By PAT EATON-ROBB – AP Sports Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) – UConn unveiled its fifth national championship banner Monday, then unveiled a new-look team that hopes to compete for a sixth title.
Alex Karaban scored a career-high 22 points to lead five players in double figures and the Nos. 6 Northern Arizona Huskies lead 95-52.
Tristen Newton scored 14 points, Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle each had 12 and Samson Johnson added 11 for UConn after a wild flag ceremony that put a cap on the 2023 title.
“To shoot and look up there, that’s something you’ll never forget,” coach Dan Hurley said. “But we’ve been working so hard since June to get this team ready to play and nobody’s really thinking about that. But that was cool. I got emotional.”
The Huskies shot 56% (32 of 57) from the floor and held the Lumberjacks to 34% (20 of 59).
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Liam Lloyd led Northern Arizona with 15 points.
The Huskies won their games in last year’s NCAA Tournament by an average of 20 points, but then lost their three best players, Adama Sanogo, Jordan Houston and Andre Jackson Jr. for the NBA. Those three averaged 40.1 points and 17.7 rebounds a game.
This year the teams were literally focused on Clingan. But the 7-foot-2 sophomore missed the last month of the preseason with a right foot strain. He’s being eased back into the rotation and played just 15 minutes, grabbing eight rebounds.
“Just to be able to make my first start in college, to be able to go out on the floor, coming off an injury and feeling good out there, it was definitely a great feeling,” Clingan said.
The sophomore center opened the scoring with a rebound and an offensive layup, part of an early 14-5 run. The Huskies took a 20-point lead when Karaban recovered his own miss and put it in to make it 39-19. UConn led 47-30 at the half.
Five UConn freshmen, led by Castle, combined for 19 points and Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer had eight more.
Johnson, a 6-10 junior, totaled 11 points last season in 12 games, but is expected to play a much bigger role this year as Clingan’s backup. He hit 5 of 6 shots, including several highlight reel dunks and added five rebounds and three blocked shots.
Hurley said the coaches were concerned last season that he might have “one foot in the door,” but begged him to come back.
“He’s a very good person and he’s a very loyal person and you can see he’s got great talent, athletically,” Hurley said.
Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks, who made a surprise run to the Big Sky Conference Tournament title game last season, were picked to finish eighth in this year’s league in both the media and coaches polls. Coach Shane Bucar took his team out to watch the pre-match proceedings.
“We used that as inspiration,” he said. “We want to be Big Sky champions this year.”
UConn: The Huskies are looking to become the first program to repeat as national champions since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007.
Northern Arizona: Visits Grand Canyon Sunday in Phoenix.
UConn: Will host Stonehill in Hartford on Saturday.
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