Huskies Top Villanova and Head to Sweet 16

Monday, Mar 24, 2014  |  Updated 11:00 AM EDT
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    Another cold-shooting spell and a familiar former Big East rival did in Villanova.

    The Wildcats, the No. 2 seed in the East Region, became the NCAA tournament's highest seeded team to be knocked out following a 77-65 loss to No. 7 Connecticut on Saturday night.

    Huskies guard Shabazz Napier led the way by scoring 25 points. And the Wildcats (29-5) couldn't keep up, undone by their second consecutive poor-shooting performance of the tournament.

    Villanova went 18 of 51 from the field, including an 11-plus-minute dry spell during which they missed 10 consecutive shots in the first half.

    "Certainly a tough way to end the season," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I don't want to let this put a damper on what this group has done this year."

    The Wildcats finished one win short of matching a school record set in 2009, when they lost to North Carolina in a national semifinal. And their struggles actually began last week, when Villanova was bounced by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament quarterfinal.

    Villanova opened the NCAA tournament on Thursday with a 75-53 win over Milwaukee in a game where the Wildcats missed all 12 3-point attempts in the first half. And they continued to have difficulty finding their range against UConn (28-8).

    "I really thought we were going to shoot the ball well," Wright said. "I don't think (the Huskies) came out really aggressive. But once we went on a little run, they stepped up the defense big time."

    After hitting five of their first eight attempts through the first 6:11, the Wildcats closed the half going 2 of 15. Villanova went 11:24 without a field goal, missing 10 straight shots before Ryan Arcidiacono hit a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left in the first half that cut the Huskies' lead to 25-24.

    Arcidiacono scored 18 points, James Bell had 14 points and Darrun Hilliard added 13 for Villanova.

    The Wildcats were defeated by a longtime rival. The Huskies are in their first season as members of the American Athletic Conference after the Big East was realigned following a series of defections.

    The loss came on the heels of another upset in Buffalo, where Dayton, the 11th seed in the South, beat third-seeded Syracuse 55-53.

    Napier played a significant role in knocking out both Philadelphia schools in the tournament.

    He scored 24 points in an 89-81 overtime win against Saint Joseph's. And Napier followed that up by scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half against the Wildcats.

    "He was just awesome," Wright said. "There was a period where he hit three 3s, and it just created a separation."

    Wright was referring to a surge during which UConn took control in a span of 1:32. UConn made three consecutive 3-pointers to build a 51-40 advantage. Lasan Kromah started it and Napier struck a pose for the cameras after hitting his second 3 with 8:59 left. Napier then hit a third 3-point basket a few minutes later to make it 54-45.

    "(Napier) led us to victory," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who is in his second season as coach since Jim Calhoun stepped down due to health issues. "He was just unbelievable in that second half: 21 points, crucial 3s, dagger 3s. He was 30 feet out and he was making them."

    Kromah scored 12 points for the Huskies, while DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright and Terrence Samuel each had 11.

    The teams traded leads four times in the opening 5:25 of the second half, with Daniels putting UConn ahead for good, 37-36, with a layup.

    UConn even avoided a scare when Napier briefly left the game after hurting his right shin with 4:01 left. The injury initially appeared serious after his leg got tangled up with Hilliard while driving to the basket at the other end. Napier limped off and then sat on the bench in frustration, holding a towel to his eyes.

    Napier, however, only missed about 40 seconds of action, and showed no sign of being bothered by the injury on the Huskies' next trip up the floor.

    Holding the ball atop the 3-point arc, he blew past a defender while driving into the paint and then flipped in an underhanded reverse high off the backboard to put UConn ahead 60-51 with 2:19 remaining.

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