It was a meeting of old brothers in the biggest stage of college basketball, the NCAA Tournament. They were once under the same conference but after some major realignment, they went their separate ways. Villanova was one of the founding members of the “new” Big East and Connecticut moved to the new American Conference.
The Wildcats hit the ground running to start off the game. They began with a quick 7-0 run over UConn. Shabazz Napier picked up two fouls early in the half. He would hit the bench and be reduced to a spectator role. Villanova kept the pace going, a Darrun Hilliard three pointer later in the half would bring their lead into the double digits. It also was Hilliard’s 1,000th career point. Hilliard’s basket also marked the beginning of a long dry spell. Outside of a few free throws, Villanova could not make any baskets. The slump spanned for around ten whole minutes. As the Wildcats struggled, the Huskies prospered. Great teamwork on the Huskies’ end of the court. Everyone got involved as they rallied their way back into the game and cut into the lead. UConn would take the lead for the first time ever, thanks to a Lasan Kromah three pointer to make the score 23-20. The scary part was that this was all done without Napier, who was in foul trouble. With 29 seconds left in the first half, JayVaughn Pinkston found himself at the receiving end of a hard flagrant foul by Terrence Samuel. Pinkston would make one of two shots, making the score 25-21. In the ensuing possession, Ryan Arcidiacono would make a three point shot to end the drought. UConn took a 25-24 lead into the half.
Arcidiacono kicked off the second half with a three pointer, giving Villanova the lead again. However, they did not hold it for long, the game went back and forth from then on. The Huskies were able to get a little separation, taking the lead off of a 7-0 run. Villanova would make it close, but ultimately Connecticut just nursed and built on their lead. Napier soon began to take over the game, carrying the team in the second half. He was great from beyond the arc, while the Wildcats were not. Napier would make back-to-back threes, stretching UConn’s lead into the double digits. Shortly after, he left the game with a leg injury. He returned after a few minutes, still limping. It did not matter though, as he sunk a three pointer. He showed that he would still be a problem. The Huskies maintained the lead and from then on, the Wildcats never posed a threat to taking back the lead. The closest they ever got to tying it up again was a five point deficit. Empty handed offensive possessions and unanswered baskets doomed the Wildcats. Three pointers were not falling, and the inability to finish around the basket was a problem. The Huskies did not stop, they continued to work and put the game out of reach. The final buzzer would sound and the Huskies emerged victorious. The final score was 77-65.
For the Wildcats, Ryan Arcidiacono finished with a team-high 18 points and 6 assists. He sunk three baskets from long range. James Bell had 14 points and 5 rebounds. As for the Huskies, they move on to play the winner of UNC-Iowa State in the Sweet 16. Napier finished with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. 23 of Napier’s 25 points came during the second half alone.
Villanova exits a little earlier than they hoped, finishing the year 29-5. The Wildcats have a lot to be proud of. They started the season unranked and predicted to finish fourth in the conference. A season that included a Battle 4 Atlantis and Big East outright regular season titles. Their 28 regular season wins is a new program record.