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Donovan Clingan, Cam Spencer lead No. 1 UConn men to 11th straight win, 71-62 over Butler

HARTFORD – The UConn men’s basketball team extended its winning streak to 11 games on Tuesday night as Donovan Clingan’s first double-double of the year led the way in a 71-62 victory over Butler.

Clingan responded to a pair of disappointing, foul-laden performances with 18 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, plus three blocks, on an efficient 8 of 12 from the field. Cam Spencer, the only Husky to make a 3-pointer through the game’s first 36 minutes, tallied a team-high 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 8 from beyond the arc.

“(Clingan) was tremendous,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “It was great to see him produce like that and to really look like a dominant big… Other guys have carried us with him on the bench a lot with foul trouble the last couple games and I think he knew that he was gonna have to play big for us, that’s how this thing goes on teams. It was his turn to step up and produce at a high level.”

“I came in with a better mindset today and just realized I had to kill my opponent and just do whatever I can to help my team win,” Clingan added.

Alex Karaban returned to the starting lineup after sitting out at St. John’s with an ankle sprain and landed the dagger from 3 in the final two minutes. He finished with seven points and three rebounds after 34 minutes.

With only Clingan and Spencer scoring in double-digits, UConn shot a collective 27 of 57 (47.4%) from the field and 6 of 17 (35.3%) from 3-point range.

“The hard part is, how do you address the team after that?” said Hurley, who thought the team should’ve shot better than 50% in the game. “That’s a team that you’re maybe playing in the second round of the Tournament that’s won at Marquette and won at Creighton, but obviously we weren’t at our standard today. None of us are thrilled with the way we played, credit them but we also made it extra hard on ourselves, but we also don’t want to rub the joy out of doing what we’ve done to this point.

“I mean, we’ve won 11 straight league games and have done obviously incredible things. You’re gonna have games when you’re not at your best so it’s just tough. You can’t make believe that you’re thrilled with the performance in front of the group but you don’t want to rob the joy of winning a hard-fought Big East game. I guess you’re relieved that you won and the four games in nine days, I think that showed for us a little bit today in terms of the flatness and these 8:30 p.m. starts suck.”

Clingan got the Huskies going with a pair of layups and had two clean assists as Karaban and Spencer cut to the basket early on. There was a three-minute offensive lull for both teams before Hassan Diarra got on the board with a layup and made an errant pass to Spencer, who got to the ball and hoisted his first 3-pointer of the night to put UConn ahead, 17-10.

“I’m just so happy that (Spencer’s) able to experience college basketball like this, the bigness of it, the winning. He hasn’t had a chance to experience this and he’s delivered for us – over delivered in every possible way,” Hurley said.

Tristen Newton, UConn’s leader in points, rebounds and assists, went down around the six-minute mark and was slow to get up. The All-America candidate appeared to be alright and returned to the game after a five-minute stint on the bench, during which Clingan, Spencer and Diarra went on an 11-2 scoring run to build a 12-point lead. To cap off the run, after Spencer landed his second 3-pointer of the half, Karaban made a steal and passed the ball behind his head to Diarra to save it from going out of bounds. Diarra raced the floor and dumped it off to Clingan for a layup that triggered the XL Center’s flashing lights as the crowd erupted.

Diarra finished with nine points, two rebounds, three assists and a block in 19 minutes off the bench.

Butler’s DJ Davis made a 3-pointer from the corner as the halftime buzzer sounded, cutting UConn’s lead to 35-27 at the break. Davis continued his personal 11-0 scoring run into the second half with a layup and his third 3-pointer of the game, which cut UConn’s lead to just 35-32 less than two minutes into the final 20.

Davis finished with a game-high 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting.

UConn only had four different players in the scoring column until Newton stole a pass from Pierre Brooks and finished with a layup in transition for his first points of the game at the 14-minute mark. Samson Johnson flew in to the party two minutes later, launching himself to catch and dunk a lob from Spencer. Stephon Castle scored his first points with a three-point play under the basket and a tip-in on the next possession, pushing UConn’s lead back out to 10 around the nine-minute mark.

The Bulldogs cut their deficit to five on separate occasions down the stretch but the Huskies always had an answer. In that situation with two minutes to go, Clingan converted a layup through a foul and Karaban made his first 3-pointer of the night to put the Huskies up 11.

Castle, after back-to-back 20-point games, took a slight step back and finished with five points on 2 of 6 shooting.

UConn (21-2, 11-1 Big East) is now 13-0 at home with just three such games remaining.

“We’re aware that not many teams have a chance to go clean sheet at home, and that’s something we’re striving for,” Hurley said. “And if we do that, we know that we’re probably going to win the (Big East) regular season if we win out at home.”

The Huskies have a two-game road trip to Georgetown (Noon, Saturday) and DePaul (9 p.m., Wednesday) before returning to the XL Center for their first matchup of the year against reigning league champion Marquette on Feb. 17.

“I’m gonna sleep well tonight,” Clingan said. “Tomorrow’s off-day is gonna be great, I’ve got a massage tomorrow. I’m pretty tired but this is what we do. We gotta bring our 100% energy every day, we signed up for this, this is what we love and we need to just bring it every day.”