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    Saturday, March 02, 2024

    UConn men enter difficult stretch with Castle on the sidelines

    UConn freshman Stephon Castle, left, pulls down a rebound as Stonehill's Se'yphon Triplett defends in the second half of a men’s college basketball game Nov. 11 in Hartford. Castle is expected to miss time after undergoing a minor procedure on his right knee, coach Dan Hurley said Friday. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn guard Stephon Castle looks on during the second half of a game against Northern Arizona on Nov. 6 in Storrs. (Mary Schwalm/AP Photo)

    Storrs — Freshman Stephon Castle is expected to be sidelined until at least early December after the starting guard for the UConn men’s basketball team had a minor procedure on his right knee that he injured on Nov. 11 against Stonehill.

    His loss is a significant blow for the Huskies, who enter a difficult stretch of their schedule starting with playing Indiana in the Empire Classic on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

    In the next few weeks, No. 5 UConn (3-0) could face as many as three ranked teams.

    Castle, the Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year, averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the first two games before sitting out against Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday.

    Coach Dan Hurley provided an update on Castle’s injury following Friday’s practice.

    “He’s looking anywhere from early December to after that,” Hurley said. “Maybe a two-, three-, four-week thing. It was a very minor procedure. It was a best-case scenario for him. He looks better already today.

    “Great athletes tend to recover better and quicker.”

    When asked for more information about Castle’s procedure, Hurley responded: “He just had to get a little bit of a cleanup. He didn’t tear anything. It was just a very minor procedure.”

    UConn’s depth will be tested without Castle.

    Freshman Solo Ball started in place of Castle against Mississippi Valley State and finished with 10 points, three rebounds, one assist and one turnover in 28 minutes in an 87-53 victory.

    Veteran guard Hassan Diarra’s role also is likely to increase.

    “It’s a chance for some of the more talented freshmen to get more of a chance,” Hurley said. “It’s a chance for Hassan Diarra to show his value even more. Everyone moves up a spot. It’s never good to lose a player of his caliber, but we went through something like this early last (season) and it did help.

    “It hurt to go through, but it helped.”

    Last November, Samson Johnson (foot) and Jordan Hawkins (concussion) were injured in the season opener. Andre Jackson Jr. (broken finger) also missed time.

    UConn recovered just fine and went on to win the national championship.

    The ride may be a bit bumper this season given the road ahead.

    Judging from the projected date of Castle’s return, he also would miss Monday’s Empire State Classic game — the opponent would be either No. 19 Texas or Louisville — as well as home games against Manhattan (Nov. 24) and New Hampshire (Nov. 27).

    After that, UConn travels to play No. 1 Kansas on Dec. 1 and then faces No. 20 North Carolina on Dec. 5 in the Jimmy V Classic in New York.

    “It hurt,” said redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban of his team’s reaction to Castle’s injury. “Steph is such a key player to our team. He makes us so much better when he’s out there on the floor. So it definitely hurt. We’re just trying to support him right now. We know he’s going to come back better than ever.

    “But, at the same time, the next man has got to step up for us and we have guys in our locker room that can easily do that.”

    Hurley has faith that Ball will do the job in Castle’s absence.

    “He’s growing,” Hurley said. “He’s on a team that’s ranked in the top five in the country. He played well enough in the preseason and over the summer to earn the first perimeter guy off the bench role on the team. If you look across the country, there’s not a ton of freshmen that are making much of an impact at all on some of the better teams.

    “So, he’s an outlier that way. He’s handled things well. He’s more confident.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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