UConn men's basketball avoids upset, tops Georgetown behind big shots by Alex Karaban

Photo of David Borges

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Staring down the barrel of one of the program's worst upset losses in years, the UConn men's basketball team dodged a major Washington bullet on Saturday afternoon.

Freshman Alex Karaban stepped up huge in the second half, and especially the final few minutes, and UConn held off Georgetown 68-62 at Capital One Arena.

Georgetown took a 61-60 lead on a Qudus Wahab conventional 3-point play with 4:42 remaining. The Hoyas, who only recently snapped a 29-game Big East losing streak, had their first lead since it was 7-5 barely three minutes into the game.

But Karaban canned a deep 3-pointer, and Adama Sanogo followed a minute later with a dunk off an offensive rebound.

Brandon Murray made one of two free throws, and UConn's Nahiem Alleyne was blocked on a driving attempt. Andre Jackson Jr. grabbed the rebound and darted out a pass to Karaban, waiting in the exact same spot he had drained his prior trey. Karaban buried this one, as well, with 27 seconds left, all but sealing the victory.

"Andre got the massive rebound, which really started it all," Karaban reported. "I've been trying to develop a mindset where, if I'm open, shoot it. So, I saw it was open, I saw the shot clock winding down, just to let it fly and have trust in my shot. Just be more aggressive, which I thought I did in the second half, unlike the first half."

Karaban scored all 11 of his points in the second half.

"We're lucky to have him in a UConn uniform," coach Dan Hurley said. "The kid is so surprising. There's not been a freshman in the country that's been as consistent, solid. He's made our team so much better this year with his understanding of the game."

No. 24 UConn (18-6, 7-6 Big East) could never quite put away the Hoyas (6-18 1-12). The Huskies led by eight midway through the first half, but missed 10 of their final 11 shots and were tied at 31 at halftime.

UConn would get its lead up to seven a couple of times in the latter half, then up to eight with 7:42 left to play on an Alleyne corner 3-pointer. But once again, Georgetown rallied back.

When Wahab scored on a short bank shot, got fouled and hit the free throw with 4:09 left, the Hoyas had the one-point lead.

Were there "here we go again" thoughts inside the UConn huddle?

"You don't really think about anything, you're just trying to think about the next possession, the five you've got on the court," Hurley said. "There's no time to say to yourself while it's happening, 'This would be a really bad loss.' You think about that when you walk out of the tunnel and walk into the locker room. This would have been a tough one in terms of the metrics and everything that's at stake for us. But, there was a lot of pressure on us after that under-4 timeout. Because the group new we could ill-afford to come and lose here."

Georgetown could have extended its lead with 4:09 left, but Wahab missed the front end of a one-and-one. Alleyne had a shot blocked, and Wahab missed a point-blank shot inside.

With 3:01 left, Karaban canned his long 3-pointer to put the Huskies up for good and send a jolt through the largely pro-Husky crowd of 10,621.

"It's awesome," the freshman forward said. "I've worked for this. I believe it's all the work I've put in early that just led up to that moment."

Karaban's dagger 3 with 27 seconds left was from nearly the same spot, on the left wing. Another attempt from that spot about 30 seconds earlier rattled in and out.

"I love the left side more than the right, for sure," Karaban said.

Point guard Tristen Newton finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals for the Huskies, and Sanogo also scored 15. Jordan Hawkins added 10 on just 4-for-13 shooting near his home town of Gaithersburg, Maryland.

"It happens to a lot of guys when they go home," Hurley reasoned. "Maybe they get too amped up."

Meanwhile, Jackson, mired in a lengthy slump, finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. No assist was better than that dart pass to Karaban for the final 3.

"I was supposed to slip out, get to the other side of the rim, try to look for an opportunity to score," Jackson explained. "When the ball hit off the rim, it came in my direction. I went up to get it, I saw AK out of the corner of my eye. I just whipped it over to him and he was wide open. He knocked it down. It was a good shot for him."

Jackson also helped hold Georgetown leading scorer Primo Spears, the Windsor product, scoreless on exactly one shot attempt. Spears entered the game averaging 16.8 points per game.

"Listening to the scouting report, what he's trying to get to, what kind of shots he wants," Jackson said, when asked what made him so effective on Spears. "And trying to pressure him in the fullcourt. At the beginning of the game, I was a little shot with the pressure in the fullcourt. But as I picked it up, I felt like I started to wear him out a little bit. It ended up paying off at the end of the game, he looked a little drained."

Jackson knocked down a 3-pointer, his first in four games, despite the Georgetown bench yelling "Let him shoot!" every time he touched the ball on the perimeter.

"I can't allow it to be a battle between me and them saying I can't shoot, or whatever," Jackson said. "I have to make it about winning the game. That's what it's about. It's not about my own battle with them to prove to them that I can shoot. If they think I can't shoot, and I don't shoot, and we win, I'm happy and I did my job."

Jackson also had a tremendous alley-oop dunk on a pass from Newton, where the 6-foot-6 junior seemed to take off about 15 feet up the baseline.

"Tristen gave me a good pass," Jackson reported. "We've been doing that a lot in practice lately. More to come."

The Huskies certainly hope so.

Rim rattlings

• Sanogo's 3-pointer midway through the first half marked the 1,000th point of his career.

• Newton took a charge in the final minute of the first half, his team-leading 11th of the season.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com @DaveBorges