Top seed UConn opens with 91-52 win over Stetson

Mar. 22—NEW YORK — Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan regularly hear from their former teammates on UConn's 2023 national championship team.

Their message stays the same.

"They just tell you to play your style of basketball and go repeat," Karaban said. "They've been really delivering that message to us. They're our biggest supporters."

Karaban, Clingan and company followed that advice on Friday, riding a fast start to a commanding lead and finishing off overmatched No. 16 seed Stetson, 91-52, in NCAA tournament East Region first round action at the Barclays Center.

Top-seeded UConn advances to Sunday's second round and a date with No. 9 Northwestern (22-11), a 77-65 overtime winner over No. 8 Florida Atlantic. Game time is 7:45 p.m.

"We're really just trying to stay hungry," Clingan said. "No matter how many games we've won and no matter what game we've won, it's March. We're 1-0 now. You don't think about the regular season or anything else. You think about what's in front of you, and that's Northwestern on Sunday."

The Huskies left no doubt about Friday's outcome, scoring the game's first eight points and building a 52-19 lead by halftime before cruising to the finish line.

"Love the start," coach Dan Hurley said. "It's exactly how you want to start a game like this. You're in March Madness and you know the history of these No. 1s or high seeds. They took away all hope in that game from them early on with the defense, with the offense, with the relentlessness.

"That's a pretty good first performance."

Reigning national champion UConn basically did what it was supposed to do against a No. 16 seed while recording the program's seventh straight double digit win in NCAA tournament play.

It is UConn's second largest margin of victory in an NCAA tournament game. A 103-47 win over Chattanooga in 2009 first round action tops the list.

Entering March Madness, No. 1 seeds held a 150-2 record vs. No. 16 teams in tournament history.

"Obviously, we see some of the upsets," said graduate guard Cam Spencer, who made his NCAA tourney debut. "But we were just really focused on playing to our standard as UConn basketball. We really just focused on the defensive end. That's our engine and that's our identity. I thought we did a good job of it.

"Second half, we got a little human nature in us and played the score but I think we're happy with the win."

Stetson (22-13) struggled to score against an athletic and aggressive defense, converting an icy 30.9% from the field.

Playing in their first NCAA tourney game, the Hatters had no shot at containing a potent UConn scoring attack.

The Huskies passed around the scoring baton. All five starters — Clingan (19 points), Spencer (15), Stephon Castle (14) Tristen Newton (13) and Karaban (12) — scored in double figures. Clingan also had a team-high eight rebounds and Newton added eight assists.

Slow starts have plagued the Huskies in recent games.

Not on Friday.

Karaban got hot early, scoring nine of his team's 13 points for a quick 11-point edge.

Everybody got involved.

Newton threw a lob pass to freshman Jaylin Stewart for a dunk, pushing the lead to 26-6. Later, he set up Samson Johnson's dunk for a 46-10 edge.

The Huskies, who went a torrid 22 for 32 in the first half, took it home from there. They shot 52.9% overall.

The Huskies improved to 32-3, the most overall wins during Hurley's six seasons in Storrs and most since going 32-9 in the 2013-24 national championship season.

Chances are Karaban and Clingan will hear from former teammates like Joey Calcaterra, Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson after Friday's convincing win.

"I talk to Joey a couple of times a week...," Clingan said. "Dre is always checking in on us. He always texts me, 'Stay hungry. Don't be happy with where you're at. Love you, bro.' Adama is in my ear all the time, just trying to keep my confidence up and just trying to push me.

"And Hawkins is the clown he always is. He just checks in on us. We just had a really special team last year. Those are guys that are going to be my best friends for the rest of my life."