Villanova needed a win at UConn Saturday afternoon to have any hope of staying on the bubble as a possible tournament team. What they got was a decisive road victory, 70-61, in which freshman star Ryan Arcidiacono had one of the best games of his young college career. Arcidiacono finished the game with 25 points on eight of 15 shooting and two assists.
The obvious turning point in the game started at the 14:03 mark in the second half. Ryan Arch hit a three pointer to answer a tip in from Niels Giffey that had given UConn its biggest lead of the game, 43-36. What followed was a 16-3 run that gave Villanova a lead that it never relinquished.
The highlight of this run was a half court lob to a streaking James Bell that ended in an alley oop slam that got Nova fans everywhere on their feet and deflated the XL Arena.
The Wildcats dominated UConn on the glass, and it wasn’t even close. ‘Nova grabbed 40(!!!) rebounds to UConn’s 24, including 19-5 advantage on the offensive glass. Mouphtaou Yarou tied a career high with 16 rebounds and finished with 11 points. Mouph joined Arcidiacono, Pinkston, and Bell with double digit point totals.
"That gives confidence to the guards, the 3-point shooters," Yarou said. "They know they can take a shot and if they miss we are going to get the rebound. It’s like a pass to us."
Villanova shot 32 percent from the field in the first half, but was able to increase that number to 40 percent from the field after the final buzzer sounded. The Wildcats were able to keep the score close in the first half because they held UConn’s star guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright to exactly zero points. They would finish with a combined 6 points, 2 and 4 points respectively.
Ryan Arcidiacano finished his torrid first half with 17 point on five of 10 shooting, including three of six from three, but committed 3 turnovers with no assists.
"I'm the only guy in the world who gets a kid who is an unbelievable scorer and he wants to be the nicest guy in the world and pass to everybody," Wright said. "No one ever had to tell me to shoot. We tell him to shoot. We want him to score."
UConn’s lead never grew larger than six, even though there seemed to be times that the Huskies might break away. The Huskies high scorer was freshman guard Omar Calhoun, who finished with 16 points. Sophomore Forward DeAndre Daniels was right behind him with 13 points.
Part of Shabazz Napier’s rough game might have been because he was never able to establish a rhythm. He was whistled for two quick fouls early in the first half, allowing the Wildcats to jump out to an early seven-point lead.
Saturday’s game becomes extra important to tournament talk because of the outcome of a game at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Providence beat Notre Dame quite handily, which might serve to remove the "Bad Loss" label from ‘Nova’s resume when the selection committee is making its final decision of which team will be going to the Big Dance.
I’ll let the other authors speak more about the meaning of this win, but make no mistake: This was a big victory. UConn’s RPI is 21, compared to Villanova’s 63. UConn might not be ranked, but winning on the road is huge this time of year.