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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Alex Karaban happy to be heading to Boston with his UConn teammates

    UConn's Alex Karaban drives past Marquette's Oso Ighodaro during the second half of a game on March 6 in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

    With the UConn basketball program’s 19th Sweet Sixteen berth locked up, Alex Karaban sat in front of his locker at the Barclays Center fielding questions Sunday night.

    The subject of playing in his home state of Massachusetts later this week came up.

    Karaban is thrilled that UConn’s next NCAA tournament East Region stop is TD Garden in Boston on Thursday.

    A redshirt sophomore forward, Karaban is from Southborough, Mass., which is about 28 miles from Boston, and attended Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough for two years before going to New Hampton (N.H.) School.

    “It means a lot to me,” Karaban said after a 75-58 second round win over Northwestern. “I played in TD Garden a lot growing up. During high school and middle school, every time there was a TD Garden event, I was pretty much there playing. So it means a lot to play there.

    “I wouldn’t want to be there with any other guys. Just to have two opportunities to play in TD Garden will be special.”

    Karaban and his rest of the Huskies hope to stay in Boston through Saturday after starting out their March Madness journey with a successful trip to Brooklyn.

    Top-seeded UConn (33-3) needs two wins to advance to the Final Four in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

    No. 5 seed San Diego State (26-10), which lost to UConn in last season’s national championship game by a 76-59 score, is the next team that stands in the way. Game time is 7:39 p.m. on Thursday.

    The Aztecs beat No. 13 Yale, 85-57, on Sunday night and No. 12 Alabama-Birmingham, 69-65, Friday in Spokane, Wash., to reach this stage.

    UConn has a big advantage travelwise, being only a 90-minute bus ride away from Boston. San Diego State has to fly across the country and play before what’s expected to be a pro-UConn crowd.

    “We’re heading on the road to play a road game against UConn in Boston and I’ve got a group that I think will be up for the task,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher told reporters Sunday night.

    Karaban will need plenty of tickets for family and friends for Thursday’s game. He will be playing on the court that is home to his favorite NBA team, the Boston Celtics.

    He’s attended his share of Celtics games and also had good luck at TD Garden as a player.

    “I was definitely there a lot for the playoff games,” Karaban said. “I was there last year when the Celtics were playing in a playoff game. When I was at Algonquin, I played a high school game there and we won. AAU-wise, we won games there, too.

    “I haven’t lost a game at TD Garden yet, knock on wood. It’s definitely a special place.”

    Where any NCAA tournament game is played doesn’t seem to matter to the Huskies in the last two seasons. The Huskies have won eight straight March Madness games by double figures, one shy of tying the record held by Michigan State (2000, 2001).

    Karaban’s teammates are happy that he’ll have a chance to play in his home state.

    “He’ll probably have about 50 people there,” Tristen Newton said. “AK, every time his family is there to support him, he’s going to play a great game. I can’t wait to see what he does next week.”

    UConn and San Diego State will play the first game of the East Region Sweet Sixteen doubleheader. No. 3 Illinois and No. 2 Iowa State meet in the late game.

    The two winners will play Saturday in the Elite Eight for the right to go to the Final Four.

    The Huskies planned to make good use of their short stay on campus between NCAA sites. They’ll leave for Boston late Tuesday afternoon.

    “This time of year you’re not practicing a lot,” coach Dan Hurley said. “We’ll keep the boys fresh. We’ll put in great prep. I think we’re going to have some really, really insane UConn crowds. I think it will be much louder there than it was here for us.

    “I get the feeling that a lot of our fans just assumed that we’d get out of here and will be waiting for us in Boston.”

    News and notes

    Hurley is a finalist for the Naismith men’s coach of the year. … UConn will be appearing in the Sweet Sixteen in consecutive seasons for the first time since going three straight times from 2002 to 2004. … Through two NCAA tournament games, Donovan Clingan leads the Huskies in rebounding (11.0) and blocks (4.0) and is tied with Newton in points per game at 16.5. He’s 14 for 18 from the field. … UConn’s defense has limited two March Madness opponents to a combined 34.2% from the field. Huskies have an impressive 42 assists and 16 turnovers. … Sunday leftovers: Clingan (14 points, 14 rebounds, career-high eight blocks) is the first player in the NCAA tournament to reach those numbers since Navy’s David Robinson in 1986. UConn went a crazy good 26 for 32 from two-point range, just 3 for 22 from three.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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