With Alex Karaban, Tristen Newton, and six-time Big East freshman of the week Stephon Castle all struggling from the field, it was Cam Spencer and Donovan Clingan who paced the Huskies. The duo combined for 38 points, with Spencer logging a second-straight 20-point performance and Clingan snatching a career-high 14 rebounds. Hassan Diarra added nine points and three assists from the bench, leading the team in +/- with +16.
This was a battle between the two top-scoring offenses in the Big East, but the Bulldogs were held well below their season average. All of Butler’s resume-defining wins (Texas Tech, Marquette, Creighton) came when they hit 10 or more threes. The Bulldogs only hit four but never went away thanks to 19 points from DJ Davis and 15 from Jahmyl Telfort. Despite Butler leading in rebounds margin most of the way, the Huskies won the points in the paint battle 38-28.
The Huskies established the Big Guy early, with Clingan either scoring or assisting on the first six baskets. Three steals from an active Samson Johnson helped overshadow the early rebounding edge Butler had and ensure no drop-off when Clingan hit the bench. At the under-eight timeout with UConn struggling to gain separation, Hurley told his men:
“Finish possessions defensively. We’re forcing them late into the clock, we can’t have breakdowns, it's demoralizing for us. On the other end, don’t settle. We can get anything we want. All of our threes should come from paint touches.”
Despite Tristen Newton briefly exiting with a turned ankle, the Huskies listened to the Carpenter, blowing the half open in part thanks to this awesome two-way sequence:
The Huskies finished the half up eight despite only two total points from Newton, Karaban, and Castle. The always-delightful color commentator Jason Benetti remarked to Bill Rafferty at one point that a good offense is like a good lasagna—there’s always a next layer. With Clingan delivering max pain inside, the Huskies brought that extra layer with Spencer’s hot perimeter shooting, as the two combined for 24 of UConn’s 35 first-half points.
Thanks to a Davis three to end the half and a five-minute field goal draught, the Huskies quickly found themselves back in a two-possession battle. The Bulldogs had no answer for Spencer though; when he wasn’t scoring he was creating for others. Every time UConn went on a run to get up double digits, some heady shotmaking from Telfort or Davis kept fans on edge. The Husky lead never got as high as 10 in the second half, but never tighter than three.
Only up five with 2:15 to play, an and-one from Clingan followed by a Karaban trey delivered the knockout punch and one last UCONN chant. Said Hurley after the game, “Every night in this league is a brutal dogfight. We got away with not being our best but did enough to beat a tough team. We’ll take it.”
Up next for UConn is a quick trip to our nation's capital to take on Ed Cooley and the Georgetown Hoyas. Tip-off is on Saturday, Feb. 10 at noon EST and the game will be televised on FS1.