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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    UConn and Purdue to meet in a clash of college basketball titans

    UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) dunks against Alabama during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
    UConn forward Samson Johnson celebrates a basket during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game against Alabama at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson )

    Glendale, Ariz. — Call it college basketball’s version of the Clash of Titans.

    Monday night’s national championship game pits the two best college basketball teams in the country, two top seeds loaded with talent that have ripped through the NCAA tournament field to reach the Final Four title stage.

    It pits UConn (36-3), a powerhouse program trying to become the first team in 17 years to repeat as national champions, against Purdue (34-4), which is making its first appearance in the final since 1969 and shooting for its first crown.

    It also pits two-time national player of the year Zach Edey against UConn sophomore Donovan Clingan, two talented 7-footers, in an intriguing frontcourt matchup.

    The highly-anticipated national championship is expected to be riveting theater. Start time is 9:20 p.m. at State Farm Stadium.

    “It’s just great for college basketball,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “This thing should get a huge rating and every basketball fan should be glued into this because it’s the two best teams and great players all over the place, and two programs that do it the right way and a very similar way.

    “That will be a Clash of the Titans.”

    UConn has kept its eye on Purdue since the beginning of the season. Both teams have ranked inside the top five for most of the season, with the Huskies entering the game at No. 1 and Boilermakers No. 3.

    The Huskies and Boilermakers both ripped through the NCAA tournament field, winning by an average of 25.0 and 19.6 points per game, respectively.

    UConn hasn’t really played a team like Purdue this season and vice versa.

    “They understand what we’re up against,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They understand we haven’t played anybody like UConn. They’re not fools. We have cable where we’re from so…. we’re very familiar.”

    “The number one thing is not fearing your opponent but respecting your opponent. We have a lot of respect for UConn. They have great individual players and a great coach. … But we’ve played great teams all year.”

    A 7-foot-4, 300-pound senior, Edey strikes fear in opposing teams. He’s been nearly unstoppable, averaging 24.9 points and 12.2 rebounds this season. And he regularly draws fouls, leading the country in free throw attempts.

    Edey’s also has a strong supporting cast in guards Braden Smith (12 points), Lance Jones (11.9) and Fletcher Loyer (10.6). When the Boilermakers are sinking their 3-pointers at their season rate of 40.6%, they’re tough to beat.

    Clingan, who’s playing the best basketball of his career, is up for the challenge.

    ““I came here to UConn to compete against the best of the best and challenge myself,” Clingan said. “Everyone in the locker room came here for the same reason. In order to win and do special things, you have to beat very good teams and very good players.

    “I’m excited for the matchup. He’s a really good player. A lot of respect for him. I’ve just got to lock in and keep watching film.”

    UConn has an unwavering confidence, championship culture and national title game experience on its side. Tristen Newton and Alex Karaban started last year’s title game while Clingan, Samson Johnson and Hassan Diarra came off the bench.

    The Huskies set a goal last spring of repeating as national champions. They’ve answered nearly every challenge this season by playing a lethal brand of basketball. They’ve found motivation in a variety of sources.

    But the only thing that matters now is how UConn performs on Monday.

    “For a lot of the year, we’ve used external slights, perceived slights, all those things, the world’s against us mentality…,” Hurley said. “But once you get to this time of year, everything is, you are who your identity is. The way you play, it’s very automatic. It just comes down to hoping that it’s your night.”

    Motivation now comes down to a strong desire to make history.

    They’re one step away from accomplishing their mission and eager to take a shot at Purdue in what’s expected to be the Clash of the Titans.

    “We’re trying to go back-to-back,” Newton said. “You feel like anything else but a national championship is a letdown to not only ourselves, but all of UConn nation, the fans, the alumni, everybody. So, we’ve gotta get the job done.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

    UCONN vs. PURDUE

    Game: National championship

    Location: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

    Tip time: 9:20 p.m. (TBS, TNT)

    Records: Top-seeded UConn 36-3, No. 1 Purdue 34-4

    Series: UConn trails, 4-1, winning last meeting 72-60 on March 26, 2009 in the NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen in Glendale

    Tournament path: UConn beat No. 16 Stetson, 91-52, No. 9 Northwestern, 75-58, No. 5 San Diego State, 82-52, No. 3 Illinois, 77-52, beat No. 4 Alabama, 86-72

    Purdue defeated No. 16 Grambling, 78-50, No. 8 Utah State, 106-67, No. 5 Gonzaga, 80-68, No. 2 Tennessee, 72-66, No. 11 North Carolina State, 63-50

    Probable starters, UConn, 6-5 grad guard Tristen Newton (14.9 pts, 6.6 rebs, 6.2 assists), 6-4 grad guard Cam Spencer (14.4 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (11 pts, 4.7 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (13.5 pts, 5 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (13.1 pts, 7.4 rebs, 2.5 blks)

    Purdue, 6-1 sr. guard Lance Jones (11.9 pts, 2.7 rebs), 6-0 so. guard Braden Smith (12.0 pts, 5.9 rebs, 7.5 assists), 6-4 so. guard Fletcher Loyer (10.6 pts, 2.1 rebs), 6-9 so. forward Trey Kaufman-Renn (6.4 pts, 4.1 rebs), 7-4 sr. center Zach Edey (24.9 pts, 12.2 rebs)

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