DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Shooting extra free throws after practice is about as unglamorous as basketball gets.
The work has been worth it for UConn.
Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton, a stifling defense and 96 percent shooting from the line carried Connecticut back from an 11-point first-half deficit, as the Huskies beat Colorado 74-67 in the first round Thursday, keeping Kevin Ollie unbeaten as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 9 seed Huskies (25-10) went 22 of 23 from the foul line, including six straight by Sterling Gibbs in the final minute to secure the lead and pad their nation-leading percentage of 79.3.
“We just try to relax,” said Purvis, who scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime.
Free-throw shooting was a significant factor in UConn’s run to the 2014 national championship, too.
“You have to really calm yourself down. You’ve got to take the tension out,” Ollie said, “and we really teach about routine, you know? It’s not about making or missing the shot. It’s about falling in love with your routine, and you kind of just lose sight of the crowd.”
Hamilton had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Amida Brimah blocked five shots and the Huskies even out-rebounded the Buffaloes 36-33 on their way to the second round of the South Region. Colorado entered the tournament ranked fourth in the country in rebounding.
Josh Scott had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the No. 8 seed Buffaloes (22-12), finishing 0-3 in the NCAA Tournament in his career. He had five of Colorado’s 11 misses in 30 free-throw attempts, helping UConn stay within striking distance.
Scott was quiet in the first part of the second half as Brimah and UConn’s lanky frontcourt cranked up their rim protection while the half-court trap began to make the Buffaloes uncomfortable. Scott made four straight foul shots to bring the Buffaloes within 66-63 with a minute to go, but they couldn’t make it closer.
“They’re a good defensive team, and I knew they were going to be ready for me,” said Scott, who hugged each of his teammates in a teary locker room.
The Huskies, who won the title as a No. 7 seed two years ago before missing the tournament last season, were called for 26 of the 48 fouls. Waiting on Saturday for the Huskies will be the Austin Peay-Kansas winner. The No. 1 overall seed Jayhawks have never played UConn in the NCAA Tournament.
“No more slow starts going forward. Once we do that, we’ll be all right,” Hamilton said.
Shuffling back and forth on the sideline with his arms up and his knees bent like he was guarding the perimeter, Ollie was less stressed in the second half as his confident, experienced team took control.
“I think they were still back at the hotel, but I think the bus came and picked `em up and we started playing in the second half,” Ollie said.
The Buffaloes finished 2 for 10 from 3-point range.
“The future of Colorado basketball is in good hands in terms of the players we have in our program and the ones we have coming in,” said coach Tad Boyle, who fell to 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament. “We will be back here.”
Scott’s jump shot in the paint with 3:01 left before halftime gave the Buffaloes their biggest lead at 33-22, but the bricks they were flinging from the foul line left room for the Huskies to rally.
The Huskies took their first lead at 47-46 with a 3-pointer by Jalen Adams, the freshman point guard who banked in the beyond-half-court shot to force a fourth overtime last week in UConn’s win over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
Purvis swished a 3-pointer right in front of UConn’s bench to make it 52-48 before turning to playfully pat Ollie on the chest with the back of his hand.
“I think he was saying, `Bad shot!’ and I was like, `I got you,”‘ Purvis said.
That’s what Ollie would prefer.
“Coaching is overrated,” Ollie said, downplaying his unblemished NCAA Tournament record before adding: “I want to have a great relationship with my guys, so I can push them and demand everything I possibly can out of them. They’ve done a beautiful job.”
(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)