The Villanova Wildcats fell to the No. 2-ranked Connecticut Huskies, 74-66, in front of a sold-out XL Center crowd in Hartford, Connecticut.
“Unbelievable crowd, this place was electric,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said of the atmosphere. “The venue played a huge factor helping us to be able to get a tough win.”
The Wildcats did not look fazed in the hostile crowd, but the Huskies just proved to be too much.
“Their speed and athleticism and shooting is tough to mimic in practice,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said of the Huskies’ offense. “I thought our guys did a good job except for just a couple of spots here and there.”
Jordan Hawkins did his best Ray Allen impersonation, draining jumper after jumper with hands in his face. Hawkins scored 14 of the team’s first 26 points helping UConn stay in front after Big East preseason player of the year Adama Sanogo picked up his second foul with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half and sat for the rest of the half.
“Hawkins got off a little bit in the first half on their screen and cutter action” Neptune said of Hawkins. “And you know, I thought our guys did a good job.”
Hurley also noticed that Hawkins 16 first half points was key to the Huskies’ success.
“That’s what Jordan is capable of, as the season continues to go on and he gets more comfortable, I think he’s going to have less games shooting 4-of-11 and more games shooting 7-of-11 for 30 points,” Hurley said.
Villanova took a brief 36-33 lead early in the second half, then UConn coach Dan Hurley instructed his team to play a full-court press after made baskets. This press caused a few Villanova turnovers sparking a 16-3 UConn run, including a stretch where ‘Nova had five turnovers in a four-minute span.
“We wanted to pick them up full-court,” Hurley said of UConn’s decision to press. “We were willing to give up a little bit of field goal percentage defense, but we felt like we could turn them over.”
Without star guard Justin Moore to help the backcourt and with Villanova racking up turnovers, Hurley’s strategy paid off and the Huskies were able to turn the Wildcats over on consecutive in-bounds. Neptune also accredited UConn’s large run to the full court press defense.
As a team, the Wildcats tallied 18 turnovers.
“They got into us with their press defense full court,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune Neptune said after the game. “We just had a couple mishaps [that led to UConn’s run]”
The Huskies warded off a few mini Villanova runs and never looked back.
Jordan Hawkins led the way with 22 points, and seven rebounds. Redshirt freshman Alex Karaban contributed 15 points and six rebounds. Andre Jackson Jr. tacked on 10 points and six rebounds for the Huskies.
Eric Dixon had his hands full tonight playing all but five minutes defending Sanogo and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan. Dixon finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Caleb Daniels led the way with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Brandon Slater added 10 points, four rebounds and a team-low +/- of -11.
Villanova drops to 7-6 overall and 1-1 in Big East play. It will look to end 2022 on a high note against a tough Shaka Smart Marquette team. The game will be played on Saturday, New Year’s Eve, at the Finneran Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.