March Madness: Stephon Castle puts on show in UConn’s Final Four win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The first time Stephon Castle touched the ball Saturday night, he didn’t see a defender near him.

Alabama was daring the freshman to beat them from the perimeter, playing well off of him.

“I would just say it was kind of a disrespect on their end just to guard that far back,” Castle recalled. “I took advantage of it early. I saw the ball go in early. I thought it started a great night for me.”


Stephon Castle, who scored a team-high 21 points, slams home a dunk during UConn's 86-72 Final Four win over Alabama.
Stephon Castle, who scored a team-high 21 points, slams home a dunk during UConn’s 86-72 Final Four win over Alabama. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Castle sure made the Crimson Tide pay.

He sank two early 3-pointers and equaled a career-high with 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting, helping top-seeded Connecticut get past No. 4 Alabama, 86-72, and move to within one win of a national championship repeat.

Castle’s offensive breakout was unexpected.

The projected lottery pick has spent most of this year in a supporting role, guarding the best player on the opposition and doing the little things that lead to winning.

He was averaging only 9.7 points in the tournament.

His biggest contributions were shutting down star guards like Boo Buie of Northwestern and Terrence Shannon Jr. of Illinois.


Stephon Castle steals the ball from Mark Sears during UConn's victory.
Stephon Castle steals the ball from Mark Sears during UConn’s victory. Patrick Breen / USA TODAY NETWORK

But against Alabama, he played a pivotal role on the offensive end, scoring at all three levels against the Crimson Tide.

“He’s not like any other freshman. He’s out there to do whatever his team needs him to do to win,” teammate Donovan Clingan said. “He’s one of the best on-ball defenders that you’ll see. He puts a lot of work in. He’s the most unselfish player on this team.”

True to form, Castle credited his teammates with his big night, saying they got him the ball in the right spots.

Of course, Castle still had to convert on the big stage, in front of over 70,000 people.

He made it look easy.

Consider this the latest example of why he has such a bright future and Hurley constantly raved about him.

“When we got to the first practice, whether you ripped him or encouraged him, everything was, ‘Yes, Coach,’” Hurley said. “He’s such a pleaser. His value at the next level, obviously you see it on game night. A lot of NBA teams, they come through and watch us practice, where he even has the ball in his hands more, where he gets to show all the things he can do that you don’t always see on game night.”

Everyone saw it Saturday night.

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