Men's College Basketball

Huskies Head to Sweet Sixteen After Downing Wildcats


UConn Husky center Donovan Clingan attempts to block a shot by Northwestern forward Luke Hunger during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Round 2 Action at Barclays Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The UConn Huskies continued their NCAA championship defense with a 75-58 win over the No. 9 seed Northwestern Wildcats in front of 17,505 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday during the NCAA East second round play.

Like Friday night’s game against Stetson, the Huskies started strong right out of the gate. Guard Tristen Newton scored on a layup. Guard Stephon Castle hit a jumper and a dunk. Center Donovan Clingan also hit a jump shot and connected on a dunk. All the Wildcats could muster during this fast Husky start was a solitary layup from forward Blake Preston. It was 11-2 in favor of UConn with 15:22 remaining in the half.

Northwestern forward Nick Martinelli made two jump shots that bookended a 7-0 UConn run. The Wildcats started the game 2-for-12 in the first eight minutes of play, but after Martinelli’s second basket and a jump shot from forward Luke Hunger, Northwestern only found themselves down by ten, 18-8, at the midway point of the half.

Between tough defense from UConn and shots not falling for Northwestern, it didn’t take long for the Huskies to begin pulling away with a sizable lead. The Huskies scored twice for every Wildcat basket. It didn’t take long for the 18-8 score to creep up to 22-8, 26-10, 28-12 and soon it was 30-14.

Not a single three-point shot was made during this stretch. It wasn’t until UConn guard Cam Spencer nailed a trey with 3:04 left in the half to put the Huskies up 33-14 did a three-pointer get made for either team.

Forward Alex Karaban scored UConn’s second trey as part of a 7-4 run in the last three minutes to close out the half. UConn led 40-18 at the intermission.

Karaban dunked to begin the second half. For a moment, it looked like the second half was going to be a continuation of the first until Clingan got called for goaltending, which gave Hunger credit for a layup.

Karaban scored on a layup and then Northwestern guard Brooks Barnhizer scored his first points of the contest after going 0-for-8 in the first half. They wouldn’t be the last.

UConn guard Tristen Newton went on a personal 5-0 run with a jump shot and three free shots, but Wildcat guard Ryan Langborg got three of those points back with his team’s first triple of the game, making the score 49-25 with 16:55 left in regulation.

Northwestern Wildcats forward Luke Hunger defends UConn guard Cam Spencer during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Round 2 game at Barclays Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

After the Huskies went out on a 6-0 run, Barnhizer opened up a 8-2 run of his own a few minutes later to neutralize the UConn advantage.

After Newton scored on a layup to make the score 66-42 with 8:10 on the clock, the Wildcat defense clamped down while the offense heated up. Langborn hit his third trey of the half, Barnhizer made a jumper and guard Boo Buie converted a layup into a three-point play after getting fouled by Clingan. It was now 66-50 and Northwestern was creeping back into the game.

More importantly, the 8-0 Northwestern run put the Huskies in a scoring drought. They didn’t score for 4:36 when Newton was fouled by guard Justin Mullins, making the score 68-50 with 3:34 remaining in regulation.

Once again, the Huskies answered every bucket with one of their own. Langborn, Barnhizer and Buie continued to attack but UConn answered every time. At the end, the Wildcats ran out of time while the Huskies held on for the 75-58 win.

The Huskies shot 29-for-54 (53.7 percent) from the field; 3-for-22 (13.6 percent) from three-point range; and 14-for-20 (70.0 percent) from the free throw line. They gave up seven turnovers that led to seven Wildcat points.

“We were obviously thrilled with the performance, and to get that separation, you know, while going 3-for-22 from three. And a handful of those were contested but obviously we didn’t shoot it great, and to still win by that margin, obviously it spoke to our defense and obviously the 20 assists on 29 field goals,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley.

Northwestern went 22-for-59 (37.3 percent) from the field; 4-for-15 (26.7 percent) from three-point range; and a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe. The Wildcats gave up eight turnovers that led to seven Husky points.

Northwestern guard Brooks Barnhizer led the Wildcats with 18 points, all in the second half, during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Round 2 game at Barclays Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“We’ve been a pretty good transition defensive team this year, but I thought some of our missed opportunities offensively affected how we were getting back. They had 28 points in the paint in the first half out of 40, so you know, you’re down 22 at half,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins.

“And the one thing, though, I was just really proud about how our guys – I’m not surprised, but I was just really proud about how we fought the rest of the night. You know, a lot of teams might lay down when you get down by 28 or 27, whatever it was, and that’s just not who these guys are. We fought for, what, 33 or 34, whatever we played, games this year, and this was a really special team to coach. I mean, everything that was thrown at them, the injuries, the curveball, the adversity,” he added.

UConn dominated 52-26 in the paint and led 18-8 in fast break points. Northwestern had the 14-4 advantage in second chance points.

“You know, they made some plays, and you know, Langborg, we lost him a couple times for threes, where we lost a little concentration. But I think it had more to do more with the heart of the Northwestern program and pride and them refusing to have the score be disrespectful to their program,” said Hurley.

The Huskies were led by 20 points from Tristen Newton. Donovan Clingan scored 14 points and Cam Spencer added 11. Newton dished a game-high 10 assists, while Clingan pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds. Clingan’s stat line of 14 points, 14 rebounds and 8 blocks kept him two blocks away from a triple double. Clingan got his hand on two other Wildcat shots but was never given credit for the blocks.

“It feels great. We have a big picture that we want to get to and we have to take it one step at a time. Getting to the Sweet 16 is another step to our main goal, and it feels good,” said Newton.

Northwestern was led by Brooks Barnhizer’s 18 points, all of which came in the second half. Ryan Langborg added 13 points, the only other Wildcat in double-digits in scoring. Luke Hunger pulled down seven boards while Boo Buie led Northwestern with four assists.

“I think what’s special about our group is no matter who we are playing, no matter what the deficit; we still have the same belief in each other no matter what. Obviously it was a difficult situation, but yeah, I mean, we came out, and I think we had to be more physical to start the game and we gave up too many easy buckets inside, which obviously ended up doing us in,” said Langborg. “Just grateful for these guys and I’m glad that we battled back the way we did in the second half.”

The No. 1 ranked Huskies will now move on to the Sweet Sixteen round for the East Regional Semifinal game on Thursday against No. 5 ranked San Diego State Aztecs. Tipoff is at 7:39 p.m. ET from the TD Garden in Boston.

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