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No. 6 UConn men’s basketball chops down Northern Arizona

The Huskies raised a banner and started the new season off right with a comfortable victory.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

It was a celebratory night in Storrs, as the UConn men’s basketball season began with a pre-game banner-raising ceremony and ended with a dominant 95-52 victory over Northern Arizona at Gampel Pavilion on Monday night.

Alex Karaban scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Huskies, doing it in a lot of different ways. He finished 8-of-12 from the field with some tough buckets and also went 3-of-6 from three, adding seven rebounds. He was one of five Huskies, along with Stephon Castle, Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton, and Samson Johnson to reach double figures.

UConn set the tone from the start. Clingan won the tip-off and then scored the game’s first points on an offensive rebound, as he went to work on a Lumberjack front that was outsized and outmatched. An alley-oop from Cam Spencer to Johnson got the crowd into it early.

Castle showed a little bit of everything and proved why so much hype surrounded his arrival, scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds, a pair of steals, and three turnovers, in 19 minutes. He showed a nice shooting and shot-creating ability in addition to sharp passing and vision.

Head coach Dan Hurley went to his bench early and often as his team built a lead quickly. Ten scholarship players appeared in the first half, though Jayden Ross and Jaylin Stewart were used sparingly until the second.

Once they were able to get a bit more playing time in the second half, each settled into the game more. Stewart was 2-for-3 from the field and snagged a trio of rebounds in nine minutes, while Ross played eight minutes and missed his only field goal attempt.

While Northern Arizona hung around for a while, it was clear from the outset that UConn was a class above physically. Clingan and Johnson each were active around both ends of the rim, catching alley-oops, blocking shots, and securing rebounds, while the guards were able to take advantage of mismatches and force fouls by Lumberjack defenders. UConn dominated the rebounding battle, 50-27.

UConn steadily brought its lead out through the middle to later stages of the first half, taking a 17-point lead into the locker room that was once as large as 22 points. The Huskies clamped down even more in the second half, as Northern Arizona scored just 22 points and shot 26 percent from the field after going 41 percent in the first half.

Hurley’s squad came out with high effort throughout. We saw guys going to the floor and starters into the game competing hard until the margin was over 30. Donovan Clingan exited after playing 15 minutes on the night, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. Johnson finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

The hosts were in the single bonus before the midway point of the first half and were in the double bonus with 5:54 to go. However, the Huskies struggled to turn opportunities into points. They were 24-for-37 from the charity stripe, including 4-of-9 from Clingan. UConn’s defense needs to be a lot sharper for 40 minutes, but this was the first game of the season. Hurley and his squad have a lot to build on, and a bit to work on as well.

UConn (1-0) gets back in action on Saturday against Stonehill. Tip-off at the XL Center is scheduled for 12 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on FS2.