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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    UConn men’s notes: Hall of Famer Sampson on the title matchup between Clingan and Edey

    Purdue center Zach Edey (15) drives to the basket past North Carolina State forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) during the first half of the NCAA college basketball game at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

    Glendale, Ariz. — For the first time in years, the title game will feature two frontcourt giants in 7-foot-4 senior Zach Edey of Purdue and UConn’s 7-2 sophomore Donovan Clingan.

    “It’s going to be a great game to see,” said Ralph Sampson, a three time national college basketball player of the year while at Virginia from 1979-83.

    Sampson, who checked in at 7-4 during his playing career, shared thoughts about the two big men while attending the Naismith Awards ceremony Sunday morning at the Phoenix Art Museum.

    “It’s not the old school big men in the low post,” Sampson said. “Edey brings a low post presence and he’s pretty strong and powerful. He’s fun to watch for me as a big guy. You’ve to figure out how to stop him.”

    Everything Purdue does runs through the skilled 300-pound Edey, the first back to back winner of the Naismith college basketball player of the year awared since Sampson (1981-83).

    Clingan impacts a game on both ends of the court. He’s enjoying a terrific NCAA tournament, averaging team highs for points (16.2), rebounds (9.0) and blocks (3.6).

    Sampson saw Clingan play live for the first time on Saturday when UConn beat Alabama, 86-72, in the national semifinals at State Farm Stadium.

    He talked about the pro potential of both Clingan and Edey.

    “They’ve got the talent but I don’t know if they have the grit yet,” Sampson said. “I have never met them personally, but the talent is there for Edey and all the big guys you see play today. But the game has changed to a 3-point game in the NBA.”

    When the subject of UConn’s dominating run the last two seasons came up, Sampson raved about Dan Hurley’s coaching.

    “He has a desire to be good at coaching,” Sampson said. “I’m impressed with what he does and how he’s doing it. He’s doing it the right way, like Tony Bennett at Virginia.

    “College basketball, you’ve got to do it the right way. … He’s a great man, great coach and that’s proven in what he’s able to do the last couple of years. I think he’ll have a great career.”

    Clingan-Edey Part II

    For the first time in his playing career, Clingan will face a player bigger than he is in Edey.

    “(Ryan) Kalkbrenner is probably the closest,” said Clingan about the 7-1 Creighton center. “I saw Shaq (Saturday) and he made me feel little. I didn’t like that. He made me feel really little.”

    Clingan has only crossed paths with Edey once, and that happened last season at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore. Both teams were in the tournament but didn’t meet.

    “I walked by him and I was like, `Wow.’ I’m excited for the matchup. I’ve got a lot of respect for Zach,” Clingan said.

    Edey also is looking forward to facing Clingan.

    “He’s a great player, that’s no surprise,” Edey said. “Everyone knows what type of player he is on the defensive end, offensively he is pretty good, too. We’ve been watching UConn play for the past two years now, and they’ve been in that race with us all regular season. … He’s playing really well this tournament.”

    A grind it out game

    UConn is expecting Monday’s national championship game to go down the wire.

    The outcome may come down to competitive heart and hustle plays.

    “We’re not going into this game knowing that we’re going to win it by 20 or 30,” redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said. “We know it’s going to be a grind it out game. We know we have to do the little things, especially against this team.

    “They’re super-old. … They’ve been together for a while, so they understand the system and understand the culture. Whoever makes more little plays is going to win.”

    That Huskies haven’t been involved in a single digit game in an NCAA record 11 straight tournament games.

    During their current 12-game winning streak, they’ve had only one close game, beating St. John’s, 95-90, in the Big East tournament semifinals on March 15 in Madison Square Garden.

    Pressure, what pressure

    Tristen Newton, UConn’s laid back point guard, dismissed that there’s any pressure on UConn trying to become the first college basketball team to repeat since Florida in 2007.

    The Huskies are focused on playing their usual lethal game.

    “This year we expect to be where we’re at,” Newton said. “We don’t need any different type of performance than we’ve been getting all season. We’re gonna stick to the game plan. The defense needs to ramp up a little bit, but offensively we’re gonna play the same offense, same game. We’ll be prepared.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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