Sports News

Illinois falls short of ‘Cling Kong’ as UConn climbs back to Final Four


BOSTON – Bill Clingan had just watched his son, Donovan, dominate an Elite Eight game in breathtaking fashion. His boy, now a 7-foot-2 man, had terrorized college basketball’s second-ranked offense so much that Illinois looked broken. As Donovan accepted the NCAA Tournament East Region Most Outstanding Player award, after leading Connecticut to a 77-52 victory and a second straight Final Four, his father’s eyes filled with tears and fixed themselves on the rafters of the TD Garden.

“I feel… I feel… oh, man, what do I feel?” he said. “All sorts of things. So happy for him, his teammates, his coaches. So happy. But man, I wish she was here. I so wish she was here.

Almost six years ago today, on March 27, 2018, Stacey Porrini Clingan, Bill’s wife and Donovan’s mother, died after a battle with breast cancer. She had been a star in college herself, had appeared in three NCAA tournaments, scored 1,128 points, grabbed 929 rebounds and blocked 220 shots. Then she passed the basketball bug to her son and taught Donovan so many things that he unleashed on the Illini in the regional final. Having seen him play the game they both loved like this?

“My God,” Bill said, “she would cry. She would boo and scream. She was an extraordinary woman, and a big part of her is in him. He does this for her – and he does.

go further


UConn’s next big star plays for his dad in the stands and his mom watches from above

Clingan delivered 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in just under 22 minutes on Saturday. As good as that stat line is, it doesn’t begin to describe his dominance. Illinois, with all his offensive firepower, missed all 19 attempted shots during the Clingan challenge, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In the first 17 minutes he was on the field, the Huskies outscored Illinois 34-4.

The defending national champions have won 10 straight NCAA Tournament games by double digits — and an average margin of 23 points — but they’ve been even more unstoppable so far in this series than the last. After the Illini tied it late in the first half, for a full 27 seconds, Connecticut (35-3) scored the next 30 points. Blink, game over.

THE Huskies are an avalanche, and this time Clingan was the stick of dynamite at the top of the mountain.

“It’s a tough month for me,” he said moments before climbing a ladder to take his haul. “I lost my mother six years ago in March. To do what I did today, it means a lot to my family and it means a lot to me. I know she is happy. She dreamed of it as a player. I know she would be the first in that stadium, the first through the gates every game, but I know she’s smiling. And I know she will be even happier if we finish the job.

Clingan scored the first seven points of the game. He blocked three shots in 37 seconds, including two against the Illini star. Terrence Shannon Jr., who had scored more than 25 points in seven straight games, but missed 10 of 12 shots against Connecticut. Clingan backed the Illinois big man Coleman Hawkins and scored right over him on the first play of the second half. He followed a monster block with a massive dunk on the other end in another 12-second burst of brilliance. Shortly after, he launched a reverse layup over Hawkins, added another on the glass and initiated a transition sequence that led to a backbreaking game. Alex Karaban 3 points.

Bob Hurley, legendary high school basketball coach and father of Huskies coach Dan Hurley, stood speechless as confetti fell on Clingan Saturday night.

“It was a blitzkrieg. No, do you know what it was? he said. “It was like Bill Walton.”

Clingan was an integral part of Connecticut’s national championship run last season, but he was a complementary piece. He came off the bench, behind star center and Final Four MOP Adama Sonogo. He averaged 13.1 minutes as a freshman and totaled 23 points in the Huskies’ final five NCAA Tournament games last year. This time around, Dan Hurley needs him to be the man, and he more than delivers.

“He’s like the most influential player in the country, with Zach Edey. Those are the two guys that are completely game-changing,” Hurley said. “What he did to them at the rim scared them defensively, and obviously they had no answer for him offensively.”

What makes Connecticut — which has been 50-5 since Jan. 25, 2023 — so terrifying is that there are so many threats. The Huskies bludgeoned Illinois while getting just seven total points from the star guards Tristen Newton And Stephon Castle. Karaban and Cam Spencer can explode at any time. Hassan Diarra comes off the bench, and he could have been the second most valuable player on the court Saturday.

But this version of Clingan? Healthy now, having overcome foot injuries before and during this season and actively trying to break the opponent’s will?

“He’s intimidating, even to me,” said Bill Clingan, who is no small man.

“When he does what he does now,” Diarra said, “we’re hard to beat. We’re able to put pressure on the ball, really get into guys and force them to Donovan, because we know that he has our backs to protect the rim.

Dan Hurley nicknamed him Cling Kong. Asked if he felt worthy of the nickname after Saturday night, Clingan replied, “Hell, yes, I do.”

“He’s a happy green giant,” Hurley said. “But it’s a dog. Don’t let the smile fool you.

Clingan is also a hometown hero, a top-40 recruit from Bristol, Conn., who stayed home through college — and stayed in college when he could have entered the NBA draft after the season last. Instead, he’s now poised to help the Huskies become the first team since Florida in 2007 to repeat as national champions.

“I don’t know if there will be as special a connection between a player and a public school,” Hurley said. “He is a larger-than-life figure in the state and his legend is growing.”

(Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button