ALBANY, NY (AP) — UConn center Adama Sanogo punctuated one of the best games of his career by nailing a jumper off the top of the 3-point line that got Huskies fans roaring.
After a review it only counted as a 2, but the points weren’t really the point. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, Sanogo is a force in the paint, with a combination of speed and power. He wants to be something more.
“You can be a good player, but if you want to be a great player you have to be able to do a bit of everything,” Sanogo said. “So being able to shoot was something in my mind that I wanted to do.”
Having a dominant post player is no longer the advantage it used to be. Just ask Purdue, top seed. The Boilermakers and 7-4 All-American Zach Edey were eliminated Friday night by 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson, the shortest team in the tournament.
Modern basketball has marginalized big players who play close to the basket and the NBA no longer covets their skills.
But there’s still a place for them in the college game, and that will be on display when Big East fourth-seeded UConn takes on fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s on Sunday in the second round of the West Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The West Coast Conference Gaels will face Sanogo with Mitchell Saxen, a 6-foot-10, 242-pound junior who had 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first round against VCU.
“I would rather play against guys like him,” Sanogo said on Saturday. “I feel like it’s better for me to bump into people, to play against people the same size as me.”
Sanogo was overwhelming in the first round against Iona. He scored 28 points on 13 of 17 shooting, most from the side of the rim.
The junior has added some range to his game this season, taking 48 3-pointers (and making 17) after trying just one in his first two years.
Behind Sanogo, UConn was 7-2 rookie Donovan Clingan, who had 12 points and nine rebounds in 13 minutes against Iona.
Clingan said he sometimes wonders if he was born too late to maximize his basketball skills.
“At the same time, I try to develop my game behind the 3-point line, which is what the NBA is today: 3s and layups,” he said. “I’m just trying to adapt to the new style of basketball.”
Clingan could even play another 7-footer on Sunday. Saint Mary freshman Harry Wessels (7-1, 255) averages about six minutes per game, but UConn would appear to be presenting a game suited to his skill set.
“You don’t win our league by playing small,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “Gonzaga is going to play big. They always have. They have pros in there at four and five. You can’t play low ball and beat them.
The third-seeded Zags and All-American big man Drew Timme are on the other side of the West group, playing their second-round game Sunday in Denver against sixth-seeded TCU.
Timme, a 6-10 senior, has been one of the best players in the country over the past three seasons, despite only turning 17 of 74 in his career beyond the arc. At another time, he would probably already be in the NBA.
“I think you see a lot of great big guys across the country, this year in particular,” Timme said. “I just think other people don’t appreciate it as much. I wouldn’t say it’s lost, I’m just saying it’s not as appreciated as it was 15, 20 years ago.
But now, with college players allowed to make money from their names, images, and likenesses, staying in school can make sense and money.
“I think for those guys, for a guy like Adama, it’s obviously lucrative to stay in the college game with NIL ratings,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.
Bennett said the post-game on the offensive end is always very valuable. It’s in defense where it can be difficult to keep all five on the ground.
Bennett said coaches are better than ever at using screens to create defensive switches that force big players to keep little ones away from the basket.
“These guys have to be athletic enough to defend, and I think that’s why people have strayed a bit from that, it’s because offensively people have gotten so good at using balls to attack them.” , did he declare.
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Eddie Pells in Denver contributed.
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