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Donovan Clingan bounces back to help Huskies past Butler

The big man shook off his foul trouble issues to dominate the Bulldogs in the post.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Donovan Clingan’s midseason foot injury is firmly behind him, but the sophomore has played limited minutes as of late not due to injury, but to foul trouble. The 7-foot-2 Bristol big man played just 31 total minutes in the Huskies’ wins over Providence and St. John’s largely in part to some early whistles. Clingan finished both of those matchups with four personal fouls, which not only limited his playing time but hampered his ability to be physical down low on both ends of the court.

“Obviously I wasn't happy with my last two performances. I came in with a better mindset today,” Clingan said. “I realized I had to kill my opponent and do whatever I can to help my team win.”

He did just that Tuesday night, bullying a physical and talented Bulldogs frontcourt to put together arguably his best all-around performance of the season. In 28 minutes — the most since his injury in the loss to Seton Hall — Clingan scored 18 points on 8-12 shooting and added 14 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. The performance marked Clingan’s first double-double of the season and the fifth of his career.

“He’s a very self-aware person, he understood the situation,” head coach Dan Hurley said postgame. “He knew he was going to have to play big for us, it was his turn to step up and play at a high level.”

Normally, Clingan does most of his damage with put-backs off rebounds or from lobs on high pick and rolls. Against Butler, UConn routinely dumped the ball into the post and let Clingan go to work. The sophomore looked comfortable going over either shoulder to score and use his size advantage to create good angles around the rim, rewarding the Huskies for giving Clingan his highest usage rate since returning from his injury

After hitting a three in UConn’s drubbing of Xavier, Clingan took another attempt against Butler, but missed. While he’s just 1-5 from three this season, the looks from deep and improved repertoire in the post against Butler shows that Clingan is progressing rapidly, a key reason why the big man is widely regarded as a can’t miss talent in this year’s NBA Draft.

“He was tremendous. I didn’t like the three in the first half because he was so dominant around the basket,” Hurley said. “He impacts was great to see him produce like that and look like a dominant big.”

Clingan has always been a game changer on the defensive end, where he is averaging nearly two blocks per game this season and altering countless others. He’s dominated the glass, holding his own against elite rebounders like Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson and Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner and would rank inside the top 15 in offensive rebounding percentage if he played enough minutes to qualify. But his growth as a scorer as exemplified Tuesday night adds yet another dimension to an already dangerous Huskies offense that can beat opponents in numerous different ways.

As a Connecticut native fresh off of helping his home state’s school to its fifth national title, expectations were deservedly incredibly high for Clingan entering what is almost certainly his final season in Storrs. Despite some unexpected adversity along the way with a preseason foot injury and the aforementioned injury suffered in the loss to the Pirates, Clingan focused on improving himself and is now starting to see the benefits on the court.

“I’ve felt the best I have ever felt. I lost a lot of weight, I have gotten my cardio up. I’m trying to change my mentality up with how I approach practice, how I approach games. Just being more locked in, more focused, just realizing all the little things I have to do to help my team win. I just have to make sure I bring my A game and this type of mindset to every game,” Clingan said.