Key matchup: UConn forward Adama Sanogo embracing chance to prove himself against Gonzaga’s Drew Timme
March 24, 2023 Updated Fri., March 24, 2023 at 9:47 p.m.
LAS VEGAS – Adama Sanogo’s UConn teammates believe there was a correlation between comments made by Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett prior to a second-round NCAA Tournament game and the 24-point, eight-rebound outing the junior forward delivered a day later in a 70-55 win over the Gaels.
Bennett, the longtime Gaels coach who’s grown intimately familiar with Gonzaga through dozens of meetings in the West Coast Conference, was asked if the team’s three matchups with Drew Timme would help Saint Mary’s prepare for a player of Sanogo’s caliber.
“I think Timme is the best center in the country and has been for two or three years now,” Bennett said. “We get a good test every year when we play those guys, and we have played them three times the last two years.”
The message apparently got back to Sanogo, who made 11 of 16 shots to lead UConn past defensive-minded Saint Mary’s, one game after the 6-foot-9 forward scored 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting from the field in a runaway win against Iona.
In three tournament games, UConn’s All-Big East first-team forward has scored 70 points on an efficient 33-of-44 shooting clip from the floor. He’s added 29 rebounds.
“I think Adama thinks he’s the best big man in the nation,” UConn guard Tristen Newton said. “Whenever he has a big-time matchup, like when we played Creighton, he goes out there and kills (Ryan) Kalkbrenner. Saint Mary’s, their coach said Timme was the best player, so (Sanogo) went out and had whatever he had against them. He’s going to embrace it and I feel like he’s going out there to kill tomorrow.”
Sanogo’s scoring average in the tournament (23.3 points per game) has been impressive, but it still pales in comparison to what Timme’s done for Gonzaga. The senior forward is averaging 28.3 points and needs 11 on Saturday to reach 300 career points scored in the NCAA Tournament.
“Watching his game, I know he’s one of the best players in country,” Sanogo said of Timme. “We know he’s well-coached and he’s a good player. I think I’m going to do my job for us.”
Timme is equally conscious of the challenge Sanogo will provide to Gonzaga’s frontcourt.
The Bulldogs’ most valuable offensive player may spend time guarding UConn’s top scorer on Saturday, but in an effort to keep Timme out of foul trouble, Gonzaga may also rely on the defensive instincts and athleticism of fellow senior forward Anton Watson.
“He’s an All-American-caliber player,” Timme said of Sanogo. “He uses his body well. He’s strong, he’s aggressive, he gets a lot of his misses back, which I think is the underrated part of his game. He presents a lot of challenges and he’s a smart player.”
Gonzaga’s played a laundry list of the nation’s top big men this year, facing national player of the year candidate Zach Edey (Purdue), reigning player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky) and Big East honorable mention forward Jack Nunge (Xavier) to name a few.
Timme compared Sanogo to Kentucky’s Tshiebwe and BYU forward Fousseyni Traore, who the Zags faced twice in WCC play.
“Just big, powerful, skilled guy that just seems to have magnets for hands on the boards,” Timme said. “He’s always ducking and causing problems and he presents a unique challenge. .”
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