Tristen Newton, record-breaking UConn Huskies show strength in numbers as program goes back-to-back

UConn Huskies, Tristen Newton
Credit: Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

The UConn Huskies were heavy favorites heading into Monday night’s national championship game against the Purdue Boilermakers.

Dan Hurley’s squad won by an average of more than 14 points in the NCAA Tournament heading into the championship. The defending champs were 36-3 and seemed destined to go back-to-back.

It did not necessarily start out that way with Purdue star Zach Edey dominating early. It led to some major frustration on the part of Hurley.

UConn then broke it open big time in the second half, outscoring Purdue 39-30 to win going away by the score of 75-60. In the process, these Huskies made NCAA Tournament history with the largest combined point differential ever.

It was senior guard Tristen Newton who did a lot of the damage. The Texas native finished Monday night’s game with 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists in showing his great all-around game once again.

  • Tristen Newton stats (2023-24): 14.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6.2 APG

Likely first-round picks in the 2024 NBA Draft, Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle chipped in a combined 26 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in the game.

For his part, Clingan held his own against the aforementioned Edey after the Purdue star dominated early on.

Related: UConn Huskies and back-to-back National Champions

Strength in numbers define UConn Huskies championship run

UConn Huskies' Donovan Clingan
Credit: Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s a term that the dynastic Golden State Warriors used during their run of four NBA titles recently. But it should not be limited to them. In reality, it is what helped lead the Huskies to their second consecutive championship on Monday night.

It’s also something Hurley discussed leading up to the season.

“This whole season for us is going to come down to the bench. My best teams always have that depth. You saw how fresh we were in March last year because of the depth,” Hurley said. “I just think that our starting five is going to be as good as anyone’s. It’s “can we get the bench?'”

The concern was real. UConn lost the likes of Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson to the NBA from last season’s championship team.

Hurley and Co. were hoping that others could step into larger roles. Led by the aforementioned Castle as a freshman, that’s exactly what we saw this season. Cam Spencer also played a huge role after transferring from Rutgers.

This all came to light as the UConn Huskies completely outplayed Purdue Monday night. A total of five players went for at least nine points. Four hit double digits as the Huskies rotation dwindled to seven. In short, everyone who played made an impact.

The same thing can’t be said about Purdue. And in reality, that played the biggest role in UConn’s 15-point win. Edey scored 37 of the Boilermakers 60 points. Outside of Braden Smith (12 points), no other member of the Boilermakers scored more than five points. They got just two points off the bench from four players.

Acquiring five-star recruits helps a program like UConn continue to compete for titles. Bringing in depth and less-heralded players is what puts Blue Blood programs over the top.

The Huskies’ 2023-24 season proved this to a T. Don’t expect that to change moving forward.

In fact, UConn already boasts two top-10 recruits for the class of 2024. Per ESPN, guard Ahmad Nowell ranks fifth with forward Isaiah Abraham coming in 10th.

This should help make up for the losses of Clingan and Castle to the professional ranks. Coming off their freshman seasons, Solomon Ball and Jayden Ross will also be tasked with taking on larger roles. There is absolutely no reason to doubt that they can’t do just that.

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