Everyone thought it was a done deal for Villanova after Dan Hurley got ejected after hyping up the crowd late in the first half. Everyone was wrong. Just weeks away from the Big East tournament, UConn appears to be the one team in the conference that won’t get off everyone’s nerves.
The Cats had a relatively balanced performance as a whole — 17 points from Collin Gillespie, 15 from Brandon Slater, 13 from Jermaine Samuels, and 12 from Justin Moore. Despite the even effort and a largely successful job of moving the ball around, Villanova couldn’t quite overcome the physical nature of the Huskies down the stretch.
UConn ran their offense through Adama Sanogo, who had 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal. The Huskies continue to impose their speed and athleticism on their opponent, keeping them alive in the AP Top 25 in what has been an extremely competitive year for the conference.
In case you missed the cat and dog fight, here are three takeaways:
Stretched Too Thin
Villanova’s issues with depth and consistent bench productivity were all full display in this contest. Villanova was outscored in bench points 14-8, a big difference in such a close game - all eight points came from Daniels. There continues to be a lack of presence from freshmen in the game. Even if a lack of readiness is true, there are still multiple high-level bench players to fill up minutes to have fresh bodies that can keep up with the speed of UConn.
UConn was able to use their bench players — experienced ones like Tyler Polley who had 9 points — to give Sadogo and guard R.J. Cole the late juice they needed to make the late-game plays needed to get the victory. Villanova on the other hand looked gassed and exhausted, a lack of focus and energy that could have contributed to the difference between the late game jump ball being fully possessed by Daniels and Colin being able to make the proper moves to not get the charge late in the game.
Live & Die By The Three
Villanova is known for spacing and three point shooting at all positions of the floor. The problem is that it’s hard for them to win games if their opponents do the same. Villanova beat UConn is three point shots made 12-10, but that margin isn’t good enough if they want to win the Big East. This game made it clear that perimeter defense is going to be the key going forward.
Villanova’s height has been an issue all season, but now it presents a unique issue. Villanova is not tall enough to defend well over taller guards who can shoot the ball, which many teams like UConn have. There are also a handful of teams - Butler, Xavier, Marquette especially - that have forwards that can shoot the ball. Slater and Samuels are undersized at their respective wing positions and are going to get themselves into a lot of trouble in the tournament if they can’t find a way to defend those taller shooters. Again, this is assuming Villanova is hot from three.
UConn is here to stay
Dan Hurley’s transition into the physically dominating and experience-led Big East has been successful so far and while the court storming wasn’t warranted, it is a big win for the Huskies’ return. With so many of their better players - Sanogo in particular - being so young and with more elite recruits on the way, there’s no sign that the Huskies won’t continue to perform at the elite level they’re playing at this season.
Freshmen like Jordan Hawkins and Corey Floyd Jr., both members of a 2021 recruiting class that was ranked 7th nationally by 247 Sports, are only going to get better when they get their turn to take the reins. Also, with more talent on the way in four star center Donovan Clingan who committed over the summer, there’s no signs of slowing down.