Clingan leads the way as top-ranked Huskies ambush No. 4 Marquette

HARTFORD – Moments after a rousing destruction of No. 4 Marquette, Dan Hurley headed over to the FOX Sports television crew, and, with conviction, held his index finger in the air to the crowd, letting them, and the nation, know who the No. 1 team in the college basketball world is.

The Huskies’ 81-53 beatdown of the Golden Eagles in front of another rowdy XL Center gathering closed the Hartford portion of their schedule, in which they went 8-0. As is the norm right now, here is a list of numbers to review. UConn, which leads the conference by three games with five to play, has won 14 straight, is 24-2 overall and 14-1 in the Big East, leads the conference in scoring offense and defense, and has yet to lose a game at full strength this season.

In addition, the margin of victory by 28 points was the largest in the history of the AP poll in a Top-5 battle.

“UConn has been playing terrific and I think today they played even better,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “They were a more violent team, a more decisive team.”

UConn’s national championship defense has been an absolute clinic. Whether it’s playing one of the best teams or the country or one of the worst, whether it’s hot in the paint or from outside, UConn continues to dominate everything in its path.

The Huskies’ latest production showcased their best path to a second consecutive national title: the health and dominance of sophomore center Donovan Clingan.

Offensively, Marquette had no answer for the Bristol native, as he finished 7-of-8 from the floor, with multiple forceful dunks, on his way to a game-high 17 points. Clingan also grabbed 10 rebounds and closed the lane anytime reigning Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek (2-of-11 from the field, 4 points) tried to enter the paint. For good measure, he also blocked a three-point attempt.

“Donovan is one of the most impactful players in the country,” Hurley said. “We’re one of the best offensive and best defensive teams in the country when he is in the game.”

While Clingan was on the floor, UConn was a plus-20, and he also didn’t commit a foul. After missing five games due to a foot injury, he appears to be fully healthy with postseason play on the horizon.

“His cardio has gotten so much better,” noted Hurley. “He’s healthy, you could see he’s moving really well. (He’s one of the) top two, top three, most valuable players in the country.”

Clingan certainly has reason to be proud of his performance but was more focused on talking about UConn’s depth and connection. Case in point, Hassan Diarra, who came off the bench to record 14 points, six assists and three steals. Starters Alex Karaban and Stephon Castle struggled with their shots (a combined 3-of-16). However, that hardly mattered.

Tristen Newton notched 15 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Cam Spencer added 14 points and six rebounds.

After a slow start on the boards, UConn won the rebounding battle, 45-27 (18-10 on the offensive glass). It also dished out 24 assists to Marquette’s nine. Pure domination.

“We love to see each other be successful and help each other out,” Clingan said. “Guards aren’t going to play great defense on the ball every time. So, I have to step up and block the shot. That’s just a small example of doing something for another person. It’s simple things like that is why we are winning.”

“We love each other,” added Diarra. “We want to see each other win. I think that’s the main thing of why we have so many assists every game.”

From the outside looking in, Smart sees that.

“They are a very, very connected team,” he observed. “They have an understanding and a trust in what they do and in each other, and that is superior right now to anyone. That goes along with their terrific system, coaching and players. I don’t know how many points that’s worth, but it’s worth a lot.”

As Solo Ball dribbled out the clock, the Huskies received a thunderous ovation from the sellout on hand, finalizing their XL Center season. It was a fitting end to a day of destruction, a day which, incredibly, is the norm for this team.

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