No. 1 UConn begins title defense by cruising past Stetson 91-52 in NCAA Tournament

NEW YORK (AP) — Stetson had UConn's full attention.

That was bad news for the Hatters.

Donovan Clingan scored 19 points and Cam Spencer had 15 as top-seeded UConn began defense of its national championship by cruising past 16th-seeded Stetson 91-52 Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The top-ranked Huskies (32-3) will face ninth-seeded Northwestern on Sunday in the second round of the East Region.

Stephan Swenson scored 20 points for the Hatters (22-13), the ASun champions who were making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They never had a chance against UConn, which scored the first eight points and went on to its most lopsided NCAA victory since beating Chattanooga by 56 in the first round of the 2009 tournament.

“It’s exactly how you want to start a game like this where — you’re in March Madness. You know the history of these No. 1s or high seeds and just we took away all hope in that game from them early on with the defense, with the offense, with the relentlessness,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said.

Less than a week after the Huskies won the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, they were back in New York City, a few subway stops south at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

As usual, their fans showed up in droves. They were loud early but ended up settling in for a relaxing couple of hours that probably felt more like a November nonconference game than the start of March Madness.

Clingan slammed home an alley-oop from Tristen Newton to make it 8-0 with 17:16 left in the first half.

Stephon Castle made a 3 to push the lead to 20 with 9:06 left, and it was up to 31 when the 7-foot-2 Clingan got free underneath for another easy layup with 5:00 left.

“We wanted to impose our will early and I think we did a good job of that,” Huskies guard Hassan Diarra said. “But we wanted to keep our foot on the gas the whole time and I think we did an amazing job of that.”

Newton's straight-on 3 gave UConn 50 points with a little under two minutes left in the half.

Newton, a first-team All-American, finished with 13 points and eight assists.

At the half it was 52-19. The Huskies had shot 68.8%., committed only three turnovers and outrebounded the Hatters 18-11 for good measure.

“They just had our respect at a high level coming in,” Hurley said. “This week we were nervous about the matchup because of the shooting. I thought they were the hardest 16, and as the overall No. 1 seed, I was surprised that in my opinion we got the best 16."

Less than 20 seconds into the second half, Castle scored on a baseline drive and was fouled. He converted the three-point play to make it 55-19.

The Hatters picked it up the rest of the second half and the Huskies cooled off, but still UConn — the most efficient offensive team in the country — reached 90 points for the ninth time this season.

The Huskies have won seven straight NCAA Tournament games by double-digits after their dominant run to a title last year as a four seed.

UConn is trying to become the first team to repeat as men's NCAA Tournament champions since 2007, when Florida did it under then-coach Billy Donovan with a team that included Joakim Noah and Al Horford. Stetson coach Donnie Jones was an assistant on those Gators teams. He said he sees a lot of similarities in UConn: depth, size, balance.

“So it’s not one or two guys that’s going to get you to the finals. It’s going to be your team, who can score on a given night. So they are very efficient offensively. They don’t beat themselves. They rebound. They defend. They do a great job,” Jones said.

“So that doesn’t guarantee you are going to win it, but it gives you a chance. We always felt, can you put yourself in that circle and have a shot. And with those kind of weapons, I could see them having a great opportunity for that.”

MILESTONES

Stetson's Jalen Blackmon, who scored 42 in the ASun title game against Austin Peay, became the program's career leader with 744 points. The junior scored 14 against UConn. ... The Huskies' 32 victories are the second-most in program history behind the 2013-14 national championship team (33) and most under Hurley in six seasons.

UP NEXT

The Huskies have never played Northwestern, and last played a Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament in 2021, losing to Maryland in the first round.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness