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Clingan aware of ‘what’s at stake’ as Huskies eye 6th title

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The UConn basketball team is on the cusp of its second consecutive men’s national title. And perhaps more impressive, it would mark the program’s sixth title since 1999.

If No. 1 overall seed UConn can topple fellow No. 1 seed Purdue on Monday night, the Huskies will become the sport’s first back-to-back champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

Few can appreciate that history more than sophomore center Donovan Clingan, who grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, which is less than an hour from UConn’s Storrs campus.

“It would mean a lot to a lot of people,” Clingan said Sunday at the Final Four. “It’s history. You come to UConn to make history. It’s a hard school to make history at but everyone in this locker room realizes what’s at stake.”

Everyone in college basketball knows that Clingan will be part of Monday night’s most anticipated matchup. The collision of the 7-foot-2, 280-pound Clingan and the 7-foot-4, 300-pound Zach Edey is a generational big-man clash.

The game will feature the rarity of two 7-footers starting against each other in a national title showdown. Clingan and Edey will join Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984 as the only other matchup of starting 7-footers in a title game in NCAA tournament history.

Edey has been so dominant in the NCAA tournament that it was amusing to hear him and Purdue coach Matt Painter cast Edey’s 20-point, 12-rebound performance against NC State as ordinary. “Those numbers are very average for him,” Painter said.

Clingan played well against Alabama with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks. When he came onto the court for warmups, he had his right hand taped up after injuring it in practice earlier in the week. On Sunday, he said he’s uncertain if he’ll wear the wrap again Monday night.

“I’ll see how it feels,” Clingan said. “I just try to wear the pad over it just to protect it from getting hit again. But there’s no pain really. Just trying to protect it.”

Edey is the two-time National Player of the Year. He and Clingan have never met, but they did pass each other at an early season tournament in Oregon in 2022. “I walked by him and I was like, ‘Wow,'” Clingan said. “I got a lot of respect for Zach.”

Clingan said he aims to take a “killer mindset” into Monday’s game, and both players acknowledged some appreciation for post play being the center of conversation.

“People kind of try to discount that and act like it wasn’t important for a while, but being able to rebound, being able to score inside, have that inside presence is always going to be an important thing in basketball,” Edey said.

Edey highlighted how Clingan runs the floor, showcases good hands and plays with a physical style. Clingan appreciated how Edey seals off defenders and finishes with both hands, and acknowledged that he can’t get into foul trouble.

Both were excited to recount their chance encounters with Shaquille O’Neal this weekend, as one of the last generation’s definitive big men was in the sitting front row Saturday. Both are excited that the basketball conversation is steered toward the post nuances of that era.

“I mean, I feel like it just shows the role of the big man and how much of an impact they have on the teams,” Clingan said. “Zach’s been the most dominant player, one of the most dominant players, in the country for the past two years and his team has done very well, and I just feel like people don’t see these bigs as impactful just because we’re not knocking down 3s every two possessions.”

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