Huskies come alive in 2nd half

Virginia Commonwealth's Nick Kern (24) battles for a rebound against St. Mary's Alex Ducas (44) 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)
Virginia Commonwealth's Nick Kern (24) battles for a rebound against St. Mary's Alex Ducas (44) 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)

ALBANY, N.Y. -- With a dominant performance from its best player in the second half, UConn took the next step toward returning to its championship past.

Adama Sanogo scored 10 of his season-high 28 points in the first five minutes of the second half as the fourth-seeded Huskies seized control and beat Rick Pitino's Iona Gaels 87-63 Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

UConn (26-8) advanced to play fifth-seeded Saint Mary's on Sunday in the West Region after losing in the first round under Coach Dan Hurley the last two seasons.

"We grabbed him at halftime because he was pressing in the first half," Hurley said of Sanogo. "He was hesitant. I think he carried the weight of getting us out of the first round, I think, a little bit too much in the first half."

Iona (27-8) had its 14-game winning streak snapped as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion didn't have the depth to keep up with one of the Big East's best for 40 minutes.

"They played a great second half," Pitino said. "They physically dominated us at the five spot. And the first half was just about as well as we played all year."

Walter Clayton Jr. led the Gaels with 14 points.

Now the question is: What's next for the Gaels' Hall of Fame coach?

"I really don't have an answer to it, to be honest with you," Pitino said when asked if this was his last game at Iona. "I have no idea if it is or isn't, because I've focused everything on this game."

Pitino was coaching in his 24th NCAA Tournament and maybe his last with Iona, the tiny Catholic school in New Rochelle, N.Y., that brought him back to the college game even with an NCAA investigation hanging over him.

The 70-year-old seems to be in line for another high-profile job, with St. John's as the apparent front-runner to land the two-time national champion.

UConn trailed by a two at the half, but came out of the break clicking. A four-point play by Jordan Hawkins immediately gave the Huskies the lead.

"I believe that play gave them all the momentum and got them going," Iona's Berrick JeanLouis said.

Then Sanogo went to work inside.

The 6-9, 245-pound junior had a dunk, a hook, a couple of layups and two free throws, scoring of 10 of the Huskies' next 13 points as they grabbed a 54-43 lead.

"Definitely, coming into this game, there was a lot of pressure," Sanogo said.

The Gaels never really threatened again. Sanogo's turnaround jumper from the baseline with 6:49 left made it 71-57 and the Huskies cruised into the second round for the first time since 2016.

Hawkins added 13 points, all in the second half, and Sanogo capped his 13-for-17 shooting performance with a long-range jumper to beat the shot clock with 3:05 left to up the lead to 21. He also had 13 rebounds.

Donovan Clingan, UConn's 7-2 backup center, added 12 points and nine rebounds.

"We've won the most games in the Big East the last three years overall," Hurley said. "We were able to transfer that into a first round game of the NCAA Tournament, which I'm excited about."

Pitino came in with a 54-20 NCAA record, but without a tournament victory since 2017, his last season at Louisville before he was fired amid the second NCAA scandal of his tenure.

Pitino was exonerated -- which he reminded everyone about at his postgame news conference -- when the final ruling was handed down just before the start of this season, leading to speculation bigger schools would come calling when Iona's season ended.

GONZAGA 82,

GRAND CANYON 70

DENVER -- Slow-starting Gonzaga finally started playing like a title contender, then wore out Grand Canyon behind 28 points and 10 rebounds from Julian Strawther.

Zags senior Drew Timme brought his sweatband and handlebar moustache back to March Madness and finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks for the third-seeded Bulldogs (29-5), who haven't lost a first-round game in the tournament since 2008.

Like almost every Zag outside of Strawther, Timme was bottled up and frustrated in the first half, then came out of halftime and looked like a different player. After trailing by as many as seven, Timme's three-point play gave Gonzaga a 48-40 lead early in the second half.

Grand Canyon's Ray Harrison answered with a driving layup on the next possession. After that, Gonzaga went on a 16-0 run during which the 14th-seeded Lopes (24-12), champions of the Western Athletic Conference, missed 11 consecutive shots and fell behind by 22.

Harrison led Grand Canyon with 20 points and Chance McMillian had 16.

SAINT MARY'S 63, VCU 51

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Mitchell Saxen had 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks, and Saint Mary's beat ailing VCU.

Alex Ducas also scored 17 points as the fifth-seeded Gaels (27-7) advanced to the second round for the second consecutive year. Logan Johnson had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and reserve Augustas Marciulionis scored 13 points.

Ace Baldwin led VCU (27-8) with 13 points, but he appeared to sprain his right ankle on his landing after taking a jumper with just over 14 minutes left in regulation. The Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year lay on the court for a couple of minutes before receiving treatment on the bench and back in the locker room.

VCU was down 38-34 when Baldwin left and 48-39 when he came back with 9:03 left after the Gaels of the West Coast Conference went on a 10-5 spurt sparked by a three-point play by Kyle Bowen.


TCU 72, ARIZONA STATE 70

DENVER — JaKobe Coles hit a floater from the lane with 1.5 seconds left and No. 6 seed TCU rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat 11th-seeded Arizona State.

Coles took a pass Mike Miles Jr. from near the top of the three-point circle, dribbled once and let go of the game-winner. Arizona State’s desperation heave at the buzzer missed.

Miles, playing on a hyperextended right knee, finished with 26 points for the Horned Frogs (22-12).

DJ Horne had 17 for Arizona State (23-13).


  photo  Virginia Commonwealth's Adrian Baldwin Jr. (1) drives against St. Mary's Logan Johnson (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)
 
 
  photo  Virginia Commonwealth's Adrian Baldwin Jr. (1) shoots against St. Mary's Mitchell Saxen (11) 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)
 
 
  photo  Virginia Commonwealth's Nick Kern (24) drives against St. Mary's Alex Ducas (44) 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)
 
 
  photo  Virginia Commonwealth's Jayden Nunn (23) shoots against St. Mary's Mitchell Saxen (11) 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)
 
 
  photo  Virginia Commonwealth's Jalen DeLoach (4) drives against St. Mary's Kyle Bowen (14) 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)
 
 

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