UConn has found its leading man in Hamilton
Orlando, Fla. — Judging from the last two American Athletic Conference tournament games, UConn's search is over for a leading man.
Once again, Daniel Hamilton played a starring role for the fifth-seeded Huskies on Saturday.
Hamilton contributed 19 points and 11 rebounds — both team highs for the second straight day — in a 77-62 semifinal victory over top-seeded Temple that vaulted UConn into Sunday's championship game.
In two games, Hamilton, a versatile sophomore swingman, has averaged 25.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and five assists. He's also converted 17 of 38 from the field (45 percent). That's quite a jump from his 38.3 shooting percent entering Saturday's action.
His teammates couldn't be happier for him.
"Now is the time where it matters most, and he's stepping up for us really, really big," redshirt junior Rodney Purvis said. "That's the Daniel that we all know. I'm just happy for him. ... I hope he just continues to keep it up and continues to be huge for us."
Hamilton has finally shaken a season-long inconsistent streak. He's cut back on his turnovers, an area that he's leading the team in. He made just three in two tournament wins.
Coach Kevin Ollie has noticed a big difference in Hamilton's demeanor and defense. "Calm, calm, calm," is the way Ollie described Hamilton.
"I just think he's been mentally strong and focused and determined to get the job done, and it's starting with his defense," Ollie said.
With help from Ollie and his family, Hamilton has emerged as a star during the tournament. He poured in a career-high 32 points in the four overtime win over Cincinnati on Friday.
"I've been struggling all season pretty much, and I've been up and down," Hamilton said. "So with my family sending me good scriptures, like let your light shine before man, that they may see your good works and glorify Our Father which is in heaven. I want to glorify God, and I think he's a big contributor to how I'm playing.
"And I want to continue building off that and get the shots that I like on the court."
A new tournament champion will be crowned Sunday.
UConn will be making its third straight appearance in the championship game, losing the previous two trips to top-seeded Southern Methodist 62-54 last year in Hartford and to No. 2 Louisville 71-61 in 2014 in Memphis.
Its opponent will be sixth-seeded Memphis, which defeated No. 10 Tulane 74-54 in Saturday's other semifinal. The championship game tips off at 3:15 p.m. at the Amway Center.
The Tigers (19-14) have regrouped after a disappointing regular season.
"They're a great team," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said of UConn. "We're going to have to play a great game if we want to have an opportunity to to beat them."
UConn swept the regular-season series, winning 81-78 on Jan. 9 in Storrs and 77-57 on Feb. 4 in Memphis.
Temple guard Quenton DeCosey, a unanimous All-AAC first team selection, had a quiet game after averaging 19 points in two victories over UConn during the regular season. Both Purvis and Hamilton defended DeCosey, who went 4-for-17 from the field and finished with 14 points.
"I just wanted to make it tough for him," Purvis said. "He's a great competitor and a great player. He was my assignment for today. With the help of the my teammates, I think I was able to guard him pretty well today."
Ollie added: "I thought Rodney did a great job on DeCosey starting the game out, and then Daniel kind of cleaned it up at the end. But Rodney really set the tone with the intensity, moving his feet and playing great basketball on the defensive end."
News and notes
The victory snapped UConn's four-game losing streak in the series. ... Freshman Jalen Adams was catalyst, chipping in a career-high eight assists. ... UConn entered the game as the No. 1 free throw shooting team in the nation after converting 22 of 24 against Cincinnati in Friday's four overtime thriller. The Huskies went 12 for 15 versus Temple (87 percent in the two tournament games). ... Temple, which averaged an AAC leading 9.2 3-pointers per game, went just 4 for 20 from beyond the arc. ... UConn shot 55.2 percent in the first half, 48.1 percent in the second half. ... Former Huskies Richard Hamilton, Ray Allen and Nantambu Willingham attended the game.
UCONN vs. MEMPHIS
Game: American Athletic Conference tournament championship
Location: Amway Center, Orlando, Fla.
Tip: 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Records: Fifth-seeded UConn 23-10, six-seeded Memphis 19-14
Last game: UConn beat No. 1 Temple, 77-62, Saturday; Memphis defeated No. 10 Tulane, 74-54, Saturday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (12 pts), 6-4 r-jr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.5 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (12.5 pts, 8.8 rebs, 4.8 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (12.8 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-10 sr. center Phil Nolan (1.8 pts, 1.6 rebs)
Memphis, 6-2 sr. guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. (12 pts, 3.3 assists), 6-5 so. guard Markel Crawford (5 pts), 6-7 sr. guard Trahson Burrell (10.1 pts, 6.2 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Shaq Goodwin (14.9 pts, 7.8 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Dedric Lawson (15.6 pts, 9.3 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn appearing in third straight AAC final, 0-2 in previous trips. First final for Memphis. Winner earns automatic bid to NCAA tournament. ... Huskies last won a conference title in 2011 in the Big East. ... Series: UConn leads 5-3, sweeping regular season series – 77-57 on Feb. 4 in Memphis, 81-78 on Jan. 9 in Storrs. Gibbs averaged 20 points in two wins. ... Five players scored in double figures for Tigers in semifinal. Lawson, AAC rookie of the year, had 17 pts, 9 rebs. ... Top reserve: 6-7 fr. Forward K.J. Lawson (8.8 pts, 3.5 rebs). ... Tigers won 3 straight for first time since Dec. ... Injury news: Starting guard Avery Woodson (shoulder) sat out Saturday's semifinal. ... Hot: UConn averaging 90.5 points in two AAC tourney wins. Cold: Husky foes shooting 37 percent in last two games. ... Huskies made 34 of last 39 free throws, or 87 percent. Rank 1st in nation overall. ... Win will improve NCAA tournament seeding. ... Up next: Selection Sunday.
— Gavin Keefe