HOUSTON — By last March, Adama Sanogo was out of gas.
This March, he has energy to burn.
The difference: a backup center as good as any in the country.
Take a bow, Donovan Clingan — the 7-foot-2 freshman big man who has helped make it a memorable month for the standout UConn junior.
“Adama Sanogo has been one of the best players in the NCAA Tournament in large part because we’ve been able to keep him fresh this year,” coach Dan Hurley said on Thursday as the Huskies prepared for Saturday’s Final Four. “Last year this time of year he was playing 34, 35 minutes a game as a big guy. This year Donovan Clingan being able to keep him fresh has been a big reason he’s been able to dominate and that we’re still playing.”
Sanogo, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound bruiser from Mali, has been a force for the fourth-seeded Huskies in four tournament games — averaging 20 points, 9.7 rebounds and shooting 65.4 percent from the field.
Clingan, a highly regarded top-50 prospect from Bristol, Conn., has shined in March, emulating his consistent regular season in giving UConn an inside duo few teams can deal with.
They have helped one another.
Both credited the other for their improvement.
Sanogo’s experience prepared Clingan for the Big East season, and Sanogo cited Clingan as important in his daily motivation.
His presence didn’t let Sanogo coast.
“Every practice he brings it to you,” Sanogo said. “He wants to fight. He wants your spot. … The thing is he helped me a lot.”
They have different strengths.
Sanogo is at best on the low block, using his strength to score in the lane.
Clingan is a force in pick-and-rolls as a lob threat, athletic and agile for a man his size.
Both are instrumental to the Huskies’ suffocating defense, combining to average 2.6 blocks per game — 1.8 by Clingan, an elite rim protector.
Hurley alternates the two — depending on matchups, the flow of the game and who is playing well.
“I think what makes it work so well is I tried to study a lot of [Purdue coach] Matt Painter, one of the best coaches in the country when he had [Trevion] Williams and he had the two-center attack [with Zach Edey],” Hurley said. “We really this summer tried to go to school on what … he was doing. And that was really helpful.”