Iona gave UConn’s best shot, but UConn’s best shot was even better.
Iona, the 13th seed in the Western Region led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, was upset when leading 39-37 in the locker room at halftime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday in Albany.
But the second half was a completely different story.
UConn, the No. 4 seed, stormed out of the gates with a 17-4 lead in the first five minutes of the second half, turning that first-half deficit into a double-digit advantage. This surge allowed UConn to pull away in a convincing 87-63 victory. All in all, UConn outgained Iona in the second half by a margin of 50-24.
It was 20 minutes of basketball by a team that looks like it could run championship-deep.
This massive second-half effort came from UConn after Iona’s guards largely dominated play in the first half. As the game progressed, UConn’s talent and depth dominated.
Iona had no way of stopping Adama Sanogo, Ukon’s bruising big man. Sanogo scored a double-double, leading all scorers with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting to spend 13 rebounds. Of the 28 points he scored, 22 of them came in the second half. And when Sanogo was off the field, Donovan Clingan was also able to produce with a high clip. Clingan, the 7-foot-2 freshman, put up 10 points and nine rebounds in just 18 minutes off the bench.
The Huskies’ guards didn’t fare best shooting, but Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. combined for 23 points while making five three-pointers. Nahim Allen and Joey Calcatera also hit big shots off the bench, collecting 14 points on 4-of-6 from outside the arc.
With the win, the Huskies will advance to face No. 5-ranked Saint Mary’s on Sunday in the Round of 32.
What’s next for Iona coach Rick Pitino?
Pitino is 70 years old and has spent three seasons at Iona after firing roaringly at Louisville and training abroad. With Friday’s loss, Pitino has a 64-22 record with two NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons at Iona. But now, it looks like he’s going to move on to another job.
The name Pitino appeared continually in connection with the opening at St. John’s. Pitino is a native New Yorker and will be able to commute from New Rochelle (where Iona is located) to Queens if he lands in St. John’s. St. John’s fired Mike Anderson last week after four seasons, a move that opened the door for Pitino to return to the Big East after decades outside the league.
After Friday’s game, Pitino said he wasn’t sure if he coached his last game in Iona.
“I don’t have an answer to be honest. I have no idea. I’ve focused everything on this game trying to develop a plan to beat Connecticut,” Pitino said. “I really have no idea what the future might hold.”
Pitino made long stops at Kentucky and Louisville and also coached the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, but hasn’t been a head coach in the Big East since he was at Providence in 1986 and 1987.
During his post-game media appearance, Pitino mentioned St. John’s name and indicated that he did not go to the school’s campus Since 1987 when he coached Providence.
“I really didn’t think about it at all. I think when you start thinking about the future, you always fail, and we put so much effort into this game. I don’t know if it’s right for me, another job. I don’t know. I know you’re insinuating.” To St. John’s, but I’ve never seen St. John’s. I don’t remember much about it to tell you the truth. You don’t buy houses without looking at the garage and the attic and the kitchen. You don’t just buy a house, right?” Pitino said.
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