Iona gave UConn his best shot, but UConn’s best shot was better.
Iona, the 13-seed in the Western region led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, was upset as it took a 39-37 lead in the halftime locker room in the first round of Friday’s NCAA tournament in Albany .
But the second half was a whole different story.
UConn, the No. 4 seed, stormed out of the gates with a 17-4 run in the first five minutes of the second half, turning that halftime deficit into a double-digit advantage. That spurt allowed UConn to pull away in a convincing 87-63 win. Overall, UConn defeated Iona in the second half by a 50–24 margin.
It was 20 minutes of basketball by a team that looks like it can run deep into the tournament.
That stellar effort from UConn in the second half came after Iona’s guards mostly controlled the game in the first half. As the game progressed, UConn’s talent and depth took over.
Iona just had no way of holding back Adama Sanogo, UConn’s bruising big man. Sanogo posted a double-double and led all scorers with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting to go with 13 rebounds. Of the 28 points he scored, 22 came in the second half. And when Sanogo was off the field, Donovan Clingan was also able to produce at a high clip. Clingan, the 7-foot-2 freshman, racked up 10 points and nine rebounds in just 18 minutes off the bench.
The Huskies’ guards didn’t have their most proficient shooting, but Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. combined for 23 points while making five 3-pointers. Nahiem Alleyne and Joey Calcaterra also hit big shots off the bench, adding up to 14 points on 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
With the win, the Huskies move forward and face No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s on Sunday in the Round of 32.
What’s next for Iona coach Rick Pitino?
Pitino is 70 years old and has spent three seasons with Iona following his tumultuous resignation from Louisville and a stint as a coach abroad. With Friday’s loss, Pitino has a 64-22 record with two NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons with Iona. But now it looks like he will move on to yet another job.
Pitino’s name has popped up all the time in connection with the St. John’s opening. A native New Yorker, Pitino could move from New Rochelle (where Iona is based) to Queens if he lands in St. John’s. St. John’s fired Mike Anderson last week after four seasons, a move that opened the door for Pitino to return to the Big East after decades out of the league.
After Friday’s game, Pitino said he is not sure if he coached his last game with Iona.
“I really don’t have an answer to be honest. I have no idea. I put everything on this game to develop a plan to beat Connecticut,” said Pitino. “I really have no idea what the future will bring.”
Pitino had long stops in Kentucky and Louisville and also coached the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, but has not been a head coach in the Big East since he was with Providence in 1986 and 1987.
During his post-game media availability, Pitino mentioned St. John’s by name, noting that he had not been on the school’s campus since 1987, when he coached Providence.
“I really haven’t thought about it at all. I think if you start thinking ahead you always fail, and we put a lot of effort into this game. I don’t know if it’s right for me, another job.” “I don’t know. I know you all allude to St. John’s, but I’ve never seen St. John’s. I don’t remember much of it to tell you the truth. You don’t buy houses without going to the garage , to look at the top floor and kitchen. You don’t just buy a house, do you?” Pitino said.