Adama Sanogo scored 10 of his 28 points in the first five minutes of the second half as fourth-seeded UConn took control and beat Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels 87-63 on Friday in the first round of the tournament NCAA.
The Huskies (26-8) advanced to face fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s on Sunday in the West Region after losing in the first round under coach Dan Hurley the past two seasons.
Iona (27-8) had his 14-game winning streak shattered as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion lacked the depth to trail one of the Big East’s best for 40 minutes.
Walter Clayton Jr. led the Gaels with 14 points.
Now the question is: what’s next for the Gaels Hall of Fame coach?
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Rick Pitino was coaching in his 24th NCAA tournament and possibly his last with Iona. The 70-year-old appears to be in contention for another top job, with St. John’s the apparent favorite to clinch the two-time national champion.
UConn trailed by one point at half time but clicked out of the break. A four-point play from Jordan Hawkins immediately gave the Huskies the lead, then Sanogo went to work inside.
The 245-pound junior had a dunk, a hook, a few layups and two free throws, scoring 10 of the Huskies’ next 13 points as they took a 54-43 lead.
The Gaels never really threatened again. Sanogo’s turnover jumper from the baseline with 6:49 left made it 71-57, and the Huskies reached the second round for the first time since 2016.
Hawkins added 13 points, all in the second half, and Sanogo capped his 13-for-17 shooting performance with a long-range jumper to beat the shot clock with 3:05 left to extend the lead to 21. He also had 13 rebounds. .
Pitino arrived with a 54-20 NCAA record but without a tournament win since 2017, his final season in Louisville before being fired amid the second NCAA scandal of his tenure.
Pitino was exonerated when the final decision was made following this investigation just before the start of this season, leading to speculation that bigger schools would come calling at the end of Iona’s season.
During the half it looked like it might take at least a few more days.
The pace was fast and the game was lively from the start, a first-round game that felt a bit like a regional final.
Pitino was dapper and active on the sidelines in his black suit and silver tie. And the Gaels were fearless in the first half.
They pressured ballplayers and played at a pace that must have felt familiar to Louisville and Kentucky fans who supported Pitino’s top teams.
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Berrick JeanLouis made his first two 3-point attempts and scored 11 in the first half for the Gaels.
Neither team was leading by more than four in the first 20 minutes, and Iona’s 6ft 3in Daniss Jenkins seemed to send a message in the final minute when he came rushing in for an emphatic block on the 7 -2 Donovan Clingan to keep the Gaels ahead, 39-37, at the break.
UConn, however, had the final answer.
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Iona: The Gaels fell to 1-16 all-time in the tournament with their only victory in 1980 under fire Jim Valvano against Holy Cross.
UConn: Hurley, in his fifth season at UConn, has the Huskies on the rise, with three straight NCAA Tournament bids after taking control of a struggling national power. But they were one and done on his first two trips to March Madness, and he spoke openly about the pressure to move on this week.
Iona: Maybe a new head coach?
UConn: The last time UConn made the Round of 16, they lost to top-seeded Kansas in 2016.