Purdue’s Zach Edey, UConn’s Donovan Clingan clash in March Madness final ‘everybody wants to see’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The best player and the best team.

The defending national champion out to make history against last year’s March flop in search of redemption.

Connecticut on one side, Purdue and Zach Edey on the other.

No. 1 in KenPom.com opposite No. 2.

Monday night’s national championship game has it all — a dream matchup of No. 1 seeds at State Farm Stadium.

“This is the game that everybody wants to see,” said Edey, the first unanimous repeat National Player of the Year winner since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson in 1981-83. “The one versus two. We’re not in the same conference. I’ve never played UConn before, they’ve never played us before.

“The last two years, I think we’ve been the two best teams in the sport. To finally go against them and really match up and see how we stack up, is going to be amazing.”

UConn (36-3), the overall top seed, is looking to become the eighth team to win it all in consecutive years.

Florida, back in 2006-07, is the last team to do it.

The Huskies have won 11 straight NCAA Tournament games by double figures, with an average margin of victory of 22.2 points, but they haven’t faced a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in that span.

UConn center Donovan Clingan jams home two points during the Huskies' national semifinal win against Alabama on Saturday.
UConn center Donovan Clingan jams home two points during the Huskies’ national semifinal win against Alabama on Saturday. USA TODAY Sports

Monday night, they will. Monday night, UConn draws Edey and the Big Ten champions who became the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 last March when they fell to FDU.

It responded in the same manner as the first team to suffer a similar fate, Virginia in 2018, which won it all the following season.

Coach Matt Painter received a call from Virginia coach Tony Bennett the night of the loss to FDU.

Like Bennett and the Cavaliers, Painter and the Boilermakers have owned that setback and come back stronger.

“You got to be able to take it,” Painter said. “You’re a little kid, that was always the line, ‘You can dish it out, but you can’t take it, right?’ ”

Purdue (34-4) has proven it can take it.

It has one more hill to climb, and it is gargantuan.

Connecticut has treated this tournament like its own invitational, dismantling one quality opponent after another.

Zach Edey rejects an offering from N.C. State during Purdue's semifinal win on Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.
Zach Edey rejects an offering from N.C. State during Purdue’s semifinal win on Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. USA TODAY Sports

And it has an answer for Edey in 7-2 center Donovan Clingan, who is considered the better pro prospect and is a projected top-10 pick.

“I think the word ‘dominant’ comes out with UConn,” Painter said. “They’ve dominated people. They haven’t just dominated the bad teams, they’ve dominated some great teams.”

Clingan has been a major part of that.

He produced a combined 40 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks in Connecticut’s last two wins over Illinois and Alabama, owning the paint at both ends of the floor.

UConn has outscored its five tournament opponents by a remarkable 103 points when its starting center is on the floor.

But Clingan has never faced anyone of Edey’s ilk before, either.

This will clearly be his greatest test yet, facing someone taller than him for the first time he can remember, a player averaging 28 points, 15.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 blocks in this tournament.

“You may coach or play your whole career and never coach or play against somebody of his stature. Truly a giant player,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “[Clingan] has played against some outstanding centers in [Joel] Soriano and [Ryan] Kalkbrenner. But this is a different animal and they use him in a much, much different way.”

All of these factors — Connecticut chasing history, Purdue looking to pull a Virginia, the two monsters in the middle and the two best teams by analytics — make this such an intriguing final night to the season.

It has the potential to be a classic, a night the sport will remember for years to come.

“This is the matchup we wanted,” Edey said. “We didn’t want it any other way. This is the game we were all looking forward to.”

He’s not alone.

It’s the game everyone hoped to see.

Monday night, it becomes a reality.


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