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Donovan Clingan leads UConn men to Sweet 16 with dominant performance in 75-58 win over 9-seed Northwestern

NEW YORK – Donovan Clingan landed the first punches as No. 1 overall seed UConn knocked out 9-seed Northwestern in another NCAA Tournament blowout, 75-58, in the Round of 32 in Brooklyn Sunday night.

Clingan blocked a dunk attempt on the second defensive possession and continued to dominate the Wildcats, who were without injured 7-footer Matt Nicholson (foot), inside. He had a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double (with five blocks) at halftime and finished the game with 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.

“We all know what’s at stake,” said the 7-foot-2 Bristol native who’s been on a tear. “If you want to win games and try to reach our ultimate goal, you’ve got to play the best defense you possibly can.”

Tristen Newton recorded his 11th double-double of the season, 20 points and 10 assists, and Cam Spencer made four Huskies in double-figures with 11, plus four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Alex Karaban added nine points and five rebounds.

UConn (33-3) will meet the winner of Sunday’s matchup between 13-seed Yale and 5-seed San Diego State, who it beat in last year’s national title game, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. It will be the Huskies’ 19th appearance in the Sweet 16, where they are 12-6 all-time. The game will tip at 7:39 p.m. in Boston’s TD Garden.

The Huskies’ defense smothered the Wildcats from the start on Sunday.

Clearly outmatched, Northwestern began the game 2-for-12 from the field and finished the first half just 8-for-31, 0-for-8 from deep. Hounding defense from Stephon Castle and Hassan Diarra held the Wildcats’ leading scorer Boo Buie to just two points on 0-for-6 shooting in the first half while their second-leading scorer, Brooks Barnhizer, went into the break scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting.

“We knew Donovan would take the rim away and we wanted to chase those guys off the three-point line. We felt like the only way that they could beat us today is if they made a lot of threes, those guys, if Boo was hitting sick, deep, Trae Young type of threes like he’s made throughout his career,” coach Dan Hurley said. “So we blew everything up, got over everything. We’re über aggressive with our centers and we were really just trying to funnel the ball to their five-men. That was the game plan.”

“I mean, we had DC behind us,” Castle added, “so that gave me a lot of confidence to really guard the way I wanted to and I feel like we did a great job on (Buie).”

Neither team made a 3-pointer, 0-for-15 combined, until Spencer knocked one down from the wing with three minutes left in the first half, giving the Huskies a 33-14 lead.

Karaban landed another with a minute left and UConn went into the break up 40-18.

“The 3s weren’t going but we were scoring other ways, we were sharing the ball well so everybody was feeling pretty confident,” Spencer said. “And I think the defense led to our offense a lot tonight, which gives us that much more confidence.”

The Huskies scored 18 fast break points to Northwestern’s eight.

Clingan recorded his career-high sixth block on the first NU possession of the second half and his seventh just three minutes later. On the other end, Newton drove to the basket and was fouled, he flipped the ball over his head as he spun to the floor and he got the roll, and-one.

“That was crazy,” Spencer said. “I was kind of jaw-dropped, I don’t know how he got that to go in. That’s part of Tristen’s greatness.”

The Huskies’ All-American point guard found Samson Johnson with an alley-oop for a dunk, his seventh assist of the game, to put UConn up by 30 with 13:27 left. He found Johnson for two more identical plays to notch assists No. 8 and 9, but UConn went into a scoring funk for more than four minutes and Northwestern started to chip away.

The Wildcats cut their deficit to 14 with 3:16 left but Castle, who spent a considerable amount of time on the bench in foul trouble, returned and finished a fastbreak layup almost immediately. Hurley began emptying his bench with 90 seconds left and an 18-point lead.

UConn finished the game shooting 29-for-54 (53.7%) and just 3-for-22 from beyond the arc, assisting on 20 made shots.

“We feel like we demoralized them early, they didn’t want to play anymore,” Newton said. “They got within 16 and the crowd was acting like they were winning the game. We were having fun out there and when we have fun we feel like we play our best.”