ALBANY, NY – Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino issued a warning about UConn to the rest of the teams in the NCAA Tournament, but most urgently to Saint Mary’s.
“They physically dominated us in fifth spot,” said Pitino after his Iona team fell in an 87-63 thrashing against UConn in the first found on Friday night before adding, “They have all the stats to win a national championship. to win. “
Then the two-time championship-winning coach rattled off those stats.
The assists. The dominance on the glass. The high shooting percentage even from three. The backups that can be starters.
Forget a Cinderella story, Saint Mary’s must be today David vs. Having a Goliath moment in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
As the fifth-placed Gaels are poised to take on fourth-placed UConn, they face a blueblood program poised to regain its national exposure; play in a hall a few hours from campus.
“Of course you can’t really stop that. They have a huge fan base and it will be noisy there,” Saint Mary’s security guard Alex Ducas said. “We are a very composed team and we rely on the five guys on the field and the guys who support us on the bench. We just need to keep a tight group and keep sending the message to each other that it’s okay.
“We are playing a road race. We’re used to it. We are used to not having many fans on the road. So it’s not new to us. We will fight wherever it is.”
They do so at 6:40 PM at the MVP Arena, with a trip to Las Vegas in the West Region and the Sweet 16’s first appearance since 2009-2010 on the line.
And those five places Pitino talked about? The goliath Adama Sanogo. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound All-Big East big man for UConn dominated in the first round against Iona, scoring a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Along with 7-foot-2, 265-pound freshman Donavan Clingan anchoring the Huskies, the Gaels frontcourt led by 6-10 All-West Coast Conference center Mitchell Saxen will have its hands full.
“I fully support my great man Mitchell Saxen. I know he will go for it every time,” said Ducas. “Obviously they have good two big men in their players, but I think it will be fine. We play hard. We play strong. We don’t give up. We like to fight and we play physical. So I think it will be an exciting game.”
Another key matchup is the contrasting playstyles of a team that likes to get out and run in UConn, and a Saint Mary’s team that likes to slow the game down. Bleeding the shot clock in possessions and draining the clock – along with a stifling defense – helped the Gaels hold VCU to a season-low 51 points going into the first round on Friday night.
“We definitely want to get them out of their rhythm. When we play our style, it’s very hard to beat us,” said UConn’s Alex Karaban. “We’re just going to play our style of basketball. We’re going to play defensively and try to get out and run, which we’ve been quite successful at. If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
And the Gaels are fine where they are. Overlooked and chosen to lose.
“Being your underdog and proving everyone else wrong is exciting. It’s what you want,” Chief Warden Logan Johnson said. “We talk about it all the time. All these people doubt us. We have a bunch of doubters and we like to prove people wrong.”