March Madness: Donovan Clingan dominates as UConn blitzes Northwestern

The defending national champions showed exactly why they are favored to repeat on Sunday night.

No. 1 UConn blitzed No. 9 Northwestern from the start in an easy 75-58 win to advance to the Sweet 16. Center Donovan Clingan had 14 points, 14 rebounds and was two blocks away from a triple-double with eight swatted shots.

UConn led 40-18 at halftime as Northwestern was simply overwhelmed. The Wildcats couldn’t get anything at the rim and were 0 of 8 from the 3-point line. UConn was 2 of 11 itself from deep during the first 20 minutes, but still shot over 53% in the half and had a 22-point lead because of how much it bullied Northwestern inside.

Clingan was so good in the first half that he posted a double-double in the first 20 minutes with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Ten of those boards came on the offensive end thanks to Northwestern’s 23 missed shots.

The Huskies led 17-4 at the second TV timeout and stretched the lead as the half went on. The margin at halftime made the second half a formality as Northwestern — a team that averaged 74 points per game — didn’t have the firepower to make a comeback against UConn’s tenacious defense despite a cold stretch from the Huskies.

UConn also won by 17 despite shooting just 3 of 22 overall from the 3-point line. Bad shooting nights happen sometimes from behind the arc. But it’s rare that you can be as bad as UConn was from deep and still be as dominant as the Huskies were overall.

UConn has it all

The Huskies earned the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament after winning the Big East tournament. UConn went 18-2 in conference play before taking down Marquette 73-57 for the conference tournament title.

It was hard to argue against UConn’s chances at a repeat title entering the NCAA tournament and it’s not gotten any easier since. The Huskies have one of the best offenses in the country as they shoot 50% from the field and average over 80 points per game. They’re also one of the best defensive teams in the country. UConn’s opponents scored just 64 points per game and made less than 40% of their shots.

Clingan’s play down the stretch has been a big reason why. Clingan missed time in December and January thanks to a tendon injury in his right foot. And it’s no coincidence that Uconn’s dominance has coincided with his return to health. He’s had six double-doubles since the start of February and has also served as a real rim protector like he did on Sunday night. Friday night’s first-round tournament game against Stetson was the first time Clingan hadn’t posted multiple blocks in a game since Feb. 24.

After serving as an important bench player as a freshman, Clingan has blossomed into an important player for a team that’s as well-rounded as any in college basketball.

The Huskies will face the winner of No. 5 San Diego State and No. 13 Yale in the Sweet 16. If the Aztecs win that game it will be a rematch of last year’s title game. A season ago, UConn dominated San Diego State 76-59 in the national championship as it won all six of its NCAA tournament games by double digits.

Given the way the first two games have gone this season for the Huskies, it won’t be a big surprise if they repeat that feat.

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