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No. 2 UConn dominates 2nd half, opens postseason by routing Xavier 87-60 in Big East quarterfinal

NEW YORK (AP) — The start wasn't exactly what UConn envisioned.

But boy, what a finish.

Tristen Newton and Donovan Clingan each had 13 points and seven rebounds, and the second-ranked Huskies blitzed Xavier in the second half Thursday to open their postseason with an 87-60 blowout in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

“Thrilled the way we responded to some early adversity,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

Alex Karaban and Cam Spencer both scored 12 in a balanced performance by the top-seeded Huskies (29-3), who have won five straight games and 19 of 20. The defending national champions will play No. 5 seed St. John’s, a 91-72 winner over fourth-seeded Seton Hall, in the first semifinal Friday evening at Madison Square Garden.

UConn is 0-3 in Big East semifinals since rejoining the league in 2020-21.

Connecticut fell behind 10-0 at the start, then reeled off the next 13 points. After leading 34-33 at halftime, the Huskies opened the second period with runs of 9-2 and 21-10 to build a 12-point cushion with 9:30 remaining.

They ran away from there, making their final 15 field-goal attempts. Many were dunks or layups — a few by backups in garbage time. But the Huskies shot a blistering 79% in the second half (22 for 28) and set program records for shooting rate (58.3%) and assists (29) in a Big East Tournament game.

Hurley was asked what he said to his team in the locker room to spark such a turnaround.

“A little bit of it was like, raise your intensity level. This is a playoff game,” he explained. “Just, I think it took us a half to get going — but also credit Xavier. They played I thought a really, really good first half.”

The 7-foot-2 Clingan, who had only two points in the first half, scored 11 straight for the Huskies in a span of 3:20 as they broke it wide open.

“He's a gentle giant, you know? He’s a Jolly Green Giant. Sometimes he’s got to get that intensity level up, get that nastiness. He’s such a sweetheart of a guy. And, yeah, he turned it up,” Hurley said.

Samson Johnson scored 12 points off the bench and Big East Freshman of the Year Stephon Castle added 10 points and eight rebounds to round out six scorers in double figures for Connecticut, seeking its first Big East Tournament title since 2011.

“We’re playing for a championship. This is one of the biggest goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. If you don’t want to win now, then you probably shouldn’t be playing,” Spencer said.

Quincy Olivari scored 17 points and Desmond Claude had 13 for ninth-seeded Xavier (16-17), which beat No. 8 seed Butler 76-72 in the first round Wednesday.

“We did the best we could,” coach Sean Miller said. “But we weren’t able to sustain it. We simply ran out of gas.”

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: Depleted by significant injuries all season on a roster with 10 newcomers, the Musketeers need to make a run in the NIT or some other postseason event to avoid their first losing record since 1996. Their streak of 27 consecutive winning seasons is tied for the nation’s fourth longest.

UConn: Probably has wrapped up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament already, and the Huskies are gearing up for a run at becoming the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2007.

UP NEXT

UConn swept two regular-season games from St. John's, including a 77-64 victory at Madison Square Garden in early February.

St. John's has reached the Big East semifinals for the first time since winning the 2000 tournament.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball