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CU men’s basketball: Similarities abound between Buffs, UConn

UConn players celebrate with the American Athletic Conference championship trophy after the Huskies defeated Memphis in the finals Sunday.
Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press
UConn players celebrate with the American Athletic Conference championship trophy after the Huskies defeated Memphis in the finals Sunday.

It’s a familiar adage to beware of teams that enter the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak.

Unfortunately for the Colorado Buffaloes, few teams enter the 68-team fray riding a hotter streak than the UConn Huskies.

Despite finishing the regular season in the No. 6 spot in the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies ran the table in the league tournament, notching a win for the ages in a four-overtime odyssey in the opener against Cincinnati.

Granted, the AAC tournament field did not include second-place finisher SMU, a Top 25 team for much of the season, but UConn still seemed unaffected by playing an entire extra half in the tourney opener while moving on to defeat top-seeded Temple in the semifinals and then Memphis in the title game.

The eighth-seeded Buffs and ninth-seeded UConn collide Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines (11:30 a.m. MDT, TNT).

“I know that they’ve got very good players and they’re extremely talented,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “They have been inconsistent, like we have been inconsistent at times this year. They’re a team that can shoot the ball from three. They have some very dangerous 3-point shooters. Some really good guard play and they’ve got a shot-blocker inside (Amida Brimah) that really protects that rim.”

UConn received the No. 20 spot in the preseason AP top 25 poll and started the season accordingly with four straight wins, including a victory against Michigan in the early-season Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Yet the Huskies lost three of their next four and their star slowly dimmed on the national stage, despite an impressive road win on Dec. 29 against a Texas club that soon would knock off some of the nation’s best in Big 12 Conference play.

Boyle noted the Huskies profile similarly to his team, and also compared them to Pac-12 rival Washington. Like the Buffs, UConn led its league in free-throw shooting at 78.7 percent. While the Buffs led the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage, UConn ranked second in the AAC (.362) and will pose a threat to CU with its league-leading defensive field goal percentage (.382).

“We’ve just got to be prepared defensively,” senior guard Xavier Talton said. “They’re a great team. They just won their conference tournament and they have great players.”

Senior Shonn Miller, a graduate transfer who played at Cornell the past three seasons, leads the Huskies in scoring (12.8 ppg) while guard Daniel Hamilton paces UConn in rebounding (8.9) and assists (4.8). The Huskies boast a balanced scoring punch, with four players averaging between 12.0 and 12.8 points per game.

“You’ve got to feel good about yourself but it doesn’t guarantee anything, being hot,” Boyle said. “What you did the last game gives you no guarantees going into the next game.”

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