The game tipped off in front of a raucous crowd but, given the volume, the ‘Cats weathered the early storm. UConn started 5-6 from the floor - including two straight threes - but Villanova kept pace, taking a narrow 20-19 lead halfway through the first frame.
However, despite the hot start by both teams, the story of the first half eventually became officiating. As soon as the game began, it was clear - or so it seemed - that it would be played under a light whistle. The game quickly became very physical and, at times, frenetic. The pace was electric, with long stretches of whistle-less madness. When fouls were called, they seemed ticky-tack in comparison to what had already gone uncalled.
The teams bounced back and forth until around the 5:00 minute mark when an irate Dan Hurley somehow managed to turn a UConn common foul into two technicals and an ejection (the James Breeding special). Shortly thereafter, UConn guard Andre Jackson and Justin Moore were assessed double technicals. Then I received a technical from my couch. Then this blog received the elusive triple technical.
The ‘Cats were nipping at the Huskies’ heels for most of the second half. Collin Gillespie was finally able to find some space offensively but the ‘Cats could not convert inside - going 7-14 from layup range. Disappointingly, the ‘Cats were unable to sustain a late 4-point lead in the second half and gave up six straight points in the final 21 seconds of the game. Villanova went without a FG for the last three minutes of the game.
Eric Dixon struggled mightily in this game and, at times, appeared overwhelmed. He was unable to establish himself offensively against Adama Sanogo and made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes and turnovers. Struggling to establish position under the basket, Dixon was overmatched by UConn’s stout interior defense when his teammates were able to get him the ball. Eventually, midway through the second half, Jay Wright was forced to lean on a smaller line-up in the hopes of spacing the floor with more shooters.
Jermaine Samuels finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds. However, for those who were tuned into the game, UConn was more than willing to give Samuels an open three at every turn. Samuels repeatedly turned down that invitation.
Collin Gillespie, who attempted just two shots (2-2) in the first half (zero threes), finished with 17 points and 5 turnovers.
Justin Moore finished with 12 points while Brandon Slater finished with 15 points on 3-8 from deep.
The Wildcats have a week to rest up before welcoming the Providence Friars to the Pavilion on Tuesday, March 1. The rematch will be Villanova’s penultimate regular season game with the season finale coming at Butler on March 5.