After a sluggish start in the first 10 minutes of the game, the top-ranked Villanova Wildcats found their rhythm and cruised to an 81-61 victory over the Connecticut Huskies in at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. on Saturday afternoon.
This was the first out of three meetings between the Wildcats and the Huskies, who will undergo a three-year series. Next year’s meeting will be at Madison Square Garden, before concluding with a game at the Wells Fargo Center.
Villanova’s Jalen Brunson led all scorers with 23 points, looking the part as the best player on the court.
The first 10 minutes of the game was played in a tough back-and-forth manner, almost like the scrappy days of when they were both in the Big East. Players from both teams were diving on the floor for loose balls, throwing elbows when establishing for rebounding position, which all brought back flashbacks of battles with the likes of Kemba Walker, Hasheem Thabeet, Scottie Reynolds, and Dante Cunningham—a throwback feel to the “old” Big East.
Both teams were struggling from the floor early, particularly the Wildcats. Known for shooting the ball well behind the arc, the Wildcats started off 2-of-12 from three-point range. However, what kept Villanova in the game was the way it outrebounded UConn, particularly on the offensive glass. Within the first four minutes of the game, the Wildcats had seven offensive rebounds, ending the first half with a 29-19 edge on the boards. Overall, Villanova would bully UConn on the boards all game long, continuing to clean up the glass to finish the game with a dominant 48-32 rebounding advantage.
While UConn head coach Kevin Ollie played a 2-3 zone to catch the Wildcats off-guard, Villanova would eventually settle in after figuring out the Huskies’ defense. The Wildcats overcame their slow start offensively. Brunson was the catalyst, finding his stroke behind the arc and dishing to teammates Donte DiVincenzo (17 points), Mikal Bridges (nine points), and Phil Booth (nine points) as they were able to find their spots with ease. Villanova finished the first half on an 18-2 run to end the half, sparked by an authoritative alley-oop pass from Brunson to Eric Paschall on a fast break.
At the half, the Wildcats took a commanding 39-18 lead into the break.
They wouldn’t stop there, carrying over the energy and intensity from the first half into the second. UConn threw the kitchen sink at Villanova on defense, trying to defend them with a 2-3 zone, 1-2-2, 3/4 court pressure into a trap, and a full-court man-to-man press. Yet, Villanova was able to break all of these defenses and getting the ball across the time-line with ease, finishing the game with 15 made threes.
While Jalen Adams (19 points) and Christian Vital (15 points) led the way for the Huskies, they were not able to find any consistency on the offensive end of the floor. The Huskies, who were previously on a three game win streak before losing to Memphis by 24 last Tuesday, drop to 10-9 on the season.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats improve to 18-1 overall, as they now focus back on Big East play. This win against the Huskies means that the ‘Cats went undefeated in non-conference play. Now, they head back home to prepare for a Tuesday night game against Providence, at the Wells Fargo Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.