In a matchup featuring two long time Big East foes anything can happen. UConn had a classic tournament game vs. Saint Joseph’s in the 2nd round. They used a gritty all around team effort and the benefit of several calls that went their way down the stretch to survive and advance. Villanova was a consensus to be a number one seed prior to the start of the conference tournament. The only thing that could knock them off of that perch was a 1st round loss to a bad Seton Hall team and that is precisely what happened. So they assumed a 2 seed and were forced to face a tough Wisconsin Milwaukee team in the second round of the NCAA’s. After a competitive first half in which the teams exchanged baskets and Villanova held a slim 4 point lead, they managed to find their rhythm and won the game going away 73-53.
AS they have all season long the Wildcats were well balanced with 5 players scoring in double figures. Darrun Hillard was the leading scorer with 16 points. Forward JayVaughn Pinkston had 13 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Lead guard James Bell had the best all-around game with 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. Chris Jenkins and Josh Hart each came off the bench to contribute 11 points.
UConn’s success will always begin and end with star guard Shabazz Napier. He led the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists in the regular season and this game was no different. He led the team in assists with 7, rebounds with 8 and points with 24. 3 other players scored in double figures. DeAndre Daniels had several big baskets en route to his 18 points. Guard Niels Giffey had 10 points and Ryan Boatwright had a quiet 17.
Villanova relied heavily on the 3 point shot throughout the season and will need to rediscover its stroke from behind the arc if they want to continue to advance. They are 8 for 42 from the three point line in their last two games. Bell has been the main culprit by going 2 for 23 over his last 5 games. This could prove to be a fatal flaw as UConn has displayed an ability to turn long rebounds into transition points. Napier is often the recipient of these rebounds and there is nobody better in the country with the ball in their hands and a full head of steam. One of the main reasons UConn got past Saint Josephs was the game tying traditional 3 point play that Amida Brimah converted towards the end of regulation. He is part of a big Huskie front line that will have a big size advantage over the Wildcats. Villanova will have to take advantage of their speed and quickness advantage if they would like to get their 30th victory of the season.
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