Ryan Arcidiacono lit up the floor, dropping 25 points at Connecticut.
(Lucas Migliarino/The Villanovan)
by Lindsey Beakes
The Villanova basketball team finds itself in what is becoming a usual position entering the month of March, on the brink of the NCAA tournament bubble.
The Wildcats had a crucial road victory against the University of Connecticut Huskies on Saturday afternoon, pulling ahead in the second half to win 70-61.
Villanova is now over .500 in the Big East, with a 7-6 conference record and a 16-10 overall record. Connecticut fell to 7-5 in the Big East and 17-7 overall.
The crucial win for the Wildcats came just about a month shy of Selection Sunday, the deciding day for which teams make March Madness.
For a fairly new Villanova team that missed the NCAA tournament last year, Villanova has had some recent big wins that put them on the brink of post-season play.
Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono lit up the XL Center for the Wildcat team, with a game-high 25 points. Sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou and junior guard James Bell both added 11 points, while Yarou matched his career high of 16 rebounds.
Rebounds are where the Wildcat team excelled against the Huskies, with a 41-25 advantage. Twenty offensive rebounds allowed the Villanova team 62 field goal attempts over UConn’s 46.
Villanova also worked to hold back the UConn guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. Napier had 10 assists by the game’s end, but only made one of his eight shots from the field.
By holding the two to a combined six points, the Villanova defensive efforts helped lead to one of their best conference victories this season.
The game started with UConn coming out strong, only to be matched by the Wildcat efforts and a few 3-pointers from Arcidiacono.
After Villanova went on an 11-0 run, which included the Arcidiacono 3-pointers and a 3-point play conversion from Yarou, the huskies started to fight back against an 11-6 Wildcat lead.
With just about 12:00 left to play in the first half, the Huskies were able to tie the score up at 13 each.
With Napier getting into foul trouble early on in the first half, Villanova took advantage of UConn’s loss.
After a slow two-for-seven start from the field, Villanova was able to take control of the Huskies defensively.
The Huskies got nothing in nine straight possessions, and even turned the ball over four times at one point.
Coming into the game, Napier was sixth in scoring for the Big East and his absence helped Villanova to keep the Huskies away from the basket for seven minutes.
Napier’s re-entrance at the 9:14 mark gave the home team new motivation to take its first lead, 16-14.
The Huskies continued to push ahead and were up by as much as 22 to Villanova’s 16, with efforts from UConn freshman guard Leon Tolksdorf.
Napier’s presence on the floor gave the Huskies the ability to outscore Villanova by 16 thanks to his six assists in the first half.
Connecticut would leave the first half on top, 33-30, with an effort to take the lead beginning with a 22-16 lead with just over six minutes to play in the first half.
The Wildcats’ rebound advantage over the Huskies took shape in the first half, entering the locker room with 18 to Connecticut’s 12. UConn had the edge in first half field goal attempts, shooting 11-of-21 while the Wildcats ended the first half of play 9-of-28.
The Huskies continued with the slight edge on the court in the beginning of the second half, leading Villanova 43-36.
The Wildcats got closer with 13 minutes left in the second half when Arcidiacono sunk two 3-pointers before and after a pair of UConn free throws by Calhoun.
With just under 10:00 left to play in the game, Villanova had a five-point lead, 50-45.
The Wildcats had pulled ahead with a 14-point break, including an alley-oop where Arcidiacono sent it to Bell for a dunk, to cap a 12-2 lead. With 10 minutes left to play the score was 52-45, Villanova.
Sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels and freshman guard Omar Calhoun worked together to get the Huskies within two points of the Wildcats.
Villanova regrouped with a timeout and regained a lead of five before Calhoun answered with two free throws.
With five minutes to play, Bell made the score to 64-57, Villanova, with a 3-pointer from Darrun Hilliard. In the final minutes of play Bell had another 3-pointer that added to the 10-0 run by Villanova that gave the team the win in the end.
Calhoun, Daniels and junior guard Niels Giffey led the scoring effort for UConn. Calhoun was the leading scorer for the Huskies with 16 points and six rebounds, followed by Daniels and Giffey who had 13 and 11 points respectively.
Villanova finished 9-of-21 from beyond the arc, and are 14-0 this season when they sink at least six 3-pointers in a game, and also 5-0 when making nine or more from long-range.