Adama Sanogo scored 24 points and Jordan Hawkins delivered from 3-point range in the second half as UConn pulled away from Saint Mary’s for a 70-55 victory Sunday that put the Huskies in the Sweet 16 for the first time in nine years. .
The No. 4 seed UConn (27-8) advanced to the West Regional in Las Vegas on Thursday. Next up is eighth-seeded Arkansas, which knocked out No. 1 seed Kansas.
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Sanogo followed up his 28-point game in the Huskies’ NCAA tournament opener against Iona with another powerful and efficient performance in the paint. The 245-pound junior made 11 of 16 shots from the floor and grabbed eight rebounds, dominating a big-man matchup with Mitchell Saxen (six points, three rebounds and four fouls).
Saint Mary’s (27-8) of the West Coast Conference failed to exit the opening weekend of the tournament for the second straight season as a No. 5 seed.
Aidan Mahaney and Logan Johnson each scored nine for the Gaels, who played the final 25 minutes without third-leading scorer Alex Ducas. The senior left with an apparent back injury.
UConn used a 14-2 run, highlighted by a Hawkins 3-pointer with 11:28 remaining in the second half, to go up 51-40.
Hawkins hadn’t scored up to that point, but added another 3 off a screen moments later to make it 56-45, and «Go Huskies!» the chants began to resound throughout the MVP Arena.
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Hawkins wasn’t done, he made back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 62-47 with 6:38 remaining. He finished with 12 points.
Meanwhile, the Huskies defense was clamping down on the Gaels, who have stayed under 60 points for the fourth time this season.
The Gaels and the Huskies played a practically even first half, shooting 44.4% from the field and closing strongly. Mahaney made a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to put Saint Mary’s up 30-28 and Newton responded with a 3-pointer 18 seconds later that put the Huskies up 31-30 at halftime and brought the pro-UConn crowd to its feet.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels have made it to the Sweet 16 only once in the show’s history in 2010.
Coach Randy Bennett, in his 22nd season at SMC, and the Gaels have been Gonzaga’s closest rival in the WCC. They earned the No. 5 seeds in each of the past two seasons, the best seed for any team outside of the six non-Gonzaga power conferences since 2014.
UConn: The Huskies last played in the second weekend of the tournament in 2014, when they won the last — and most surprising — of four national titles in a span of 15 years.
The Huskies’ last title run came in the American Athletic Conference, the league that was born from the breakup of Big East football and basketball in 2013.
UConn went to soccer schools and played seven years in the AAC, where its soccer program flopped while men’s basketball faded into irrelevance.
The Huskies returned to their Big East roots, hiring former Seton Hall point guard Dan Hurley as coach five years ago and rejoining the conference three seasons ago, and have been on the rise ever since.
Ducas was helped off the court with 4:52 left in the first half.
The team’s most accurate 3-point shooter and third leading scorer got down on one knee and began reaching for his lower back with no apparent contact. He was treated by the team’s physical trainers and then assisted off the field after trying to take a step on his own. He went straight to the locker room and did not play the rest of the game.
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Ducas scored 17 points in the Gaels’ first-round win against VCU and had eight more when he left.
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UConn: The Huskies are 3-1 all-time against Arkansas.