(Photo credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
No. 5 UConn will hope to parlay its experience in the spotlight to produce a victory over talented No. 19 Texas on Monday in the championship final of the Empire Classic in New York.
The Huskies (4-0), the defending national champions, rolled to the championship game with a 77-57 win over previously unbeaten Indiana in the tournament's early semifinal on Sunday afternoon. Tristen Newton racked up 23 points and 11 rebounds while adding six assists and two steals to lead UConn.
"Not much not to like," UConn coach Dan Hurley said of Newton's production. "He was the best player in the national championship game in front of 75,000 people with all of the money on the table. So coming into MSG, in an atmosphere like this, for him is exciting. He's an accomplished player."
Newton drew 10 fouls in the win and shot 8-for-10 from the charity stripe.
"This was our first big game, so I feel like they (coaches) rely on me to be aggressive and make the right plays on the court," Newton said. "They had the trust in me and they instilled that confidence in me to go out there and perform."
UConn forged a 44-22 edge on the glass, including 15-4 at the offensive end.
"That's part of our formula, our identity: Elite defense, elite offense and win the backboard," Hurley said. "If you do those things, you're gonna win a lot."
UConn led by 14 points during the first half but by just seven at the break. The Huskies rebuilt their advantage to 44-30 early in the second half and led by at least seven points the rest of the way.
The Huskies also got 18 points from Cam Spencer on a 5-of-8 showing from the floor while Alex Karaban hit for 13 points in the win. UConn's starters accounted for 70 of it 77 points.
Texas (4-0) earned its spot in the championship game when Max Abmas canned a contested, fall-away jumper in the lane with 0.4 seconds remaining to lift the Longhorns to a wild 81-80 win over Louisville in the late semifinal.
The last four minutes featured 10 lead changes, the final coming when the Longhorns -- trailing by one -- forced Louisville into a shot-clock violation with 7.9 seconds left. Texas got the ball into the hands of Abmas, who drove into the lane and lifted a sideways, spinning shot that went in for the win.
"I was thinking, 'Go win,'" Abmas said afterward. "We had seven seconds up there and I had enough time to take a couple of dribbles and get to my spot. And I knocked it down. As a kid you just dream about playing in a big venue like this and for us to go out there to get the win is great."
Kadin Shedrick led the Longhorns with a career-high 27 points while Abmas added 14 and Ithiel Horton had 10. Texas was just 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the win but outscored the Cardinals 48-30 in the paint and committed only five turnovers.
"We fought the whole ballgame," Abmas said about the Longhorns' victory. "We're resilient -- the game of basketball is about runs and ups and downs and through all that we stayed levelheaded."
UConn has won three of the past four games all-time against the Longhorns, including a 71-66 victory in Austin in December 2015 in the most recent meeting between the teams.
--Field Level Media