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Taking a Closer Look: UConn's Defense Part 2

On Saturday night the No. 4 seed UConn Huskies played the No. 3 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs with a trip to the Final Four on the line. For the first time this Tournament UConn entered the game as the underdog, and for good reason. Gonzaga's high-powered up-tempo offense ranks #1 in the country (per KenPom) and they entered Saturday night averaging 87.0 points per game. But on Saturday night the Huskies held that Gonzaga offense to a season-low 54 points en route to a blow-out Elite Eight victory. Let's take a closer look at UConn's defense and how they were able to force Gonzaga's worst offensive performance of the year.

We start with UConn's first defensive possession of the game. Already Gonzaga is attempting to push the pace and attack UConn in transition. Andre Jackson does a nice job getting back and then switching onto the driver to prevent an easy layup. Huskies send all five guys to the defensive glass to secure the rebound. UConn's transition defense is vital in this game as Gonzaga's offense looks to create easy opportunities by getting out ahead of the defense.

Skipping a few minutes in and neither offense has looked comfortable. Here Gonzaga is running a play to get their All-American Drew Timme into isolation and allow him to attack Adama Sanogo. Sanogo does a great job beating Timme to his spot and using his chest to play defense. Timme is forced to take an extra step to create separation, which is correctly called a travel by the sideline referee.

Next possession and Gonzaga is now attempting to attack UConn in the Pick n Roll. Coach Hurley has subbed Clingan in for the first time and Gonzaga's Coach Few may be attempting to attack the freshman big-man. Newton easily gets over the screen to stop the ballhandler and Cligan recovers quickly to Timme. Clingan stays straight up on the contest and meets Timme's shot attempt at the high-point. Two possessions in a row and UConn has allowed zero room to operate for Gonzaga's star player.

A couple minutes later now and Gonzaga is flowing into some early motion-offense. Karaban gives a hard-show on the Pick n Roll opening up the Pick n Pop option for Gonzaga. Jordan Hawkins does a great job here rotating to the ball and Karaban gives the extra effort by recovering to Gonzaga #13 to run him off the 3-point line. Watch the UConn defense converge on the layup attempt and force an impossible angle for the shooter. Impressive defensive effort and engagement here.

Two minutes later and Gonzaga has isolated Drew Timme in the post. For the first time all game UConn brings the double-team forcing Timme to pass out and try to find the open man. Watch the rotations and then the shot contest from Jordan Hawkins as he goes flying into the UConn bench. Nearly a perfect defensive possession.

Last minute of the first half and Gonzaga runs a few different actions on this possession. Eventually Gonzaga runs a ballscreen that forces Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins to switch. Gonzaga recognizes that they have a mismatch in the post and attempt to take advantage, but Jackson does a great job providing help. After forcing the ball out Jackson makes a nice contest on the shot attempt to force the miss.

Lastly this is one of the first plays of the Second Half and Gonzaga is again attempting to push the ball in transition. Several of UConn's players sprint the floor to stop the ball and manage to establish position in front of Gonzaga's attack. Timme still attempts to push and Newton steps in to take the charge. Easy call for the referee.

On Saturday night UConn's defense put on their most impressive performance of the season, holding the #1 ranked offense to a measly 54 points on 33% shooting. What makes UConn's defense so potent?

Coach Dan Hurley assembled a roster of long, strong and athletic players and then instilled in them a commitment to defending. That combination of God-given physicality paired with the level of effort and engagement that the Huskies exhibited Saturday night has created one of the most dangerous defensive units in the country. The Huskies do not rely on just one player (their best defender might be their back-up center), rather it is a culture that Dan Hurley has built. Time after time against Gonzaga we saw the Huskies giving not one but two or three efforts on a possession to disrupt and alter Gonzaga's potent offense.

Today the Huskies stand just two games away from their fifth National Championship in program history. With a defense like this, UConn Nation should be feeling pretty good.


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