At first it was a game with a hint of nostalgia—a packed Madison Square Garden, with howling UConn Huskies and Villanova Wildcats fans. The back-and-forth first half helped bring the intensity that comes with a close contest.
However, the tone shifted in the second half to a reminder of the more recent last couple of years, as Villanova asserted its dominance once again, taking the second leg of a three-year series with the Huskies. Midway through the second half, the Wildcats exploded with a 27-4 run that spanned over eight minutes and paved the way to a 81-58 victory.
“I think in the first half, our guys struggled with it a little bit and stuck with it,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “In the second half, when we broke through [the team] stayed solid and aggressive.”
The Wildcats shot an impressive 15-of-24 overall (62.5 percent) in the second half, including a 8-of-12 showing (66.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
On the other end of the floor, it restricted UConn to shooting just 9-for-28 on the floor (32.1 percent) in the second half, as the offensive abundance helped spark an even greater effort on defense.
The Huskies, who were able to do almost whatever they wanted in the first half from close range and beyond the arc, no longer could find the same success.
“The implementation of those four guards, and I mean that with [Tarin] Smith coming off the bench,” Wright said of the Huskies’ guard-heavy roster. “Whether they play together or not, preparing for that many dynamic guards, made me a little bit jealous...Reminded me of some of our older teams. They do a great job of spreading you out and attacking in transition.”
While Villanova kept star point guard Jalen Adams in check throughout the game, Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert spearheaded the Huskie offensive. Vital paced the Huskies with 18 points, while Gilbert finished with 14. They helped UConn hold the lead for a big chunk of the first half, until things were evened up, 30-30, going into halftime.
The back-and-forth nature of the game spilled into the second half, for a moment. Joe Cremo knocked down a three, with 16:30 left in the game, to spark the decisive 27-4 run. Eric Paschall furthered it by contributing 15 points during the run, including the final three-pointer to make it 62-40 with 8:48 left.
“We just didn’t make enough plays,” UConn’s Vital said. “Give credit to Villanova, they made it a lot harder to get those easy looks that we were getting in the beginning of the game to take the early lead. All credit to Villanova, they did a great job defensively.”
Paschall led the way with 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Fellow classmate and co-captain Phil Booth was virtually perfect offensively. He was 6-for-6 on the floor, en route to a finish that included 18 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, but also five turnovers. With Collin Gillespie out due to a head injury, Joe Cremo got the start and added 11 points.
As for Gillespie, he’s not expected to be out long term, it was more of a precautionary concussion protocol. The incident happened on Thursday.
Jay Wright: Tell him how [Gillespie] got hurt— Eugene Rapay (@erapay5) December 22, 2018
Jahvon: Collin got a concussion
Jay: Tell 'em how it happened
Jahvon: I hit him in the head (laughter all over the room)
Quinerly elaborated further on it: “It was an out of bounds play, I went to attack Eric. As I went to pass Eric, my arm went down on Collin.”
It was a breakout game of sorts for Quinerly, in Gillespie’s absence. He logged 25 minutes of action, scoring 10 points and dishing out four assists. He overcame a bit of a rocky start and turned it into a solid outing.
“I feel like the airball kind of helped me because I knew I could just keep playing after that,” Quinerly said. “Keep playing for my teammates—I can’t let it affect me at all. I didn’t lose any aggressiveness because this is a big game for us.”
With the win, Villanova finishes its non-conference slate with a 9-4 record. It’ll return to action in 2019, when it begins Big East play against the DePaul Blue Demons on Jan. 2. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.