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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    No. 5 UConn men look to extend unbeaten streak vs. New Hampshire

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley smiles at an official in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi Valley State, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    UConn's Donovan Clingan in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    No matter the competition, the UConn men’s basketball team has gone right to work, punching in and punching out its opponents.

    The fifth-ranked Huskies have avoided letdowns while winning their first six games in impressive fashion, ranking third in the country in scoring margin at 29.5 points. They’ve never trailed after the first eight minutes and won every game by double digits.

    Up next is a non-conference game with New Hampshire (4-2), another team that UConn is supposed to beat handily. Game time is 7 p.m. Monday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

    Coach Dan Hurley will deliver a familiar message to his team prior to the game.

    “Coach always just reminds us before the game that we’re going out there and playing like it's the championship,” sophomore Donovan Clingan said. “We can’t take any team or any game lightly. We’re trying to prepare for the Big East. We’re trying to prepare for a big game next Friday. … So every time we step on the court, we’ve got to give it everything we’ve got. It’s something that we always tell each other, we’ve got to play the full 40.”

    There will be an extra bit of motivation for the Huskies on Monday.

    With a convincing win, they can set the record for most consecutive non-conference wins by double figures. They’re tied with North Carolina, which set the mark from 2008 to 2010, at 23 straight.

    When asked about avoiding letdowns, Hurley responded: “It tells the story of what our program is all about and the type of people that we pursue in recruiting. … There still are old school families out there and kids that are old souls that are about winning and allow us to coach them and are always ready to play.

    “There’s so many things involved in how dominant we’ve been in the non-conference. Having Luke Murray and Kimani Young, two of the best coaches in the country that do an incredible job with the preparation. Having NBA level players that are all about winning and don’t care if it's them on any night, it’s just about UConn basketball.”

    Monday’s game will serve as the final tuneup before a brutally tough stretch that includes a road trip to No. 1 Kansas on Friday and neutral site games against No. 14 North Carolina on Dec. 5 in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and No. 11 Gonzaga on Dec. 15 in Seattle.

    Despite their domination, the Huskies have yet to really find their groove. To do that, they’ll need to get healthy first.

    They’ll play without freshman guard Stephon Castle (knee), who averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in a starting role before the injury, for the fourth straight game. Castle is hoping to return by the Kansas game.

    “That’s what he’s been telling people…,” Hurley said. “We are not rushing him back. We’re playing the long game here. We know what we have here potentially with the group. A game in December is not going to make or break our season. This is about being at our absolute best in February and March.

    “But great athletes tend to recover from something like Steph is dealing with pretty quick.”

    The Huskies also will be better when Clingan, a 7-foot-2 center, hits his stride.

    While Clingan has played every game this season, he’s still shaking off the rust from being sidelined for a month during preseason with a foot injury. He pushed himself to be on the court for the season opener on Nov. 6.

    Clingan is still not where he wants to be conditioning-wise but is getting close. Yet he’s still averaging 12.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and two blocks.

    He’s happy to be on the court with his teammates.

    “It’s hard for me to sit on the sidelines and watch,” Clingan said. I’ve just got so much energy and I just want to play as much as I can. I was in rehab every single day for hours, trying to do everything I can and just trying to get back as fast as possible. Now I’m starting to feel like I’m getting my wind back. … I’m getting up and down the court like I used to. It’s definitely a great feeling.”

    Expect UConn to get Clingan involved in the offense during Monday’s game.

    The Huskies will become even a more lethal offensive team if Clingan can be a reliable low post threat and regularly draw double teams.

    Tough tests are around the corner for the Huskies as well as better days due to the continued development of the freshmen and growth of returning players.

    “I think we’re a really good team right now,” Hurley said. “But I think we have great upside. I think we’re going to get a lot better.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

    No. 5 UCONN vs. NEW HAMPSHIRE

    Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

    Tip time: 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

    Records: UConn 6-0, New Hampshire 4-2

    Last game: UConn beat Manhattan, 90-60, Friday; New Hampshire won at Fairfield, 83-80, Friday

    Series: UConn leads, 94-25, winning 11 straight including the last meeting 88-62 in December 2019 in Hartford.

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.3 pts, 7.8 rebs, 6.8 assists), 6-6 graduate guard Cam Spencer (16.2 pts, 3.8 assists, 3.2 rebs), 6-3 fr. guard Solo Ball (6.5 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (16 pts, 5.8 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.7 pts, 5.8 rebs, 2 blks)

    New Hampshire, 6-1 so. guard Christian Moore (7 pts), 6-4 grad guard Naim Miller (10 pts, 2.8 rebs), 6-6 sr. forward Clarence Daniels (20.8 pts, 9 rebs), 6-6 jr. forward Trey Woodyard (6 pts 4.5 rebs), 6-8 grad forward Jaxson Baker (11.2 pts, 7 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Huskies riding 12-game winning streak dating back to last season. … UNH won four of its last five, with wins over Fairfield, Marist, Brown and Curry. … Wildcats rank first in the America East in scoring at 82.2 points per game, second in made 3-pt FGs (10.0), second in rebounds (40.3), second in steals (8.6) per game. … Daniels is first in the conference in scoring and second in rebounding. … Top reserve: 5-10 jr. guard Ahmad Robinson (15.2 pts, 3.2 rebs, 4.1 assists). … UNH r-fr. Promise Opurum attended Woodstock Academy. … Hot: Karaban is shooting 61 percent from the field. Cold: Ball shooting 35.7 percent, 21.7 percent (5 for 23) from three. … Huskies allowed just 60 points per game, 17th in the nation. Their fourth in rebounding margin at 15.3. … Eighteen of Samson Johnson’s 20 baskets are via the dunk. … Injury update: Stephon Castle (knee) out. … Up next: UConn visits Kansas Friday.

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