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The Newport Plain Talk
UConn, Iona clicking on all cylinders entering first-round matchup
By Field Level Media,
Since winning two national championships in a four-season span, UConn has had little to show for its efforts in the NCAA Tournament.
With just one win over the last eight years on their March Madness resume, the fourth-seeded Huskies will begin their quest to reach the promised land once again when they face No. 13 seed Iona in Albany, N.Y., on Friday in a first-round matchup in the West Region.
UConn (25-8) went all the way in 2011 and 2014 but has since sputtered when the lights are shining brightest. The Huskies have gone to the big dance in each of the past two seasons, with each trip ending in similar fashion.
No. 10 Maryland upset No. 7 seed UConn in 2021 before 12th-seeded New Mexico State ousted the fifth-seeded Huskies last year. Both first-round losses prevented UConn from capturing its first NCAA Tournament win since a 74-67 victory over Colorado in 2016.
But with the new year comes a new opportunity, and it's one Huskies coach Dan Hurley is looking forward to.
"It's a thrill to be a part of it," Hurley said. "It's what you play for the whole year -- to put yourself in the tournament and get the best possible seed. It's a rush.
"When I was a high school coach, the only reason I got into college coaching was to coach in this tournament."
UConn has been firing on all cylinders as of late, as it won nine of 10 games before falling 70-68 to Marquette last Friday in the Big East tournament semifinals. Adama Sanogo finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to slow the eventual tournament champion Golden Eagles.
The Gaels (27-7) have been even more impressive, though, as they are currently riding a stunning 14-game winning streak that includes Saturday's 76-55 drubbing of Marist in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
Daniss Jenkins paced Iona with a game-high 27 points, while Walter Clayton Jr. chipped in 17. The Gaels' defense led to plenty of easy offense, as Iona turned 18 Marist turnovers into 23 points.
Although his team is in the midst of a torrid stretch, Gaels coach Rick Pitino knows advancing to the second round will be a tall task.
"This is no picnic playing Connecticut," Pitino said. "They're one of the best. At one time, they were No. 1 in the country. Many people were picking them to win the national championship, so we know we have a tough matchup, but I think we're up for the test."
Clayton is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game for Iona, while Jenkins averages 15.6. Nelly Junior Joseph has also been a key contributor, posting 15.1 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds per game.
Sanogo (16.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Jordan Hawkins (16.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) have teamed up to form a dangerous duo for the Huskies, who have also received ample contribution from Tristen Newton (10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.6 assists per game).
UConn holds a 4-1 all-time record against the Gaels.