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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Ball is having a ball playing for the UConn men’s basketball team

    UConn freshman guard Solomon Ball has started seven games for the fifth-ranked Huskies, including this one Nov. 27 against New Hampshire in Storrs. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn guard Solomon Ball looks to shoot in the first half of a game against New Hampshire on Nov. 27. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn guard Solomon Ball and his teammates celebrate during the second half of the team's game against North Carolina in New York on Tuesday. UConn won 87-76. (Peter K. Afriyie/AP Photo)

    Storrs — Nine games into his UConn basketball career, freshman Solo Ball couldn't be happier to be a Husky.

    “It’s been a wonderful experience,” Ball said after Friday’s practice. “I would never choose any other school. If I looked over any of my options, I wouldn’t choose any other school. I would pick the same school 100 times over.”

    Coach Dan Hurley certainly is happy that Ball, a 6-foot-3 guard, is on his team.

    Ball has played a bigger role than expected at the start of the season due to starter Stephon Castle missing six games with a knee injury.

    In Castle’s absence, Ball moved into the starting lineup and consistently delivered steady performances. He’s averaging 6.4 points and 2.6 rebounds. He’s committed just four turnovers, the lowest total on the team for players in the rotation.

    “He’s grown a lot,” redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said. “For him, getting those minutes definitely increased his confidence. You see game-by-game how much he’s improved. What he did against North Carolina was special. … It’s scary because he’s only going to get better.”

    Ball had a breakout game in Tuesday’s 87-76 win over No. 9 North Carolina in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. After struggling shooting from the perimeter through the first eight games, he found his range, making five of eight field goals, including three of six from 3-point land. He raised his season field goal percentage to .361.

    He contributed a career-high 13 points.

    “We expected what we got from some of the other guys, but for a freshman to play with poise and to make very few mistakes and also to make big shots, that was just awesome,” Hurley said. “The more people that can come through for you like that, that’s what makes your team potentially a great team is when you have the depth of guys that can step up.

    “That was a big, big moment for the program and for Solo.”

    No. 5 UConn (8-1) will be a deeper team with Castle back in the rotation. The Huskies will be in action Saturday, hosting Arkansas Pine Bluff (4-6) at noon at Gampel Pavilion.

    While on the sidelines, Castle has been in Ball’s corner, offering encouraging words and support.

    “That’s my brother,” Ball said. “I live with him. He’s been a great help and so have the rest of the guys acclimating me.”

    As expected, Castle looked rusty in his return to action against North Carolina. On a minutes restriction, he finished with three points, four rebounds and an assist in 11 minutes.

    During the last couple practices, Castle has made progress.

    “It’s like starting over again for him,” Hurley said. “He played great in the closed scrimmages and then he played well to start the year, so he’s got that confidence there. He’s just catching up, but he’ll catch up quickly because he’s a great guy and a great talent.”

    UConn isn’t expected to be tested against Arkansas Pine Bluff, which ranks 350th out of 351 teams in scoring defense, allowing 88.1 points per game.

    About the only thing the Golden Lions do well is fire up 3-pointers. They’re fifth in the country in made 3-pointers per game at 11.2 and 10th in attempts at 29.6.

    The Huskies, on the other hand, are one of the worst teams in the country defending the 3-point shot, ranking 317th at 36.9%.

    “We’ve been struggling guarding the 3-point line, so (Saturday) we want to prove that we can guard the 3-point line and we can guard all three levels and that we have a great defense,” sophomore Donovan Clingan said.

    The Huskies have to avoid looking past Saturday’s opponent and looking forward to their next game — a showdown at No. 7 Gonzaga on Friday in Seattle.

    “We’ve just got to look at it as if it’s any other game,” Karaban said. “We’ve got to continue to be relentless and continue to do what the coaches want us to do. We can’t let up, especially coming off a big win and then heading into a big time game next week.”

    News and notes

    Karaban, who had his middle and ring finger taped together on his right shooting hand for the North Carolina game, suffered the injury in practice. “It got dislocated. It got caught up in a jersey and it bent in a weird freaky way. It’s good right now.” ... Clingan (toe, foot) gave an update on his health. “I feel like I’m right there. Obviously, some days I’m more sore than others, but I’m right there.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

    No. 5 UCONN vs. ARKANSAS PINE BLUFF

    Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

    Tip time: Noon (FS2)

    Records: UConn 8-1, Arkansas Pine Bluff 4-6

    Last game: UConn beat North Carolina, 87-76, Tuesday; Arkansas Pine Bluff lost at No 11 Gonzaga, 111-71, Tuesday

    Series: First meeting

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (17.1 pts, 7.6 rebs, 6.1 assists), 6-6 graduate guard Cam Spencer (15.9 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-3 fr. guard Solo Ball (6.4 pts, 2.6 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (14.4 pts, 6.1 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (13.4 pts, 5.9 rebs)

    Arkansas Pine Bluff, 6-2 grad guard Rashad Williams (18.2 pts, 3.9 assists), 6-4 jr. guard Kylen Milton (20.4 pts, 4.3 rebs), 6-4 sr. guard Lonnell Martin, Jr. (10 pts, 3.4 rebs), 6-5 grad guard Joe French (16.5 pts, 4.2 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Ismael Plet (4.4 pts, 6 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Huskies last lost a non-conference home game in November 2019 to St. Joseph’s (96-87). … A member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Golden Lions have allowed 100 or more points four times this season in losses to Missouri, Incarnate Word, Oklahoma and Gonzaga. … Expect a high scoring game, as APB averages 85.6 and gives up 88.1. … Golden Lions fire up 29.6 3-pointers per game, making 11.2 and converting 37.8%. … Five Huskies average in double figures in points. … Newton leads the team in assists and rebounds per game. … Hot: Spencer shooting a team-high 89.3% from the foul line. Cold: Clingan shooting 52.1% from the foul line. … UConn is 6th in rebounding margin (13.8) and 8th in assists per game at 18.7 in the country. … Up next: UConn visits No. 7 Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 15.

    – Gavin Keefe

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