No. 5 UConn delivered a statement win in an 87-76 victory vs. No. 9 North Carolina on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic, bouncing back from its lone loss of the season vs. preseason No. 1 Kansas last week.
The Huskies, the reigning national champions, won all six of their NCAA Tournament games by double-digits last spring on the road to the title and they continued that trend vs. the Tar Heels.
UConn (8-1) led nearly wire-to-wire and never trailed after being down by one point in the opening minutes of the first half. North Carolina (7-2) cut the lead down to five midway through the second half before the Huskies went on a 22-16 to close it out.
The Tar Heels were off to their best start to a season in six years after missing the NCAA Tournament entirely as the preseason No. 1 team last season.
Despite getting little production from star big man Donovan Clingan, who scored only eight points in 19 minutes because of foul trouble, four UConn players scored in double figures led by Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer, who scored a game-high 23 points.
- Coming into this game, UConn was 3-3 in its last six games against top-10 opponents. Prior to that, the Huskies had lost 12 consecutive games against top-10 teams. On the flip side, UNC had won five of its last seven games against top-10 competition before falling to UConn.
- In a battle of historic blue bloods, UConn improved to 2-5 all-time against UNC. The Huskies had lost three consecutive games to the Tar Heels and their only previous win over UNC came on Jan. 19, 2002, at home.
- For the first time since Nov. 11, UConn star freshman Stephon Castle returned to the lineup. Castle missed the Huskies' last six games after having a minor medical procedure performed on his left knee and scored three points in 11 minutes off the bench.
- UNC guard RJ Davis has scored 20+ points in five consecutive games. Davis finished with 26 points in the loss.
UConn's dominance isn't slowing down
Eight months ago, UConn completed one of the most dominant championship runs in the history of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies won all six tournament games by double digits and it appears they're on a similar trajectory despite losing Andre Jackson Jr., Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo to the NBA Draft.
Dare I say UConn got … better?
The sample size is small, but the Huskies already have double-digit wins this season over Indiana, No. 12 Texas and North Carolina. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the loss to Kansas last weekend and on top of that, it's one of the toughest places in the nation to play as a visitor.
Clingan was expected to take a massive leap this season after serving as Sanogo's backup. There have certainly been flashes of his potential dominance, but against the three ranked teams UConn has faced this season, he is averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds. He struggled with foul trouble Tuesday, but this UConn team is good enough to beat top-10 opponents, even if its star center isn't playing at his best.
Bright future ahead for UNC
North Carolina started the 2023-24 season 7-1 — which marked its best start in six years. By now, you're familiar with what happened last season. The Tar Heels were the undisputed preseason No. 1 team and missed out on the NCAA Tournament entirely. It was, quite frankly, a disaster.
This UNC team is different and they look like they will be a serious problem come March. The Tar Heels recorded their biggest win of the season last week against No. 17 Tennessee. RJ Davis is playing like one of the best guards in the country and is on a scoring hot streak. Armando Bacot continues to be a double-double machine and his return to school looks like a massive win for the program. Harrison Ingram looks like an impact transfer after struggling to find a true role at Stanford. Those are all positive developments.
UNC freshman Elliot Cadeau is a star in the making. The numbers/production isn't quite there yet, but he was recently moved to the starting lineup and that move is paying off. Cadeau had five assists in the loss Tuesday and recorded a career-high 10 assists last week against Tennessee. North Carolina ranked near the bottom in team assists and Cadeau fills a glaring hole. North Carolina is already exceeding preseason expectations and will continue to get better as the season goes on.
Having Castle back is a major boost
The rich always get richer and having Castle back in the fold is a major boost for an already loaded UConn rotation. Castle got off to as hot of a start as any freshman in the country. During a blowout win over Stonehill last month, he scored 17 points and added eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in only 24 minutes. But then, he went down with a knee injury that required a minor procedure and missed the last six games.
UConn coach Dan Hurley brought Castle off the bench against UNC and he only played 11 minutes. But, when he entered the game for the first time in nearly a month, he immediately made an impact by grabbing a pair of rebounds. The potential is there for Castle and he projects as a sure-fire NBA Draft lottery pick if he continues this pace. There's going to be a moment or two later this season when the Huskies need their star freshman to rise to the occasion. If the small sample size is any indication of that, you have to like his chances.