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UConn tops Auburn in 2 OT in Battle 4 Atlantis opener

In the midst of a chaotic, crazy double overtime thriller on Wednesday, UConn realized that it was part of something special but couldn't appreciate it until the exhausting game finally ended.

A 115-109 victory over No. 19 Auburn in a Battle 4 Atlantis opener for both teams in the Bahamas will go down as one of the most memorable non-conference games in recent UConn basketball history.

The No. 22 Huskies are happy that they survived the wild game at Imperial Arena that just as easily could have ended with a crushing loss. It was the program's first win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 21 Houston in March 2020.

Coach Dan Hurley called it a special non-conference game.

"When you have a chance to sit back and you think about how many different ways it could have gone the other way from the five-minute mark (in regulation) all the way to the second overtime, just a multitude of things that went on," said Hurley during a post-game zoom session. "Mind-boggling. Mind-numbing."

"But, the good thing is, as staff we won't even have to watch this game today. We'll watch it when we get home. Now we can just focus on Michigan State. I don't want to relive that today."

UConn (5-0) will play Michigan State (4-1), which knocked off Loyola Chicago, 63-61, on a late basket, at noon on Thursday in Paradise Island.

Good thing the Huskies are a deep team. They'll have less than 24 hours before they play again.

There were numerous Husky Heroes on Wednesday, starting with sophomore Adama Sanogo and graduate forward Tyler Polley.

Sanogo was a force inside, scoring a career-best 30 points, while Polley scored eight of his career-high 24 points in the second overtime.

Polley's career-high sixth 3-pointer of the game sparked a 9-0 spurt and put UConn ahead for good, 103-100, with two minutes, 55 seconds left in the second overtime.

The Huskies held on from there.

"For me to come back for my fifth year after a COVID year and come to a tournament like this and play a game like that, that's why you come to UConn to play games like that," Polley said. "It's just a blessing."

R.J. Cole finished with a season-high 24 points while freshman Jordan Hawkins had a career-best 16 points and Tyrese Martin added 13 points and eight rebounds before fouling out.

The Huskies knew that they were in for a battle due to Auburn's talent, attacking style, depth and athleticism.

A year ago, they probably wouldn't have been able to overcome the adversity that they faced on Wednesday, dealing with foul and turnover trouble. They had three starters foul out and committed a season-high 24 turnovers.

"We don't start getting ready in October," Hurley said. "We go 11 months a year, so our guys are tough and they're battle-tested," Hurley said. "The program has been through a lot. We've had to climb the last couple of years. We were horrible a couple of years ago and we're finally climbing this mountain and getting good again.

"We're starting to resemble UConn again. We're not going to let you knock us off that easily when we're trying so hard to get this back to where UConn should be. So, you've got to try to kill us to beat us."

Wednesday's game featured some wild momentum swings.

Auburn (3-1) zipped to a 21-10 lead, forcing Hurley to call a timeout with 11:25 left in the first half. Sanogo was the only reliable offensive source, scoring the team's first 10 points.

The Huskies didn't panic.

"We knew what this was," Hurley said. "We started preparing the guys on Sunday. They knew what they'd be dealing with today with this opponent. We talked about adversity and the fact that this was going to feel like, if you're a wrestling fan, a steel cage match. If you're a UFC fan, it was an Octagon. We knew two monsters were going to be locked in a cage."

The Huskies came out of the timeout an entirely different team. They took off on a 13-0 spurt, receiving a boost from their bench. By halftime, they led 45-34.

At intermission, UConn was eight for 12 from three and 16 for 27 overall from the field. Sanogo (12), Hawkins (11) and Polley (10) combined for 33 points.

The Huskies appeared to be in control in the second half.

When Hawkins converted two free throws, UConn possessed a 65-50 advantage with 11 minutes left. But the Huskies couldn't hold the double digit lead.

Auburn's full-court pressure paid off, forcing turnovers to fuel a comeback.

Freshman Jabari Smith's 3-pointer handed Auburn its first second half lead at 76-74 with 2:37 remaining, setting up a frantic finish to regulation.

Polley's 3-pointer put UConn in front, 83-81, with 12 seconds left and K.D. Johnson (27 points) answered for Auburn at the five second mark to send the game to overtime.

In the first overtime, the Huskies grabbed a four point lead (95-91) on Cole's 3-pointer with 22 seconds left. But Johnson converted two free throws and then Hawkins lost the ball, leading to Johnson's driving basket to tie the game with three seconds remaining. Cole's deep three was off the mark at the buzzer.

"I thought numerous times we had the game won," Cole said. "But they weren't going to go without a fight. We knew it. We continued to talk to each other and keep pushing, knowing that it's not going to be easy and that we were going to have to fight for this one."

UConn rode Polley's hot shooting to a nine-point lead in the second overtime. The Huskies pulled out a memorable win.

"We've been working to get to this point for years now, to just get the UConn brand back to what it's been like in the past," Polley said. "A game like this definitely helps. We have more work to do, for sure."

Said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl: "You go to a tournament to play games like this. This is like March. Our kids were excited about playing. We knew UConn was a top 25 team, probably better than that.''

Center Isaiah Whaley had what Hurley called a fainting episode at the end of the game but should be fine.

UConn has to quickly turn its attention to Michigan State.

"There's been some classic battles between those two incredible brands," Hurley said. "It will be an honor to coach against Tom Izzo. Guys like Tom Izzo, my Dad and coach (Jim) Calhoun have been coaches that I've looked up to and tried to model the way I've coached."

g.keefe@theday.com

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