Connecticut prefers to use small, guard-heavy lineups, but that doesn’t mean the Huskies are soft inside.
Though starting forwards Shonn Miller and Nolan Phillip combined for six points and six rebounds during an opening round victory over Colorado, they got major contributions inside from guard Daniel Hamilton.
The 6-foot-7 guard had 17 points and 10 rebounds to go along with a block. Connecticut has several tall guards, which means the Jayhawks’ frontcourt will need to look at anyone on the court as a potential rebounding threat.
“They have good size and we need to play good team basketball against them,” Kansas forward Hunter Mickelson said. “They have a much different lineup than what we saw against Austin Peay.”
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Kansas forwards Landen Lucas and Perry Ellis might also be asked to play defense on the perimeter. They are preparing for anything.
“They have some shot blockers on defense and on offense they are really good about penetrating and getting intot he lane,” Lucas said. “They put pressure on you.”
Test in transition – UConn coach Kevin Ollie describes Kansas as a team with few weaknesses “that can do it all,” so he admits coming up with a strategy against them is difficult.
But he knows what he will stress most on defense: limiting the Jayhawks in transition.
“We’re going to have to put them in a situation where we can get them uncomfortable,” Ollie said. “We don’t want them just passing the ball around. We want to eliminate all the easy buckets and play our game.”
Guard play – With Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams and Hamilton, Connecticut boasts perimeter depth to match Kansas. Each of those players averages at least 7.6 points and all but Gibbs, a reserve freshman, averages at least 12.
KU’s guard contingent features starters Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Wayne Selden, along with sharp-shooting wildcards Svi Mykhailiuk and Brannen Greene. Mykhailiuk scored a career-high 23 points in KU’s first-round win over Austin Peay, making 9 of 11 shots and 5 of 6 three-pointers.
The scoring potential for each group is significant, so all guards are looking for a well-rounded performance.
“If we’re able to lock them down defensively, offense will kind of take care of itself,” Gibbs said. “As long as we’re able to play defense, we’ll get some easy baskets.”
Gibbs, Purvis and Hamilton have combined for 72 double-figure scoring games, so KU’s tasks will be similar.
“It’ll be a challenge to keep them in front of us,” Mason said. “Just play to the scouting report and do exactly what Coach (Bill Self) wants us to do. We need to give ourselves a chance to be successful.”
At the line – UConn ranks first nationally with a 79.3 free throw percentage. In the first round against Austin Peay, KU committed 27 fouls and Austin Peay took 37 free throws. The Jayhawks aren’t looking to repeat those totals.
“We still have to be aggressive, we just have to be a lot smarter,” KU forward Perry Ellis said. “We have to see how the refs are calling the game and be able to adjust to that. We still want to play aggressive.”
Undefeated – Ollie has the best NCAA Tournament record of any coach. He guided the Huskies to a national championship in his debut season two years ago. Then he beat Colorado on Thursday, lifting his NCAA Tournament to 7-0.
“With a record like that, they will expect to win,” Kansas forward Hunter Mickelson said. “We need to be prepared to face a confident team.”
Ollie downplayed the record on Friday, giving credit to his players.
“I trust my student-athletes to make the decisions,” Ollie said. “Only reason I’m 7-0 is because of them.”
Kellis Robinett, Jeffrey Lutz, Jesse Newell