ORLANDO, Fla. – Coming off the heels of their quadruple-overtime victory, the No. 5 seed UConn Huskies dispatched the top-seeded Temple Owls on Saturday afternoon to advance to the American Athletic Conference Championship game.
“Our coach of the year in this conference, Fran Dunphy, I got so much respect for him, the job he did with that team,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “They had different guys step up every night and he always had those guys fighting. So, it’s a great win for University of Connecticut. We’re going to soak this one up and then we’re going to be ready for the winner of Memphis and Tulane.”
UConn sophomore Daniel Hamilton seemed determined to prove that his career-high performance on Friday against the Cincinnati Bearcats was no fluke. The swingman tallied an impressive 19 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists to help put the Huskies in the championship game.
“We wanted to come out here and build off [the Cincinnati game]and then come out with more intensity, like we did, and just continue to keep building from that, especially going into the tournament,” Hamilton said.
After playing limited minutes against USF due to foul trouble, sophomore Obi Enechionyia made his presence known early on with back-to-back makes to push Temple out to an early lead. However, Enechionyia faltered from that point on and did not make another shot from the field for the rest of the game.
“They ran him off the line a little bit, and he needed to adjust his game probably a little bit more than he did,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “But he’s a pretty big weapon for us. It just wasn’t happening for him tonight.”
Midway through the first half, Temple’s shots stopped falling and the Huskies began to capitalize on their misgivings. UConn went on a 24-5 run over an eight minute span while Temple went 2-for-14 from the field during their cold spell.
UConn’s dominant stretch afforded them a cushy 11-point lead going into halftime as they shot a dangerous 57.1 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think we stayed more mentally tough, got stops when we needed to, got scores when we needed to,” UConn forward Shonn Miller said. “We stayed together, came out with a lot of energy and got the win.”
Temple entered the second half with a different offensive identity as they began to attack the Huskies on the inside. The Owls first four baskets out of halftime came inside the paint with Jaylen Bond beginning to find his groove.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy had already talked about the progress that the redshirt senior Bond had made this year after his dominant showing against the No. 9 seed USF Bulls. Bond backed up Dunphy’s words on Friday night with 17 points and 10 rebounds in his last game as a Temple Owl.
Much to the dismay of the Owls, UConn’s torrid shooting carried over to the second half and made it nearly impossible for Temple to reel them in.
“I think we’re doing a great job moving the basketball and not settling for the contested threes,” Ollie said. “We did that earlier. I think our ball movement — I always talk about getting to the third side and the fourth side, and I think we’re just reversing the ball and then we’re attacking.”
The Owls were able to find a lot of clean looks throughout the game, but their shots just were not able to find the bottom of the net from anywhere outside of the paint. Bond, Enechionyia and Quenton DeCosey, Temple’s three leading scorers, finished the contest going a collective 13-for-39.
UConn will advance to the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game where they will take on the winner of the Memphis/Tulane game. UConn beat Memphis in both AAC contests and also topped Tulane in their only meeting of the season.