If I told you Shabazz Napier didn't play the last 12+ minutes of the first half, how would you think we did?
Well actually we erased a significant deficit, Terrance Samuel filled in quite nicely and Ryan Boatright, who has been our rock in the tournament thus far, has kept the Huskies afloat with 4 points, 5 rebounds and some very heady play.
UConn still didn't play a very good half. Offensive possessions ended in questionable shots and at first Villanova was taking advantage by shooting pretty well at the start of the game. At one point we were down 10... I'm getting really tired of this.
Then UConn rode an 11-1 run to build a 5 point lead which got whittled down to 1 after an unfortunate Flagrant 1 foul, UConn's second of the game, where the Wildcats hit one free throw and then nailed a three in the subsequent possession.
All told, I'll take a one point lead going into the half given how poorly we played. If Shabazz can get back on the court and play the way we know he can, then this should be where we pull away for the win. This is a real battle, but hopefully UConn's defense tires out Villanova down the stretch and we pull away with this one.
God it feels good to be in the NCAA Tournament.
After having the pleasure of watching Syracuse lose, UConn will tip-off against a different longtime rival for the chance to earn a 17th Sweet Sixteen appearance for the Huskies program. Yeah, you read that correctly. Seventeen.
The old flame standing in our way is Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats- a school UConn has played 63 times with Villanova winning 33 of them. Wright, who has been coaching the Wildcats since 2001, is 5-11 against the Huskies while Kevin Ollie lost in his only chance last year. That info comes from an article on VU Hoops where you can find more interesting stats and facts on this 73 year-old rivalry.
There are two reasons I'm confident about the Huskies chances tonight: Shabazz Napier and Kevin Ollie.
As a former UConn player during the glory days of the Big East, Kevin Ollie knows the importance of this rivalry- he'll have a personal motivation to beat this old foe. After having to watch the Huskies play their conference tournament outside of MSG for the first time since 1983, this win would have meaning for Ollie beyond advancing in the tournament and beating an old Big East rival. He'll have a chance to bring his players to the historic venue where UConn built a lasting legacy.
As for Napier, I believe the man will do everything in his power to ensure that his college career doesn't end before the Sweet 16. You better believe he wants to go back to MSG too. He led a team last year that was banned from the postseason to 20 wins even though he had the chance to transfer. Instead, Napier stayed to earn his degree and finish what he started with his UConn family. He's been a beast all season and after finding his way at the end of the St. Joes game I think he's just getting warmed up.
Oh yeah, he also did this once against 'Nova:
Shabazz Napier Buzzer-Beater Against Villanova (via turboeidsonas)
This years Villanova team is an experienced one with versatile wing players and solid guard play. They shoot the three well and boast a very strong defense to boot. They're incredibly balanced, with three players averaging 14 points and two more over 8. The Wildcats aren't particularly strong down low, so hopefully they aren't able to exploit our greatest weakness. I've stated my belief that Villanova is not worthy of a 2-seed, but make no mistake this is still a very good basketball team with a really good coach. We're in for a battle.
Tonight's winner advances to the Sweet 16 where they would get to play in Madison Square Garden, only two wins away from the Final Four. With Iowa State losing a key player to injury, and UNC appearing vulnerable, the winner has a good chance of making the Elite Eight in what would essentially be a home game.
Napier obviously needs to have a good game, but I'm confident he'll show up tonight. I'm much more interested to see which role player steps up. My vote goes to Niels Giffey. Villanova is weak defending the three and if they key too hard on Napier, Boatright and Daniels, we could see a lot of open looks for the Berlin Bomber.
Like I said, this will be a battle. The reason I think UConn will prevail is that we are way more battle tested than Villanova and because of the Napier factor. This should be a good one tonight and this is your open thread. If you don't already, you should also follow us @TheUConnBlog.
LET'S GO HUSKIES!!