Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats took down the UConn Huskies, 68-60, on Saturday February 20th. UConn rejoined the Big East Conference after the split in 2013. The ‘Cats grinded this game out on both ends of the floor for a win. It was nice to see an old school Big East battle between two March Madness playoff hopefuls.
Let’s take a look at the takeaways from this win:
Defense is improving
After a couple of shaky defensive performances, Villanova seemed to come out with a renewed energy and confidence on defense. The team settled into a good rhythm on defense switching comfortably, but also deployed a little zone defense like they had the previous game.
The defensive effort in the second half was probably the best half on that end of the court this year. Villanova previously noted that the defense may be lacking due to the COVID pause earlier in the season. It seems that the week long break allowed Villanova to hone in and improve the overall team’s defensive strategy. UConn standout James Bouknight had an impressive showing in the first half, but Villanova shut him down in the second half, limiting the star to just 1-of-10 shooting to end the game. Brandon Slater was credited by Jay Wright for his defense on Bouknight while he turned his thanks to the team defense.
Moving forward the Wildcats defensive effort will need to improve with games against St. John’s and Creighton coming up. These teams both beat Villanova this season and will be a true test if the defense has improved.
Grinding out a win
This game might not have been a 20+ point victory, but it showed that Villanova can handle pressure for a full 40 minutes.
With contributions from everyone, the ‘Cats had a balanced scoring night. Collin Gillespie led the team with 20 points followed by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl who posted a double double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Both Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore chipped in 11 points each.
The Wildcats shot 41% from the field and 22% from three, so definitely not their best offensive effort, but they continued to grind. The Cats struggled a bit from the free throw line going 19-of-26, but hung in the game doing the little things well.
If Villanova continues to rebound, make smart passes and hustle like in past games, this team is bound to continue to compete with the best. This team winning without the three is a testament that they are not a one trick pony and it was a much-needed rebound performance after getting torched by Creighton.
Looking towards the future
Can Villanova build on and continue this momentum with a few regular season games and postseason tournaments on the horizon?
With two big games coming up against Creighton and St. John’s Villanova will be tested again after losing to both earlier this season. Improvements on the defensive end coupled with offensive success across the board could be just the right mix for Villanova. This is an important couple of games that will set the tone heading into the Big East Tournament.
This whole season has been different due to COVID with change schedules, pauses and Jay Wright not in suits, but Villanova will need to peak at the right time leading to the Big Dance.