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Clingan's foul trouble a concern for UConn, as it prepares to host Butler

Feb. 5—HARTFORD — Sophomore Donovan Clingan has spent more time on the bench than on the court in recent action.

Foul trouble has plagued Clingan, UConn's big man, limiting him to an average of 15 minutes of playing time in the last two games.

That's a concerning development and a frustrating one as well for Clingan.

Sometimes Clingan's aggressive nature gets the best of him.

"I'm definitely a little frustrated with how I haven't been able to keep myself out of foul trouble the last two games," Clingan said after Monday's team practice at the XL Center, where UConn will host Butler at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"It's really just going back to the film and watching and seeing what I can do differently in situations and learn to stay on my feet in the paint. ... I'm always trying to be ultra-aggressive and trying to block shots. I've just got to realize that sometimes I'm not going to block the shot. I've just got to wall up and try to affect the shot or alter the shot rather than trying to block it and get a foul."

No. 1 UConn (20-2, 10-1 has managed to thrive even without Clingan, who's averaged six points, four rebounds and four fouls in the last two games. The Huskies are riding a 10-game winning streak.

They've survived by playing a smaller lineup or counting on Clingan's backup, junior Samson Johnson.

But it's not a long-term solution, especially considering Johnson is foul-prone. Johnson leads the team with 67 fouls.

"I think everyone is frustrated that he's in foul trouble," UConn coach Dan Hurley said of Clingan. "He's got to play with better technique, better discipline and play a little smaller. He's still a young player. He should only pick up fouls contesting things at the rim. He's got to avoid the fouls by being out of position and having poor technique or lacking concentration."

Hurley considers the 7-foot-2 Clingan one of the most impactful players in the country for his contributions on both the offensive and defensive end. Clingan is averaging 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

Physically, Clingan says he's fine. He's played five games since returning from a foot injury that kept him out five games.

"Mentally, I'm good," Clingan said. "I feel great. No pain in either foot. It's been week after week of feeling good. I'm really just trying to get my confidence all the way up and really just trying to dominate out there."

Clingan missed UConn's first game against Butler this season. The Huskies rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to score a valuable 88-81 road win on Jan. 5.

"It was a tough game," graduate guard Cam Spencer said. "I remember it was a tale of two halves for us. The first half, they kind of punched us in the mouth and we made a lot of mistakes. In the second half, we showed a lot of heart and got a great road win."

Winners of four straight, Butler (15-7, 6-5) is one of the surprise teams in the Big East. The Bulldogs, who were picked to finish 10th in the preseason league coaches' poll, are tied for fifth place in the standings.

Butler has the two more impressive league wins this season, going on the road to beat nationally-ranked Marquette and Creighton. The Bulldogs scored 99 points versus the latter team in a one-point win on Friday.

Similar to UConn, Butler relies on a balanced attack with the trio of Pierre Brooks II (16.5 points), Jahmyl Telfort (14.4) and DJ Davis (14.0) leading the league's top scoring team.

The Big East-leading Huskies don't want to get involved in a shootout. Their defense has been up to the challenge in the last six games, allowing fewer than 68 points in each of the last six games.

"Offensively, they're tremendous and really, really hard to guard," Hurley said. "They're an NCAA-caliber team. These are less stressful, much more fun games to get ready to play when you're playing a team that's won at Marquette and won at Creighton and on a roll.

"Those are the games that give you less anxiety even though they're easier to lose because you know you're playing a big game against a really good team that's had a great year."

The Huskies will receive a boost if starting forward Alex Karaban returns to the lineup on Tuesday after missing the St. John's game on Saturday with a sprained right ankle. He practiced the last two days.

"We'll see how his ankle responds to today's practice," Hurley said. "Hopefully, he's OK. ... But he looked good today."

And, of course, it will improve UConn's odds of winning if Clingan stays out of foul trouble.

Clingan is ready to do his part to help the Huskies.

"It's going to be a battle here tomorrow night and we have to bring everything that we've got," Clingan said.

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 1 UCONN vs. BUTLER

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip time: 8:30 p.m. (FS1)

Records: UConn 20-2, 10-1; Butler 15-7, 6-5

Last game: UConn won at St. John's, 77-74, Saturday; Butler won at Creighton, 99-98, Friday

Series: UConn leads 8-0, winning the last meeting 88-81, Jan. 5 at Butler

Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.9 pts, 6.8 rebs, 5.7 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (15.3 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (10.9 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (14.5 pts, 5.8 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.3 pts, 6.1 rebs)

Butler, 6-1 sr. guard DJ Davis (14 pts, 3 rebs), 6-3 so. guard Landon Moore (4.6 pts), 6-6 jr. guard Pierre Brooks II (16.5 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Jahmyl Telfort (14.4 pts, 4.9 rebs), 6-10 grad center Jalen Thomas (6.6 pts, 6.6 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn ranked No. 1 for fourth straight week. ... Huskies off to their best start since going 24-1 to begin the 2008-09 season. They've also won 10 straight in league play for the first time since that season. ... Game pits the two highest scoring teams in the Big East — UConn at 81.4 pts per game, Butler 81.6. Huskies first in scoring defense at 64.2, Bulldogs 9th in 73.8. ... In the first meeting, Karaban (20 pts), Newton (17), Castle (14) and Spencer (14) led the Huskies. ... Butler already has surpassed last year's overall win total. Coach Thad Matta a Big East coach of the year candidate. ... Bulldogs 1st in BE in 3-pt FG% at 36.5. ... Top reserve: sr. center Andre Screen (6.3 pts, 4.8 rebs). ... Hot: Castle is averaging 20.5 pts in the last two games, earns sixth Big East freshman of the week honor. Cold: In the last six games, opponents are averaging 60.8 pts per game. ... Newton makes the Big East weekly honor roll for the fourth time this season. ... UConn 12-0 at home, Butler 3-4 on the road. ... As of Monday, UConn was third in the NCAA NET rankings. ... Up next: UConn visits Georgetown at noon Saturday in Washington, D.C.

— Gavin Keefe