There were plenty of individual standouts in UConn’s dominant 75-58 win over Northwestern on Sunday night.

There was Dononvan Clingan, who lived up to his nickname of “Cling Kong,” posting 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks, becoming the first player to put up a performance of that nature since The Admiral, David Robinson, accomplished the feat for Navy back in 1986. 

There was point guard Tristen Newton, who put together a 20-point, 10-assist gem, his 11th double-double of the season.

All of those performances were impressive, but in the midst of the Huskies’ victory over the No. 9-seeded Wildcats, a five-star freshman showed why he will likely be a lottery pick this June, not with how he scored, but in the way he defended an All-American guard in Boo Buie

The Wildcats’ fifth-year senior guard was held to 0-for-6 shooting from the floor and only two points in the first half. He finished the final game of his college career going 2-of-15 and ended up with nine points.

That’s because Stephon Castle made a statement. The 6-foot-6 wing from Covington, Georgia showed his length and willingness to play with physicality in meeting the challenge against Buie.

“Steph is the anti-entitled five-star freshman,” Dan Hurley said following his program’s eighth straight NCAA Tournament win by double-digits, one shy of a Big Dance record. “He does nothing but help his team win. The size, the speed, the foot strength. Steph caused problems.” 

Castle, the son of Quannette, a Delta Airlines employee, and Stacey, who works in education, credits his parents for keeping him focused.

“Other parents, when they see their kids, they want the best for them, but they want them to take every shot and be the star on the team,” Castle said. “They’ve been real with me my whole life. They don’t sugarcoat anything for me. They push me to work hard, and they’ve been unbelievable supporters.”

Ironically, Castle’s defensive showcase, which likely got the attention of several NBA scouts, came at the same site where the 2024 NBA Draft will take place – the Barclays Center. While Castle is expected to enter this summer’s NBA Draft, Hurley says the freshman standout is focused on the present, which goes back to his parents.

“I saw his parents … I saw them rip his you know what, multiple times,” Hurley said. “His parents aren’t fans. They hold him accountable and responsible to have an elite work ethic and be coachable and not thinking that the world spins around him at 17, 18 years old. We knew what we were getting, and NBA teams, you know they salivate over him. 

“We’re a balanced team, and he doesn’t get to show everything in his bag. That’s why the NBA teams, when summer starts, they come and watch practices, and watch practices throughout the year, where he gets a chance to showcase more of what he can do. Game night, you know, because he’s on a team that’s really high-level, obviously he doesn’t get a chance to show everything. But he’s got the parents, man, and when you’ve got great parents, it makes our job really, really easy.”

Where does Castle’s defensive desire in a score-first world come from? 

“Just really wanting to win,” Castle said. “It’s 50 percent technique and 50 percent heart. Just trying to stop the other team’s best player. It hasn’t always been that way for me. In AAU, I had to be more of a scorer. But coming to UConn, I had never won anything big before. I give my full trust in the coaches. That’s what they’ve asked of me and that’s what I try to do.” 

Before locking down Buie on Sunday night, Castle told his teammates he planned to hold the Northwestern star without a make in the first half. He accomplished that feat, crediting Clingan for his presence inside, which made it hard for the Wildcats’ star guard to get any shots off.

When asked to describe how he’s aligned with his teammates and what’s allowed this group to win 33 games this season, earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and advance to another Sweet 16, Castle said it all goes back to the selflessness of the program.

“It’s not really a selfish culture,” Castle said. “It really wasn’t for me to come in and really think about my own stats or think about how well I played. It was just doing whatever I can to come in and help the team win, and I feel like everybody else had the same kind of approach. 

“If you stand out and try to be selfish, you’ll stand out for the wrong reason.” 

Instead, on Sunday night, the talented, do-it-all freshman stood out for all the right ones.

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John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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