final minute. Colorado’s uncharacteristic 19-30 performance from the line doomed them.
Colorado was undefeated in games where Scott scored over 20 points. However, with no help from his teammates on the perimeter, his 23 points against UConn were not enough. The Huskies had the edge in not only free throw shooting, as has been multiple times, and three-point shooting. Colorado went just 2-10 from beyond the arc, while the Huskies hit 6-17. While this does not seem impressive, two clutch threes hit during the second half stand out. With 11:35 left, Gibbs hit a three-pointer to give the Huskies their first lead at 47-46. Purvis then connected from deep with 8:08 left to extend the Husky lead to 9, at 57-48.
With the loss, Colorado’s season has ended. The Buffaloes performed incredibly at home, going 16-1. But, their road/neutral record was much more pedestrian. UConn’s win moves them to the round of 32, where they will meet the overall number one seed Kansas Jayhawks. Historically, UConn is 0-2 against Kansas, with both games coming in mid-1990s regular seasons. Tip is set for roughly 7:45 EST on Saturday.
Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Daniel Hamilton: http://connecticut.cbslocal.com/photo-galleries/2016/03/17/uconn-vs-colorado-ncaa-tournament/
Jalen Adams: heavy.com/sports/2016/03/uconn-connecticut-vs-colorado-tv-channel-start-time-free-live-stream-ncaa-tournament-march-madness-schedule-thursday-tnt
Rodney Purvis: http://www.newsday.com/sports/college/college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-uconn-vs-colorado-pictures-1.11586477