One of the best seasons of Villanova Basketball came to end early on Sunday morning as the Wildcats lost to the Connecticut Huskies, 77-65, in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32. They were the highest seed to be eliminated from the tournament so far.
Darrun Hilliard's 3-pointer to give the Wildcats an early 19-9 lead with 11:31 to go would be noteworthy; it put the Bethlehem native over 1,000 Career Points as a 'Cat and it would be the last points scored by Villanova until JayVaughn Pinkston hit a free throw with :29 remaining.
During that span, the Huskies went on a 14-0 run which gave them a 1 point lead at the intermission after Ryan Arcidiacono, who finished with 18, hit a 3 as the half ended. The 'Cats had missed 10 straight shots prior to th Arcidiacono bomb.
With a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, Villanova (29-5) took the lead at 36-35 with 15:38 to play, but then a 7-0 Husky run over four minutes gave UConn the 42-36 edge. The Wildcats would challenge that lead throughout the second half, but the Huskies had an answer for every Nova basket, keeping some distance between them.
Following a foul on James Bell with 11 minutes to play, the Huskies went on a 9-0 run anchored by two Shabazz Napier threes. Napier finished with a game-high 25, despite being limited to just eight minutes in the first half, due to foul trouble, and suffering a minor calf injury that sidelined him momentarily, late in the second half. Villanova was unable to capitalize on the latter.
After getting within 5 at 51-56, with a little more than three minutes to go 'Nova couldn't get any closer. Despite some clutch shooting and defense UConn had a 5 point lead with 60 seconds to play. The Huskies had up to a 12 point lead with a little more than a minute to go.
The Wildcats clawed back to within 5, but Connecticut's free throw prowess put the Wildcats away as the Huskies' last 15 points came from the charity stripe.
Connecticut will now head to Madison Square Garden and play the winner of Sunday's game between North Carolina and Iowa State. This is the fifth straight year where at least one 2-seed will fail to reach the Sweet 16 round of the tournament.