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    Saturday, February 04, 2023

    UConn men have championship mindset entering PKI final vs. Iowa St.

    UConn forward Alex Karaban (11) reacts after making a 3-point basket next to Alabama guard Jaden Bradley during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

    Since the preseason, coach Dan Hurley has talked about his UConn basketball program taking the next step, going from a contender for championships to winning them.

    The 20th-ranked Huskies will get their first shot at a championship this season on Sunday.

    After impressive wins over Oregon and No. 18 Alabama, UConn (7-0) will face Iowa State (5-0) in the Phil Knight Invitational final (10 p.m., ESPN) at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.

    The Huskies reached the final by playing their best basketball so far in Friday’s semifinal win, taking apart previously unbeaten Alabama, 82-67, with stellar defense and an explosive offense. They forced 21 turnovers while junior Adama Sanogo led a second-half surge that broke a tie, finishing with a game-high 25 points.

    There’s mounting evidence that UConn could be in for a joy ride this season.

    The Huskies are excelling on both ends of the court.

    They’ve scored at least 80 points in each of the first seven games for the first time in program history and held opponents to 58.7 points. They’re sharing the basketball, averaging 19.3 assists, up from 14 per game last season.

    Their much-improved depth has been on display at the PKI. Hurley has gone with a nine-player rotation. There’s often little to no drop-off when players come off the bench. Five Huskies scored nine or more points in both games.

    They’ve also been on target from the perimeter, sinking a program record 17 3-pointers against Oregon and converting nine more versus Alabama, making 26 of 61 overall (42.6 percent) in the PKI. Defenses have to be on alert with five different Huskies converting 39 percent or better from beyond the arc.

    Under the basket, the center combination of Sanogo and freshman Donovan Clingan has given opponents fits. Sanogo leads the team in scoring (20.6 points) and rebounding (7.1) while Clingan, the former Bristol Central standout, is chipping in 8.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and a team-best 2.6 blocks in 15.3 minutes per game.

    Iowa State also is off to a dream start.

    The Cyclones completed a difficult route to reach the PKI final, stunning No. 1 North Carolina in Friday’s semifinals 70-65 behind senior Caleb Grill’s career-best 31 points after knocking off Villanova, 81-79 in OT, in the first round.

    Their backcourt, which is anchored by Grill (12.0 points) and senior Jaren Holmes (17.8), is considered one of the best in the Big 12. Transfer Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 center, is the player to watch inside.

    Osunniyi, a two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year prior to coming to Iowa State, and Holmes both transferred from St. Bonaventure and previously played against UConn in the Never Forget Tribute Classic last December in Newark, N.J. Osunniyi had 10 points and five rebounds and Holmes scored 19 points for the Bonnies in a 74-64 loss.

    Much like UConn, Iowa State plays a disruptive defense, forcing 21.4 turnovers per game and holding opponents to 37 percent from the field.

    And the Cyclones will certainly be riding some momentum from their big upset win on Friday.

    It all adds up to what should be an entertaining and fiercely competitive matchup.

    UConn will be shooting for its first championship in a multi-team event during the regular season since winning the 2013 2k Sports Classic, beating Indiana in the final at Madison Square Garden in New York.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    No. 20 UCONN vs. IOWA STATE

    Location: Moda Center, Portland, Ore

    Tip: 10 p.m. (ESPN)

    Records: UConn 7-0, Iowa State 5-0

    Last game: UConn beat No. 18 Alabama, 82-67, Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational semifinals; Iowa State defeated No. 1 North Carolina, 70-65, in the semifinals Friday.

    Probable starters; UConn, 6-5 sr. guard Tristen Newton (12.6 pts, 5 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-4 sr. guard Nahiem Alleyne (7.4 pts), 6-5 so. guard Jordan Hawkins (13 pts), 6-8 r-fr. forward Alex Karaban (10.4 pts, 3.4 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Adama Sanogo (20.6 pts, 7.1 rebs)

    Iowa State, 6-3 sr. guard Caleb Grill (12 pts), 6-4 sr. guard Jaren Holmes (17.8 pts, 4.4 assists), 6-1 fr. guard Tamin Lipsey (4 pts), 6-8 sr. forward Aljaz Kunc (8.4 pts, 6.6 rebs), 6-10 sr. center Osun Osunniyi (10.6 pts, 3.8 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Phil Knight Invitational championship game. … Series: Tied 1-1, with UConn winning 81-76 in 2014 NCAA Sweet Sixteen and losing 77-64 in 2012 NCAA tournament opener. … By beating North Carolina, Iowa State posted the program’s third win ever over a top-ranked team. … Member of the Big 12. … Cyclones return four players, including two starters, from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. … Grill had a career-high tying seven 3-pointers vs North Carolina. … Top reserve: 6-4 sr. guard Gabe Kalscheur (10 pts). … Cyclones out-scoring opponents by almost 22 pts per game while averaging 77.4 pts. Defense has forced 107 turnovers this season. … Hot: Transfer Joey Calcaterra shooting 60.9 percent (14 for 23) from 3-pt. range. Cold: Fr. Donovan Clingan 9 for 18 from foul line. … Huskies off to their best start in Hurley’s five seasons in charge. … Injury update: Samson Johnson (foot) out indefinitely. … Next up: UConn hosts Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Big East-Big 12 battle at Gampel Pavilion.

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