No. 1 UConn men’s basketball makes statement in dominant 81-53 win over No. 4 Marquette

HARTFORD – The top-ranked UConn men made a statement as they pulled away from No. 4 Marquette and roared to an 81-53 victory before the striped-out XL Center on Saturday.

The win extends the nation’s longest winning streak to 14 games. UConn (24-2, 14-1 Big East) improved its cushion atop the Big East standings to 3 1/2 games as Dan Hurley and company look for the program’s first regular-season title in 18 years.

“Obviously the game went as well as it could go for us and as poorly as it could go for them,” Hurley said. “But I don’t think there’s a program in the country I’ve got more respect for. … We expect to play them a couple more times this year maybe, and I don’t expect those games to end up like this.”

The 28-point difference on the scoreboard is the largest margin of victory in a top-five conference matchup in the history of the AP poll, according to ESPN stats and info.

Donovan Clingan, unfazed down low and often open for a slam, stepped up with his second double-double of the season. Clingan finished with a game-high 17 points (7 of 8) and 10 rebounds, leading four Huskies in double figure scoring. Tristen Newton came close to another triple-double with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists while Cam Spencer and Hassan Diarra added 14 points each.

The reigning national champs have won 18 consecutive games at home dating back to last season.

“We were just trying to prove who we are and we’re just out here trying to win,” Clingan said. “One game at a time and we’re not looking too far ahead. Tomorrow we’re not gonna think about today’s win, it’s just one game at a time, move on to the next and we’ve just got to keep playing the way we’re playing and keep playing for each other.”

Saturday’s matchup between the league’s top two teams started as most expected, a heavyweight matchup with teams trading shots and clawing for every rebound. Marquette (19-6, 10-4 Big East) kept it tied through the first 10 minutes with a 6-0 advantage on the offensive glass, but UConn flipped its fortune and took control.

“That first media timeout, it literally felt like the first round of a heavyweight fight,” Hurley said. “We were incredibly frustrated because we couldn’t grab the ball. They weren’t necessarily offensive rebounds that they were high-pointing, they were more just like basketballs that we weren’t reacting to. But we locked in defensively, we started to take over on the backboard offensively.”

UConn assisted on 24 of its 29 made shots and made 46% from the field for the game, 11 of 30 from beyond the arc.

“We love each other, we want to see each other win and I think that’s the main thing,” Diarra said. “That’s why we have so many assists each and every game, we love to see our teammates prosper, we love to see them succeed and that’s why we’re so unselfish with each other.”

Freshmen Jaylin Stewart and Stephon Castle started a 7-0 run to start to pull away and Alex Karaban, who didn’t have the best shooting night (2 of 9), found Newton wide open for a second-chance 3-pointer to begin a 10-0 spurt around the four-minute mark. UConn’s defense held Marquette to just 34.4% shooting and forced six turnovers in the first half, powering its lead to 18 with less than a minute before halftime.

The Huskies dominated the offensive glass to start the second half and finished the game with a 45-27 rebounding advantage, 18-10 on the offensive end where they produced 21 second-chance points.

UConn limited Marquette to just nine assists and forced 13 turnovers, which the Huskies capitalized on for 17 points.

Diarra, who played a large role in holding reigning Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek to just seven points and three assists, scored 10 of UConn’s 12 points during a five-minute span, including a pair of 3-pointers. The two he didn’t score during that stretch came from Clingan in the form of a “Cling Kong” style dunk following an offensive rebound which triggered the flashing XL Center lights.

“I just go into the game (focused) on giving my team whatever they need at the time, whether that’s energy, effort plays, defensively being a pest,” said Diarra, who had five rebounds, six assists and three steals in addition to his 14 points. “Just making the right plays out there.”

Newton, who’s shown up in every big game for the Huskies, hit a 3-pointer, stole the ball back and hit another from the corner within a span of 20 seconds, pushing UConn’s lead to 22 with nine minutes to go. Keeping their foot on the gas, Karaban and Spencer hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead out to 29 points around the four-minute mark.

“A heck of a game by UConn,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said. “They’ve been playing terrific and I thought today they played even better than they’ve been playing… They’re a very, very connected team. They have an understanding and a trust in what they do and in each other that is superior right now to anyone.”

UConn begins its final five-game stretch of the regular season with a trip to Creighton on Tuesday and will return for a matchup against Villanova at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 24.