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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    UConn-Kansas game will feature battle between Clingan and Dickinson

    UConn center Donovan Clingan dunks in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against New Hampshire, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) in action against Chaminade during an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

    Storrs – Donovan Clingan enjoys playing in the spotlight.

    He embraces the challenge that comes with marquee matchups like Friday’s non-conference game against No. 5 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.

    He’s about to take on his biggest test of his young college career.

    The battle within the battle will pit Clingan, a 7-foot-2, 280-pound sophomore, versus 7-2, 260 senior Hunter Dickinson, one of the premier big men in the country. They’ll be at the center of attention in the nationally-televised game.

    “It’s definitely a game I circled on my calendar,” Clingan said. “It’s a big time matchup. He’s a great big, one of the best in the country. I’ve got to give him that respect and I’ve got to go out there and do what I do and dominate. I’ve got to rebound the ball, block shots, play my best defense possible and attack him on the offensive end.

    “Friday is going to be a team game, it’s not a 1 on 1 performance. In order to beat such a good team like Kansas, we’ve got to play as a team. We’ve got to play at our best level.”

    Clingan and Dickinson are on the 2024 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award watch list that honors the nation’s top center. He’ll face four more players on that list in future games this season – North Carolina’s Armando Bacot, Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner, Villanova’s Eric Dixon and St. John’s Joel Soriano.

    Clingan already faced Indiana’s Kel’el Ware, another Abdul-Jabbar watch list player. Not yet fully recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him for a month during preseason, he had seven points and nine rebounds while Ware finished with 11 points and eight rebounds in UConn’s 77-57 win on Nov. 19 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

    Dickinson will be a significantly bigger challenge for Clingan.

    A preseason All-American, Dickinson is having a monster season. He’s leading Kansas in scoring and rebounding at 21.7 points and 12.7 rebounds, respectively. Prior to this season, he played at Michigan where he earned All-Big Ten first two honors the last two seasons.

    Coach Dan Hurley believes Clingan will be ready for the difficult challenge.

    “He’s got some special qualities about him in terms of the mental makeup,” Hurley said. “He looks at these like big opportunities and exciting moments. He understands the challenge of playing against a front line of (KJ) Adams, Jr., and Dickinson and what this thing is going to be on Friday night atmosphere-wise.

    “He’s the type of human being that understands the challenge, gets excited about the challenge and wants to go out there and attack the moment. He’s not been one that’s turtled up in these types of situations.”

    The game comes at a good time for Clingan, who’s finally healthy. He certainly looked it in Monday’s win over New Hampshire, scoring a career-high 29 points on 12 for 13 shooting. He raised his season averages to 15 points and 6.0 rebounds.

    “I’m feeling much better now,” Clingan said. “The foot is finally at the point where there’s no pain, no soreness or anything. … I’m starting to feel like I did before I was injured. Now is a perfect time because we’ve got a hard schedule coming up.”

    After visiting Kansas, UConn will take on No. 17 North Carolina in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

    To prepare for Friday’s game, Clingan has spent time studying film on Dickinson.

    “I’ve definitely been watching the film and trying to see what he does,” Clingan said. “This is going to teach me a lot. Also, playing against one of the best bigs in the country is going to make me better. I have to go out there and prove myself.”

    Dickinson’s a threat both inside and outside. He’s converted a team-best eight 3-pointers in just 13 attempts.

    “He’s got a heck of a hard matchup,” Hurley said. “Hunter has been one of the best players in the country for the last couple of years. It’s going to take a team defensive effort and a team offensive effort for us to be successful versus Kansas. He’s just such a technician and such a polished player. He plays with tremendous confidence and a little bit of rage mixed in there.

    “This isn’t a Donovan-Hunter matchup. Donovan is going to need his teammates to be in the right spots for him. … It’s probably one of the better position matchups of the year.”

    Clingan will have some help from 6-10 back-up Samson Johnson, who is off to a career best start this season. The pair may be on the court together for some stretches, something that has rarely happened so far this season.

    Dickinson also is looking forward to the challenge.

    “It’s always great to go against another great big man,” Dickinson told reporters after Kansas beat Eastern Illinois on Tuesday. “But I’ve got a great group of guys that will really help me. As a player and as a competitor, you want to go against the best of the best and I feel like UConn is obviously a really good team. But I feel like Kansas is a really good team, too, so it should be a fun matchup and that would be a great win for us.”

    The Huskies will be without freshman guard Steph Castle (knee) for the sixth straight game on Friday. But he’s practicing and getting closer to returning to game action.

    “Things are trending up with him. He’s been able to do more. … He’s got a real shot for the Garden,” said Hurley, referring to Tuesday’s game against North Carolina.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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