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Kansas men end UConn's season with easy 73-61 win

Des Moines, Iowa — Reality slammed into UConn like a runaway dump truck.

The ninth-seeded Huskies entered the NCAA South Region second-round game Saturday with hopes of shocking top-seeded Kansas at Wells Fargo Arena.

Instead, they were quickly flattened.

To their credit, they got back up and cut a 20-point halftime deficit to nine with just under nine minutes minutes left. But they couldn't complete the epic comeback, suffering a 73-61 season-ending defeat.

"You can't get down by 20 to the No. 1 seed and the talent that Kansas has," coach Kevin Ollie said. "But I was so proud of the guys that they battled back, but it just wasn't enough."

Sterling Gibbs had a team-high 20 points for UConn (25-11) while Rodney Purvis scored 17 points and Daniel Hamilton added 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

The defeat ended UConn's seven-game winning streak in the tournament, also handing Ollie his first NCAA loss as a head coach. Kansas (32-4) extended its winning streak to 16 straight games. The Huskies also dropped to 3-6 all-time against top-seeded teams.

They quickly discovered there's reason why Kansas is a strong contender for the national championship.

Trouble entered the picture right away.

It looked like a total mismatch, as the Jayhawks overpowered the Huskies. UConn lacked the muscle and firepower to keep up, falling behind 44-24 at the break. It was UConn's biggest halftime deficit this season.

A smothering, physical defense totally disrupted UConn's attack. The Huskies fired up ill-advised shots and settled for too many 3-pointers, sinking only 6 of their first 27 attempts.

"It was real tough out there," Hamilton said. "They denied the pass and they denied us from getting the ball. We were trying to play one-on-one in the first half."

There's a good reason for that — the Huskies had never faced an opponent as strong as the Jayhawks, who had suffered two straight second round exits in the NCAA tournament.

After Hamilton's 3-pointer handed UConn a 5-2 lead, Kansas took off on a 16-0 run, scoring outside and inside. Wayne Selden Jr., (22 points) and Perry Ellis (21 points, eight rebounds) were match-up nightmares.

And when UConn fought back to cut the gap to 21-16 on freshman Jalen Adams' 3-pointer, Kansas poured in on again, ripping off a 19-0 spurt.

It was ugly.

Frank Mason III's driving layup pushed the lead to 40-16, the largest deficit this season for UConn.

"They were doing everything possible, controlling the backboards, getting out on the fast break...," Ollie said. "And their bigs were sealing, getting whatever they wanted and they just took us out of our offense."

By halftime, UConn had converted only 25.8 percent from the field (8-for-31) and allowed Kansas to sink 55.6 percent (15-for-27). The Huskies were out-rebounded 25-11.

As has often been the case this season, UConn's intensity and energy greatly improved in the second half.

UConn knocked Kansas on its heels, pushing the pace and cranking up the defensive heat. The Huskies went on a 17-6 run capped off by a Purvis basket.

"We knew our defense was going to get us back in the game," Purvis said.

Purvis scored again to cut the deficit to 52-43 with 8:47 remaining. Then Kansas turned to its two best players to re-establish a double-digit lead, as Selden Jr. scored on two straight trips and Ellis converted for a 58-43 edge.

The Huskies simply ran out of gas. They shot an icy 34 percent overall from the field and were badly outrebounded, 44-24. Kansas converted 49 percent.

"We never stopped thinking we were going to win the game ... even when we were down 20," Gibbs said. "They're just a good team and they were able to hold the lead."

It was the final game for three members of Saturday's starting lineup — Phil Nolan, Shonn Miller and Gibbs – as well as reserves Omar Calhoun and Nnamdi Amilo. They'll leave with an American Athletic Conference tournament championship while Nolan and Calhoun won a national championship in 2014.

"We had a great season," Miller said. "Unfortunately it came to an end."

The Jayhawks advanced to the program's 31st Sweet Sixteen, facing the winner of Sunday's game between No. 5 Maryland and No. 13 Hawaii. The regional semifinal will be Thursday in Louisville.

g.keefe@theday.com

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