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UConn gains confidence from European trip
The three exhibition games saw multiple Husky freshmen and a key transfer look like game-ready contributors.
Last week, UConn men’s basketball embarked on its European tour with three games in two countries and myriad cultural activities including a Barcelona soccer match, visits to historical sites, and a cooking class.
The Huskies were victorious in all three contests, which offered an exciting glimpse at the all-around balance of next year’s team. Sophomore forward Alex Karaban averaged 15 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game, super-senior Tristen Newton averaged 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists, and sophomore center Donovan Clingan put up 15.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Head coach Dan Hurley has classified that triumvirate as his “new big three” but the Huskies were led in scoring on the trip by freshman guard Stephon Castle. The five-star recruit averaged 16.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists.
Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer appears to be as good as advertised, with 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. Junior forward Samson Johnson built on his offseason buzz to the tune of 11.3 points and 6 rebounds per game, while another freshman, guard Solomon Ball, averaged 8.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. These guys seem ready for the rotation. Jaylin Stewart was held out of play due to a lingering injury and illness.
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The trip began on August 5th with the team’s first matchup coming against Le Cannet Basket in France. UConn went all-out offensively, winning 132-66 with impressive contributions across the roster. The starting five combined for 76 points, with Alex Karaban leading the way with 20 points. Tristen Newton supplied 18, Donovan Clingan added 16, Cam Spencer chipped in 13, and Diarra finished with nine.
From the bench, Castle, Johnson, and Ball found their rhythm, finishing with 15, 12, and 10 points, respectively, as Johnson also grabbed 8 rebounds. The Huskies’ ball movement looked sharp and the newcomers seemed to be jelling together nicely.
The team then traveled to Barcelona for its next two matches.
The Huskies continued their offensive dominance against Spanish Select I on August 7th. At the Pabellion Olimpica de Badelona in Barcelona, coming out on top, 103-57.
With the same starting five, Castle was the top scorer off the bench with 20 points, followed by Karaban and Newton with 16 each. Newton pulled down nine rebounds and had six assists, followed closely by Spencer with eight rebounds and Ball with five assists. Coming off the bench, Johnson and Ball both scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds each. It was an impressive display of depth and skill for Dan Hurley’s squad.
The next day, UConn finished the tour with a 103-74 win against Spanish Select II. Donovan Clingan led the way with 21 points and 5 rebounds, Newton had another impressive performance with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, and Castle looked great once again, standing out with 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists, while Samson Johnson finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds.
Despite having a lot of new faces and new roles on the roster, the Huskies looked sharp on the court with different players stepping up. While the competition wasn’t elite by any stretch, they are professionals, and, no matter what, it’s a good sign to see the freshmen contributing, Spencer fitting in, and Johnson looking ready.
Fans will have to wait a few more months to see UConn take the court for real this season, but this trip has successfully built the excitement for the Huskies’ title defense once it begins later this fall.