DES MOINES, IOWA—Up by three points with just under a minute left, UConn looked like it was on track to blow a 13-point lead against Colorado in less than three minutes.
The Huskies inexplicably inbounded the ball into a corner against the press, and promptly turned it over before dribbling around some more and getting fouled. It was, as the great Bill Raftery said, "unattractive."
But in the end, it worked, as the Huskies came out on top, 74-67. It was unattractive, and it was a hell of a lot harder than it needed to be, but UConn doesn't know any other way.
After needing four overtimes to beat Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament — a win it may have needed to seal this NCAA Tournament berth — UConn seemed set on making its first-round win against Colorado just as tough.
The Huskies went into halftime down 35-27, with quite possibly the worst half a team has ever played when only down eight. They shot 33.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. They had four assists to five turnovers — the statistical result of an offense that just stood around and shot the ball as the shot clock wound down.
So naturally, in the second half, the team that never leaves anyone fully confident in its abilities — and always does things the hard way — looked like the team that beat Texas, Michigan and SMU in its route to the postseason. The Huskies started to press, got some breakaway dunks, hit their threes, and turned a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead in the matter of eight minutes.
They got that lead up to 13 before nearly blowing it in the end.
Sound familiar? That's because you've seen it before — twice.
This is the same thing we saw in 2014, when the seventh-seeded Huskies needed overtime to beat tenth-seeded St. Joe's in the first round, then proceeded to win mostly low-scoring, ugly games en route to the national championship. And it's partially reminiscent of what happened when third-seeded UConn squeaked out wins against Arizona and Kentucky to win an ugly national championship, 53-41, against Butler in 2011.
Now the college basketball world is on notice — the UConn run has begun. Not in the "wow, that team looks impressive, they might surprise some people" way. In the "dammit, UConn's gonna do it again" way.
But for as bad as the Huskies looked in the first half against Colorado, and for as uninspiring as they played for much of the regular season, they have the tools to take down No. 1 overall seed Kansas and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
This UConn team, like those that came before it, never seems to tire out. The Huskies needed a miracle shot to go to a fourth overtime against Cincinnati, so they hit it. Conventional wisdom is that after four overtimes, a team would be too tired to play well the very next day. But the Huskies played one of their best games of the year the next day, beating Temple by 15. When they needed to bring energy in the second half against Colorado, they had far more of it than the Buffaloes.
That's not due to great depth. UConn ranks 258th nationally in bench minutes. Rather, it's due to the great play of Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton, who combined for 48 of the Huskies' 74 points. The formula is the same as the 2014 team that featured stars Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and the 2011 team that featured Kemba Walker: get the ball to the stars.
There will always be reasons to doubt UConn, because they Huskies make it so easy to doubt them. But doubt never stopped UConn before. And don't be surprised if these Huskies bring "unattractive" deeper into the NCAA Tournament than anyone expected.
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