March Madness: UConn uses huge second half to cruise to 87-63 victory over Rick Pitino, Iona

Iona gave UConn its best shot, but UConn’s best shot was better.

Iona, the 13-seed in the West region led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, had an upset on its mind when it took a 39-37 lead into the halftime locker room in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday in Albany.

But the second half was a completely 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 victory. In all, UConn outscored Iona in the second half by a 50-24 margin.

It was 20 minutes of basketball by a team that looks like it can make a run deep into the tournament.

That tremendous second-half effort from UConn came after Iona’s guards largely controlled play in the first half. As the game progressed, UConn’s talent and depth took over.

Iona just had no way of stopping Adama Sanogo, UConn’s bruising big man. Sanogo posted a double-double, leading all scorers with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting to go with 13 rebounds. Of the 28 points he scored, 22 of them came in the second half. And when Sanogo was off the court, Donovan Clingan was also able to produce at a high clip. Clingan, the 7-foot-2 freshman, put up 10 points and nine rebounds in just 18 minutes off the bench.

The Huskies’ guards didn’t have their most proficient shooting performance, but Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. combined for 23 points while making five total 3-pointers. Nahiem Alleyne and Joey Calcaterra also hit big shots off the bench, combining for 14 points on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

With the win, the Huskies will move on and face No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s on Sunday in the Round of 32.

UConn big man Adama Sanogo (21) scored 28 points and had 13 rebounds in the win over Iona in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 17, 2023 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
UConn big man Adama Sanogo (21) scored 28 points and had 13 rebounds in the win over Iona in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 17, 2023 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

What’s next for Iona coach Rick Pitino?

Pitino is 70 years old and has spent three seasons at Iona after his tumultuous firing at Louisville and a stint coaching overseas. With Friday’s loss, Pitino has a 64-22 record with two NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons at Iona. But now, it looks like he will be moving on to yet another job.

Pitino’s name has continually surfaced in connection to the opening at St. John’s. Pitino is a native New Yorker and would be able to move from New Rochelle (where Iona is located) down to Queens if he lands at 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 outside the league.

After Friday's game, Pitino said he's unsure if he has coached his final game at Iona.

"I really don't have an answer to be honest. I have no idea. I've focused everything on this game trying to develop a plan to beat Connecticut," Pitino said. "I really have no idea what the future may bring."

Pitino had long stops at 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 at Providence in 1986 and 1987.

During his postgame media availability, Pitino mentioned St. John's by name and noted that he had not been to the school's campus since 1987 when he was coaching Providence.

"I really haven't put any thought into it at all. I think when 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 that. I know you're all alluding to St. John's, but I've never seen St. John's. I don't remember too much about it to tell you the truth. You don't buy houses without looking at the garage, the upstairs and kitchen. You don't just buy a house, right?" Pitino said.