Top seed UConn steamrolls into Sweet 16 with 75-58 rout of Northwestern in East Region

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NEW YORK (AP) — UConn again, no contest.

Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton and the top-seeded Huskies overwhelmed an undermanned Northwestern team 75-58 on Sunday night to sail into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Newton had 20 points and 10 assists, and Clingan finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks. Connecticut led wire-to-wire and became the first defending national champion to reach the regional semifinals since Duke in 2016.

“Just obviously impressed with the performance. Just really attacked them in the paint,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “Obviously, the injuries that they have sustained during the year changed the total complexion of that team.”

The Huskies (33-3) built a 30-point cushion with 13:27 left and matched a program record for wins set by the 2013-14 national title squad. They’ll play Thursday night in the East Region semifinals against No. 5 seed San Diego State or 13th-seeded Yale in Boston, about an 85-mile drive from UConn’s campus.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Connecticut guard Cam Spencer, who scored 11 points. “It was the goal obviously to get from Brooklyn to Boston, so we are looking forward to that. And you know, we have four more to go. So that’s really what we’re focused on — our next game.”

The Huskies beat a fifth-seeded San Diego State squad 76-59 in last year’s national championship game. They lost Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. to the NBA from that talented team, but this balanced and focused group has looked even more dominant as it attempts to become the first program to repeat as NCAA champion since Florida in 2007.

Yale, the Huskies’ in-state neighbor located about 60 miles south, won the most recent matchup between the schools, 45-44 at Storrs in December 2014 — against a UConn team coming off a national title the previous season.

Sound familiar?

Undersized and overmatched, Boo Buie and the ninth-seeded Wildcats (22-12) were buried under a dizzying display of dunks, blocks, alley-oops and layups.

They made a late push that prompted Hurley to call a timeout with 5:26 remaining, but Northwestern never got the margin under 16.

Brooks Barnhizer scored all 18 of his points in the second half for Northwestern, which has advanced a round in each of its three NCAA Tournament appearances (all since 2017). But the Big Ten program has never reached the Sweet 16.

UConn’s victory put all three Big East teams that made the NCAAs in the regional semifinals, following hard-fought wins by Creighton and Marquette in the second round against Pac-12 programs.

The steamrolling Huskies had no such trouble, winning their eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament game by double digits despite going 3 for 22 from 3-point range. The record is nine, set by Michigan State from 2000-01.

“I was very impressed in person with their defense,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “They have all the ingredients to win another championship, there’s no question about it.”

Minus two injured starters, junior guard Ty Berry and 7-foot senior center Matthew Nicholson, the Wildcats had no answer for the 7-2 Clingan. He had a double-double less than 16 minutes into the game and blocked consecutive shots in a span of four seconds during one first-half sequence.

“I feel healthier and lighter than I’ve ever felt, and I just really got my confidence back,” Clingan said “Just trying to fly around the court and do whatever my team needs me to do to win.”

Seeking its sixth national title, all in the past quarter-century, UConn romped into the Sweet 16 for the 19th time. It was the second blowout of the night in Brooklyn, following Duke’s 93-55 dismantling of James Madison in the South Region.

After throttling No. 16 seed Stetson 91-52 in the first round Friday, the Huskies have now won 39 of their last 42 games dating to last season’s NCAA Tournament.

“A team is going to have to play really, really, really well to beat them,” Collins said.

The initial meeting between the schools was a mismatch from the start. UConn scored the first seven points and opened an 18-4 bulge eight minutes into the game.

By then, the Huskies had already outscored Northwestern 16-2 in the paint and 8-0 on fast breaks as chants of “U-C-O-N-N, UConn! UConn! UConn!” echoed throughout Barclays Center.

On the defensive end, Big East Freshman of the Year Stephon Castle and Sixth Man Award winner Hassan Diarra clamped down on Buie, the leading scorer in Northwestern history.

The star guard, who entered averaging 19.3 points per game, didn’t score until sinking two free throws with 1:22 left in the first half that trimmed the deficit to 20. He and Barnhizer, the team’s second-leading scorer, were a combined 0 of 14 from the field in the opening 20 minutes as UConn went into the locker room leading 40-18.

“All gas, no brake,” said Diarra, who was playing in his New York City hometown.

The Wildcats were held to a season low in first-half points for the second consecutive game. Connecticut also set a season best for points allowed in the first half for the second straight game.

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UConn also played San Diego State in the 2011 Sweet 16, beating Kawhi Leonard and the second-seeded Aztecs 74-67 behind 36 points from Kemba Walker on the way to a national championship.

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

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