No. 1 UConn men’s basketball earned a hard-fought victory over Villanova on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, taking down its longtime Big East rival, 66-65, in another Big East brawl.
With the clock ticking down to zero, Villanova’s Mark Armstrong let fly a buzzer-beating, half-court 3-pointer that, on another day, might have sent the game to overtime. On Saturday night, it just made the final score look a lot closer than it was.
Luckily for the Huskies, they’d done the hard work beforehand to make the bucket worthless: With the game tied at 58 late in the second half, Alex Karaban—who had been quiet up until that point in the game—hit a clutch corner 3-pointer to put the Huskies ahead for good.
With the lead late in the game, the Huskies buckled down and made their free throws, hitting five of six from the charity stripe to close out the win.
Tristen Newton came out on fire in the second half to help UConn stay ahead, scoring 19 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes as he finished 8-for-17 from the field with six rebounds and three assists. Donovan Clingan scored just six on four field goal attempts in his second game back from injury but brought his usual defensive gravity to the court, leading the Huskies in plus/minus in his 24 minutes off the bench.
UConn started the game on an 11-0 run punctuated by a lob from Stephon Castle to starting big man Samson Johnson and picked up where it left off against Creighton with stifling defense, blocking three blocks and forcing two steals in the first half.
Villanova responded by buckling down at its own end of the court. An 18-5 run over the next six minutes of game time put the Wildcats right back in it.
But the momentum would change once again as Clingan re-entered the game with 5:27 to go in the first half: starting with a three-shot foul committed on Cam Spencer, UConn went on a run to end the half with a 29-24 lead.
Neither team was stellar offensively in the first half, each with their own extremely cold shooting stretches, combining to go 18-for-48 in the first half from the floor.
Villanova came out hot early in the second half, taking back the lead with two straight threes while UConn went cold from beyond the arc, taking just seven threes in the first seven minutes of the second half and making just one of them.
But the top team in the nation refused to let this one slip away. UConn responded with tenacity by going on an 11-0 run in the middle of the second half to open up a 51-44 lead before Villanova fought back again to tie the game at 58 with less than five minutes to go.
UConn is now first in the Big East with a 7-1 conference record going into a well-deserved week off before taking on Xavier at home on January 28. Tip-off will be at 12 p.m. at the XL Center and the game will be televised on FS1.