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Game Preview: UConn Huskies

Villanova looks to secure a win over the University of Connecticut.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Villanova basketball is set to host the UConn Huskies Saturday afternoon in the Finneran Pavilion.

Villanova (13-3, 8-2 Big East Conference) will come into this game off of a 86-70 loss to Creighton, while UConn (10-5, 7-5 Big East Conference) is riding a 73-61 win over Providence.

This game comes as an opportunity for the ‘Cats to turn their momentum around after suffering a disappointing loss to Creighton last weekend. With ‘Nova in the hunt for a high-seed in the NCAA Tournament and still in the top spot for Big East Conference win percentage, the pressure is on Villanova to start winning again if it wants to enter March feeling comfortable.

What UConn brings

Welcome back to the Big East, UConn. This is the Huskies’ first season back in the conference since 2013. With that comes some pressure to compete with one of the strongest Big East teams, and try to make a run for their NCAA tournament since 2016.

UConn is coming off of two straight wins over Xavier and Providence. The team has had trouble getting on the court, as it has suffered suspensions due to COVID-19 related issues. This is the third time a Villanova vs UConn matchup has had to be scheduled this season.

Villanova will need to look out for sophomore guard James Bouknight, who has recently been cleared to play after an elbow injury in early January. His first showing post-injury was Tuesday night against Providence, where he scored 18. During his absence, UConn remained competitive and gave teams a good fight. His return should only boost them. Bouknight is UConn’s highest and most consistent scorer, averaging 20 points per game. He’s followed by Tyrese Martin who averages 12.5 points per game. If Villanova can step up its defense from last weekend and shut down Bouknight, a win is likely for the Wildcats.

What ‘Nova needs to improve upon

This could be a big bounce back game for the ‘Cats, who failed to compete with Creighton last Saturday. However, that loss came at a good time, allowing the Wildcats an opportunity to tweak their play before March rolls around.

Specifically, aside from improvement on defense, Villanova needs balance and all five starters to be able to score. This season, it seems that games have had to fall onto one or two individuals’ shoulders. Recently, these players have been Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillespie, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. UConn showed on Tuesday that it can split the work, with Martin and Bouknight both scoring 18 points, and R.J. scoring 13. Villanova is going to need to start doing the same.

Like they recently showed in the Marquette and Providence game, also in the Georgetown rematch, the ‘Cats seem to be at their best when everyone gets going.

Cole Swider and Brandon Slater are both averaging less than 10 points a game. ‘Nova needs a deeper bench and guys to step up, especially when its star players have down days. Even contribution will be key in a win against UConn.

It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on Jermaine Samuels for Saturday, as he continues to score in the double digits (six of the last seven games). A hot Samuels could be an integral part of this Villanova team, taking some of the pressure off of big scorers like Gillespie, Robinson-Earl, and Justin Moore. Villanova is its best when guys like Samuels step up and contribute big-time.

Playing for the tournament

This matchup has some bigger consequences for both teams that have their eyes set on the NCAA tournament. For the ‘Cats, the pressure is on to secure a good seed. Especially after a Quad 1 loss, Villanova needs to step it up and prevent further losses to put itself in a good position for tournament play.

‘Nova needs to watch out for the energy UConn will be bringing, as it's playing to also hopefully get a spot in the tournament. According to recent bracketology, UConn has the chance to be a potential fifth Big East team, and a win over Villanova would do them well. If the ‘Cats can combat that motivation early on and get off to a nice start, they should be fine.