Connecticut v Butler
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As Tristen Newton, UConn's All-American point guard, drifted across the top of the lane against Alabama in a national semifinal Saturday, he saw the cutter. A teammate was riding the baseline unmarked, set up for an easy alley-oop dunk.

Alabama big man Grant Nelson tried to cut it off at the last second. Instead, he got put on a poster. Not by his primary adversary in the paint, the 7-foot soon-to-be NBA lottery pick Donovan Clingan, but by UConn's freshman shooting guard, Stephon Castle.

Newton and Castle may be the best guard duo in the country. That part is arguable. What's not is that they are the most physically imposing. At 6-5 and turning 23 this month, Newton has turned himself from an intriguing transfer on last season's Huskies title team to a superstar in his fifth college season. Yet it's Castle who has really turned heads during this run to Monday's national title game vs. Purdue (9:20 p.m. ET, TBS and March Madness Live), a 6-6 dynamo who accepted a smaller role than he could handle to be part of a larger operation with its sites on consecutive championships.

Entering this heavyweight matchup between the No. 1-seeded Huskies (36-3) and Boilermakers (34-4), the focus has been on the big men, understandably. And down low, the formidable Clingan will be fighting against the behemoth that is 7-4 two-time Naismith Player of the Year Zach Edey. Purdue has the size edge there, always. But out on the perimeter? Different story.

"Their guards are unbelievable," 6-foot Purdue point guard Braden Smith said Sunday. "They're going to be in the NBA. So it's definitely a challenge for us."

Smith and 6-1 Lance Jones, who had a breakout night himself Saturday, likely will take on the Newton-Castle pairing on both ends of the court. (Shooting specialists Cam Spencer of UConn and Fletcher Loyer of Purdue serve as third guards, but it's easy to imagine they'll be matched up against each other with their similar frames and games.) The Purdue guards are relentless -- and very familiar with being undersized. 

"We didn't get blessed with the height, but it's OK," Jones said. "We're here for a reason. At the end of the day, it's part of the hype. And if we go out there and play our game and play aggressive, I like our chances."

They're excellent, to be sure. Smith was a finalist for the Cousy Award for best point guard in the nation, and Jones has been one of the biggest-impact freshmen in the country.

But they can be disturbed. Smith has had 18 games this season with three turnovers, including his five-turnover, 1-for-9 shooting night Saturday against North Carolina State. Purdue's four losses this season have included a six-turnover game by Smith and a four-turnover game by Jones.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four National Semifinal-Alabama vs Connecticut
Stephon Castle takes to the air in UConn's 86-72 Final Four win vs. Alabama. USATSI

For UConn, the giant backcourt provides a schematic advantage against anybody, but perhaps especially against a team like Purdue that plays inside-out with entry passes and 3-point shooters.

"It just affects passing windows," Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. "It shrinks the court for the opponent, as well. Allows you to contest the 3-point line at those spots."

Purdue coach Matt Painter uses that size mismatch as a directive: "They swarm you, they get into you, they make it difficult on you," he said. "Don't put yourself in difficult scenarios. Take care of the basketball, run our stuff, make good decisions."

Painter has some options. He could use sixth man Mason Gillis as a small forward rather than power forward and slide Loyer into the second guard spot. He could even try intriguing 6-5 freshman Myles Colvin, who has only played 254 minutes this season. But don't bet on it: Smith and Jones got Purdue here, for its second-ever trip to the title game.

Loyer played against Smith in high school before coming to Purdue with him as freshmen last year. He said Smith never feels anyone is too big for him. He has a 6-5 wingspan, gets low in his stance and makes long-striders and high-dribblers uncomfortable.

But Castle and Newton are hardly clunky. These are smooth players who both are rising up NBA Draft boards this March -- Castle into the top-five conversation (Kyle Boone's latest mock draft had him eighth), Newton into the first-round range (Boone had him 30th).

And they've got a 10-inch combined height advantage on the players they're lining up against Monday night.

"At the end of the day, every court I step on, I'm always the smallest," Smith said. "So it's just another day for me. And it's the same for Lance. So we're not going to approach it any other way."