James C. Garman/

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

GLENDALE, ARIZONA — There is no avoiding poking the bear when star the runaway buzzsaw with a New England-sized chip on its shoulder that is the Connecticut men’s basketball team, so Alabama tried a fairly logical strategy for its national semifinal against the defending champions: picking on the baby bear, err Husky, of the group.

Freshman Stephon Castle was not impressed, and he responded with his most impressive game in a Huskies uniform to move the defending national champions one step away from history..

Castle, the guard who might be the most NBA-ready player on an already-stacked team yet has played second fiddle for most of the season to a veteran core, scored a career-high 21 points during Connecticut’s 86-72 victory over the Crimson Tide in the Final Four national semifinals inside State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The win marks the 11th consecutive win in the NCAA Tournament for the Huskies, all by a margin of at least 13 points, and the No. 1 overall seed will take on preseason AP No. 1 Purdue on Monday for the opportunity to win its sixth national title.

For as captivating the Nate Oats’ offense is with their endless barrage of three-pointers and attacks to the basket, Alabama had to figure out what to take away from the Huskies on the defensive end — the Crimson Tide’s clear weakness — as Connecticut came into tonight averaging 81.3 points per game in the tournament, turning each of their four games into bona fide routs by the first media timeout of the second half, or (much) earlier.

Castle, for all his undeniable talent, averaged a modest 9.8 points per game in the tournament, with all of one made three pointer (out of eight attempts) during UConn’s dominant run. Finding a weakness to exploit on the Huskies is similar to training cats not to knock items off a ledge, but pick their poison Alabama did in the form of sloughing off Castle with every touch on the perimeter, starting with the first possession of the game when his defender chose to reside in the paint to guard the freshman on his first touch on offense.

All that ended up being was extra motivation for another Huskies star, though Castle, upon noticing the ploy, had another strong word in mind.

“I wouldn’t say it was motivation. I would say it was kind of a disrespect on their end just to guard that far back,” Castle said. “I took advantage of it early. I saw the ball go in early. I thought it started a great night for me.”

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday evening’s national semifinal game, with photos taken by Connecticut-based photographer James C. Garner. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are seven pictures in total.

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Tags : Alabama Crimson TideBig East ConferenceConnecticut HuskiesFinal FourNCAA TournamentSoutheastern Conference

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