DES MOINES, Iowa -- Something about this time of year brings out the best in Connecticut.
The Huskies, seeded ninth in the South Region, raced from behind to beat eighth-seeded Colorado 74-67 Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. It's early in the tournament, of course, but clutch play in the second half by Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton and Sterling Gibbs conjured images of UConn giants in past postseasons.
The victory, UConn’s seventh straight in NCAA play dating to an unexpected title run in 2014 as a No. 7 seed, sets up a potential clash with Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed, Saturday. The Jayhawks must first get past Austin Peay Thursday afternoon.
Thursday's showing against Colorado reinforced the belief that it’s never wise to doubt UConn on this stage. The Buffaloes led by nine points at halftime on the strength of an 11-2 run midway through the first half and looked in control behind the play of 6-foot-10 forward Josh Scott, who finished with 23 points.
But the Huskies took to the court in the second half with renewed energy. Purvis’ dunk in transition ignited the pro-UConn crowd. Jalen Adams then converted a steal into an assist of Hamilton’s three-point play to slice the Colorado lead to 42-40.
Momentum swung fully after Gibbs’ 3-pointer from the baseline put the Huskies on top 47-46. Hamilton followed with a dunk to extend the surge.
The Huskies built the lead to 13 points with three minutes to play before a 10-0 Colorado run. But Gibbs closed the win with six free throws in the final minute.
That’s the UConn team that basketball fans know in March. It’s the UConn that has won four national titles since 1999. It’s the UConn we saw last week at the American Athletic Conference tournament in Orlando, Florida, where coach Kevin Ollie's team reeled off three wins in three days, sparked by a four-overtime thriller against Cincinnati.
Upon arriving in Des Moines, Iowa, the Huskies said they would continue to build on the confidence derived from a late-season winning streak that has now reached five games.
In March, you don’t doubt Connecticut. Not even if it’s playing top-seeded Kansas.