UConn manages Saint Mary’s to reach its first Sweet 16 in nine years

ALBANY — Eliminate the noise.

Ignore external pressure.

Do it the way you need to get to this point.

That was the message Dan Hurley sent to Connecticut players all week.

It is to say that it was received loud and clear and loud.

The Huskies played loose and lived up to expectations in a pair of victories that sent them to the school’s first Sweet 16 in nine years.

Two days after upsetting No. 13 Iona, fourth-seeded UConn took care of No. 5 Saint Mary’s, 70-55, in a West Region second-round game at Husky-heavy MVP Arena.

With the win, UConn joined Xavier, the third seed in the Midwest Region, as only the second Big East team to survive the first four days of the tournament.

It was similar to the win over Iona: a strong first half and a terrible second half. Connecticut was dominant on both ends of the floor after halftime and cruised to a win against No. 8 Arkansas in the Sweet 16 on Thursday in Las Vegas.

Connecticut’s Joey Calcaterra (right)Getty Images

For Hurley, this is his first trip to the second weekend of his fifth NCAA Tournament, and he has lost in the first round each of the previous two years as a top seed.

Adama Sanogo controlled the paint, scoring 24 and grabbing eight rebounds, Tristen Newton added 13 points and five assists, and Jordan Hawkins had 12 points of his own after halftime.

Playing in his hometown, Andre Jackson Jr. He was a double-double, with six rebounds and seven assists.

In the final 16:06, UConn (26-8) outscored Saint Mary’s by 16, shooting a blistering 65 percent from the field in the second half. Aidan Mahaney led the Gaels (27-8) with nine points.

UConnUConn’s Donovan Clingan (32) cuts down during the second half of their second-round college basketball game against Saint Mary’s.AP

Sanogo was the best player on the floor in the first half, scoring 10 points, grabbing six rebounds and hitting five of the first six shots.

He scored the Huskies’ run after falling into an eight-point hole, and Joey Calcaterra and Newton sank 3-pointers in the final 52 seconds of the half to give Connecticut the lead at halftime.

With 4:52 left in the first half, Saint Mary’s winger Alex Ducas injured his back and did not return. He was playing well, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.

Hurley’s team led by 11 early in the second half thanks to a pair of baskets by Sanogo and Jackson and a 3-pointer by Alex Karaban on a 14-2 run.

Adding to the Gaels’ woes, center Mitchell Saxen picked up his fourth foul with 12:51 remaining and his team in the midst of a long scoring drought.

Saint Mary’s never recovered, unable to slow Connecticut’s offense. The Huskies won twice this weekend, looking like a legitimate Final Four contender.

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