No. 1 Huskies destroy Xavier

HARTFORD – Charlie Villanueva has seen plenty of basketball in his life, playing an integral part on UConn’s 2004 national championship team, followed by 11 seasons in the NBA.

It takes a lot to impress someone with that type of experience. The current UConn team certainly made him take notice.

On hand to take part in a ceremony honoring that title team, Villanueva was standing by the Huskies’ locker room tunnel as they came off the court following a first half of pure dominance, running Xavier out of the XL Center to the tune of a 48-22 margin.

Villanueva nodded enthusiastically and greeted each player as they headed in. He was impressed. And so was Dan Hurley and the crowd of over 15,000 of the Huskies, who had 11 players score, in their authoritative 99-56 triumph.

“It was an awesome vibe all weekend,” Hurley said. “It was great to rise to the moment and put forth our best effort in front of a bunch of champions.”

The 2004 team was ranked No. 1 for eight weeks en route to March glory. These Huskies, 17-3, 8-1 in the Big East and winners of eight straight, will enter their third straight week first in the nation.

The first half saw UConn starting the game with a 10-0 lead, and later they went on their longest run of the season, a 20-0 stretch that featured an electrifying alley-oop from Tristen Newton to Stephon Castle. Xavier didn’t reach double figures until 3:20 remained.

Newton led the charge with 12 points, four assists, and three rebounds in the first 20 minutes, on his way to 22 points.

Did Hurley see this coming?

“Hell no, hell no, hell no,” he laughed. “These guys were horrible (in practice) two days ago and I was second-guessing the week and that maybe we pushed them too hard.”

Most importantly, Donovan Clingan made his return to the starting lineup. Clingan missed five games with a foot injury, then came off the bench for two contests. On Sunday, things looked back to normal for the sophomore center as he finished with 18 points (8-of-9 shooting) and eight rebounds in 18:32 of playing time. Incredibly, he finished a plus-39 while on the floor.

He even hit the first three-pointer of his career, much to the delight of the crowd, his teammates, and his father Bill, who held up three fingers and screamed with joy after it went in.

“The single biggest thing was Donovan getting 4-5 practices to get a rhythm, cardio, and the players getting used to him and him used to the players,” Hurley said.

“To go out there to have that energy and have that wind that I haven’t had in a while, to run around without sore feet, is a great feeling,” added Clingan.

The Huskies survived his five-game absence; however, they are on another level when he plays. That level was in full display Sunday. UConn tied a school record with 17 three-pointers (58.6 percent) with Newton and Solo Ball hitting four apiece. In all, 10 Huskies hit three-pointers, capped by Andrew Hurley’s banker in the final minute.

UConn not only put on a clinic Sunday but has been putting on one since the season tipped off. This was a day fitted for a defending champion – and a former one, too.

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