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UConn Men’s Basketball Loses to Villanova, 81-58

The Huskies simply collapsed in the second half.

Christian Vital shows his frustration after being called for a foul in the second half.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn Huskies struggled on offense all game against a prepared Villanova team, as the Wildcats prevailed, 81-58, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.

Eric Paschall led all scorers with 21 points and Phil Booth added 18 as Villanova romped in the second half to a big lead. The Wildcats shot .522 from three, reverting back to the skill that allowed them to win last year’s NCAA Tournament following a shooting slump to start the season.

Christian Vital scored a team high 18 points, and Alterique Gilbert contributed 14 on foul-limited minutes, but the Huskies only shot .407 from the floor against a Villanova defense that seemed to have finally shed its early-season issues.

The Huskies’ turnover troubles manifested themselves early, with several UConn first-half possessions ending without a shot. Nonetheless, after an early Villanova run, UConn took its first lead of the game eight minutes in.

Three-point shooting was a big plus for UConn early, converting half of their shots from beyond the arc in the first half. Villanova, as one would expect, also got a lot of mileage out of the three, using it to come back from UConn’s small first-half leads.

The game was tied 30-30 at the break, a score impacted in some way by the Huskies’ four goaltending violations in the first half. Booth, with ten points, was the only player for either team in double figures by halftime in an offensively efficient but uncharacteristically low-scoring game to that point.

A technical foul on Jay Wright gave the Huskies an early lead in the second half, but the Wildcats’ sharp shooting gave them the advantage right back. The second half was immediately much tighter-officiated, which played more toward’s Villanova’s strengths than UConn’s, allowing the Wildcats to extend their lead amidst turnovers and poor shot selection from the Huskies.

Villanova’s lead was up to ten before the halfway point of the second period, which was just as quickly extended to 18, as the Wildcats started the half on a 24-6 run.

The Wildcats’ depth, combined with the Huskies’ long cold spell on offense, dominated Dan Hurley’s squad in the second half. Jay Wright’s bench was seemingly just as good as the UConn starting unit, and the scoring margin hovered around 20 for most of the period.

Even with the roster attrition, Villanova showed why it’s won two national championships in the last three years, as the entire rotation looked capable of playing high-caliber basketball. Jay Wright’s style of basketball has been more instilled with his roster, and Dan Hurley, at UConn one year compared to Wright’s 17 at Villanova, has not yet been able to do that. While the Huskies played better than the final score indicated, the game showed that there’s a lot of progress to be made in the next few years.

Graduate transfer Joe Cremo added 11 points with good defense for Villanova (9-4), which also got an inefficient, albeit effective, ten from Jahvon Quinerly. The Wildcats play DePaul on Jan. 2 to continue their season.

Jalen Adams had an atypically bad performance for the Huskies, making only three of his 13 field goal attempts, and turning the ball over a team-high six times. UConn (9-4) resumes play in the new year with a Jan. 2 road game against South Florida to begin the conference schedule.

Danny Hurley, Christian Vital, Alterique Gilbert postgame video