Adama Sanogo scored 24 points and Jordan Hawkins delivered from the 3-point line in the second half as UConn pulled away from Saint Mary’s for a 70-55 win on Sunday that put the Huskies in the Sweet 16 for the first time in nine years.
No. 4 seed UConn (27-8) advanced to the West Regional in Las Vegas on Thursday. Next up is eighth-seeded Arkansas, which knocked off No. 1 seed Kansas.
Sanogo followed up his 28-point game in the Huskies’ NCAA tourney opener against Iona with another powerful and efficient performance in the paint. The 245-pound junior was 11 for 16 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 get out of the first 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 spurt, highlighted by a 3 from Hawkins with 11:28 left in the second half, to go up 51-40.
Hawkins had been scoreless to that point, but he added another 3 coming off a screen moments later to make it 56-45, and the “Let’s Go Huskies!” chants started to reverberate throughout MVP Arena.
Hawkins wasn’t done, making back-to-back 3s to make it 62-47 with 6:38 left. He finished with 12 points.
Meanwhile, the Huskies defense was clamping down on the Gaels, who were held under 60 points for just the fourth time this season.
The Gaels and Huskies played a practically even first half, with both shooting 44.4% from the field, and closing strong. Mahaney made a 3 with 21 second left 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 half and brought the pro-UConn crowd to its feet.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels have reached the Sweet 16 just once in program 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 snagged No. 5 seeds each of the last two seasons, the best seeding for any team outside the six power conferences not named Gonzaga 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 15-year span.
The Huskies’ last title run came out of the American Athletic Conference, the league birthed from the Big East’s football-basketball breakup in 2013.
UConn went with the football schools and played seven years in the AAC, where its football program floundered while its vaunted men’s basketball slipped 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 they 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 went down to his knees and started reaching for his lower back after no apparent contact. He was attended to by the team’s athletic trainers and then assisted off the court after trying to take a step on his own. He went right to the locker room and did not play the rest of the game.
Ducas scored 17 points in the Gaels’ first-round victory against VCU and had eight more when he went out.
UConn: The Huskies are 3-1 all-time against Arkansas.