5 things to know about UConn

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: March 20, 2023 at 2 a.m. - Updated: March 20, 2023 at 1:50 p.m.
Connecticut's Jordan Hawkins (24) shoots over Iona's Berrick JeanLouis (0) in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Connecticut's Jordan Hawkins (24) shoots over Iona's Berrick JeanLouis (0) in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

An in-depth analysis of Connecticut, the No. 4 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament and No. 8 Arkansas’ opponent in the Sweet 16 in Las Vegas on Thursday:

Adama Sanogo is the Huskies’ frontline standout

The 6-9, 245-pound Mali native was a terror against No. 13 Iona and No. 5 Saint Mary’s last week.

Sanogo, one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, averaged 26 points on 72.7% shooting and 10.5 rebounds in leading the Huskies to a pair of lopsided wins. The 52 points are the most the junior has scored in a two-game span in his career.

“He's a super-active big,” Arkansas forward Kamani Johnson said Monday. “He's kind of like (Kentucky's) Oscar (Tshiebwe) with his motor and how he crashes the glass and how aggressive and physical he is. He's super skilled in the post, too.

“We've been watching film on him and we're game-planning for it. We'll be fine.”

The powerful forward is making his mark after brief NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons. In 2021, UConn fell 63-54 to Maryland in the first round and Sanogo finished with 4 points on 2 of 7 from the floor and 4 rebounds.

Last season in Buffalo, N.Y., he had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in a 70-63 loss to No. 12 New Mexico State, which fell to Arkansas in the round of 32.

Sanogo obviously impressed scoring at and around the rim in the first and second rounds, and he was dominant on the backboards. He grabbed 13 defensive rebounds and eight offensive boards in the Huskies’ wins.

KenPom data shows he is No. 5 among Big East players in defensive rebound rate (20.1%) and No. 6 in offensive rebound rate (11.2%). Sanogo is top 15 in block percentage (2.6%) as well.

It is likely far down the Razorbacks’ list of concerns, but Sanogo has made 17 three-pointers this season on 35.4% shooting. He went 3 of 7 in a loss at Creighton on Feb. 11, but is 1 of 8 in the last 9 games.

“If Adama is 0-for-15, which I hope he never does, I'm still going to give him the ball, because he's a heck of a player,” UConn guard Tristen Newton said. “I just look for him regardless of how he's playing, because you know he works hard in the gym every day, and that's what he does night in and night out.

“We’re going to give him the ball regardless of how he's playing.”

According to Bart Torvik, Sanogo is 170 of 224 (75.9%) on close two-point attempts.

UConn is stout on the offensive glass

The Razorbacks, in part, were able to complete a thrilling 12-point comeback over Kansas on Saturday because of their relentless fight on the backboards, particularly on the offensive end.

Arkansas grabbed 15 of its own misses and tallied 15 second-chance points against the Jayhawks. The Razorbacks should now fully understand the way in which offensive rebounds can impact a game.

It will be among the biggest keys to a Sweet 16 victory on Thursday. UConn has the No. 2 offensive rebound rate (38.8%) in the country, according to KenPom data, and the top mark among remaining NCAA Tournament teams.

The Huskies have finished with 10-plus offensive rebounds in 24 of 35 games, including 15 or more 9 times. They had a season-low four offensive boards in their 70-55 win over Saint Mary’s on Sunday.

Unsurprisingly, Sanogo leads the team with 92 offensive rebounds. Donovan Clingan, a 7-2 freshman center, is a close second with 81, and 6-6 Andre Jackson and 6-8 Alex Karaban have 59 and 55, respectively.

Arkansas has played six games against three teams (Texas A&M, Kentucky, Tennessee) that rank in the top 10 nationally in offensive rebound percentage, per KenPom. HoopLens data shows the Razorbacks allowed them to corral 38.4% of their misses

Three-point shooting is a strength

After carrying a 31-30 lead into halftime against the Gaels, UConn was able to create separation in the second half thanks to the three-ball.

Wing Jordan Hawkins, who stands 6-5 and 195 pounds, was lights out from deep after halftime and hit all four of his attempts. The Huskies shot 5 of 9 beyond the arc in the second half Sunday and 10 of 22 for the game.

Newton, a 6-5 senior guard from East Carolina, also hit 3 of 4 threes in the win.

UConn is on a roll from the perimeter entering the second weekend of the tournament. In the first-round win over Iona, the Huskies were 11 of 25 (44%).

And in its last eight games, UConn has averaged 9.8 made threes. The Huskies are 7-1 in that span and have knocked down 10-plus threes in 5 games.

Hawkins leads the team with 95 threes on 37.8% from deep and Karaban is second with 61 triples on 40.9% beyond the arc. Newton and 6-3 guard Joey Calcaterra, a San Diego transfer, have also made more than 40 threes.

As a team, the Huskies have shot 36.2% from three-point range, and KenPom data shows that 41.9% of their field goal attempts have been threes. It is tied for the third-highest three-point attempt rate among teams still in the tournament field.

Hawkins is the Huskies’ top perimeter scorer

While UConn features one of the best big men in the country in Sanogo, he is complemented greatly by the play of Hawkins, who is a finalist for the Jerry West Award.

The sophomore took on an essential role for the Huskies in 2022-23 after playing just 14.7 minutes per game last season. This season he is averaging 15.9 points on 40.9% shooting.

“He’s grown up during the course of the year, just through some great successes and some not-so-good games on the road,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said last month, according to CT Insider. “I think it just toughens a man up and you just gain that invaluable experience. The team has done a better job of screening for him and locating him in transition.

“I think he knows that. He’s gotten better at using screens. And the kid is mentally tough. He’s not scared. He believes in himself.”

Hawkins has scored 20-plus points in 13 games, including a career-high 31 points in a mid-January loss to St. John’s. He has also made four or more three-pointers in 10 games.

Hawkins was 7 of 12 beyond the arc against Iona and Saint Mary’s. On Sunday he showed explosiveness as a scorer by making 4 threes in a 4-minute, 51-second span after halftime.

The All-Big East performer averaged 15.5 points in UConn’s wins over Alabama and Florida early this season, and he has made a three in 27 consecutive games since a 0-for-3 outing against Iowa State.

UConn is a top-15 defensive team

During halftime of Sunday’s TCU-Gonzaga game, Charles Barkley said he was eager to watch Arkansas-UConn on Thursday because he expects a physical game in which toughness wins out.

It is difficult to argue with that assessment given the Razorbacks and Huskies are both top-15 defensive teams efficiency-wise, according to KenPom data. UConn will enter the game No. 14 nationally, giving up 93.3 points per 100 possessions.

Additionally, it is top 25 in block rate (12.9%) and top 20 in two-point and three-point defense. Clingan leads the Huskies with 64 blocked shots and Newton has a team-best 40 steals.

UConn has held an opponent under 40% shooting in 16 games, and opposing teams have shot 45% or better just 7 times.

And 15 times this season the Huskies have allowed 60 points or less. They are 14-1 in those games.


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