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Villanova’s bad rebounding and poor second half performance leads to a blowout loss against #1 UConn | Villanova vs. UConn Recap

Written by on February 26, 2024

In one of Villanova’s toughest tasks of the season: a road night game against #1 UConn, the Wildcats’ bad rebounding and poor second half performance led to disappointment amid hopes for competitiveness and a possible upset against #1 UConn. The Wildcats lost to the Huskies, 78-54, in Gampel Pavilion. Villanova converted just 33% of their shots from the field. They made just 3 of 24 three-point attempts on Saturday. Villanova was not predicted to win, and their loss does not cost them much in the rankings, but their noncompetitive performance did highlight some of Villanova’s season-long weaknesses.

Eric Dixon led the Wildcats with 20 points and eight rebounds. Dixon struggled in the first half, but he still found ways to have some success offensively. The Wildcats’ gameplan to attack with Dixon and shoot a bunch of threes was not successful; therefore, the offense was inefficient and unable to move the ball effectively like in previous games in February. TJ Bamba shot 5-16 from the field for 13 points. Brendan Hausen, who has been one of Villanova’s best players this month, was held scoreless in 17 minutes and only took two shots. Due to a non-COVID illness, Tyler Burton did not start and played just 14 minutes. Lance Ware was also battling a non-COVID illness and played just seven minutes off the bench. Villanova scored just four bench points against UConn in a month where their bench has been a lifesaver.

UConn finished the game with four starters scoring at least ten-points. Tristen Newton had a triple-double with 10 points, 10 assists, and 16 rebounds. Cam Spencer, a transfer from Rutgers, scored 25 points, including five three-pointers. The Huskies made 43% of their shot attempts from the field. Despite a slow start, they made 31% of their three-point attempts.

Game Recap

First Half: Villanova Battles in Storrs

There is no doubt that Gampel Pavilion is a difficult environment to play in. With ESPN College Gameday in Storrs from early in the morning, Huskies’ fans were fired up and ready to go for this Big East rivalry. However, it took some time for UConn to feed off the energy from the crowd. For the first ten minutes of the first half, both defenses did a good job at forcing a lot of contested shot attempts. The offenses also missed opportunities to hit some open shots during the first half.

A TJ Bamba layup tied the game at 8 with 14:12 left in the first half. The Wildcats were not making many three-point attempts in the first half, and Donovan Clingan was playing well defensively and offensively against Eric Dixon. Clingan’s layup with 9:26 left extended the Huskies’ lead to 14-10.

Cam Spencer had a lot of success against Villanova’s defense both from behind the arc and mid-range jumpers. He found a rhythm in the middle of the first half and helped UConn gain a comfortable lead over Villanova. With 5:29 left in the first, Spencer knocked down a three to give UConn a 21-15 advantage. He extended the lead to nine points with another three with three minutes remaining. Villanova tried to keep the Huskies’ lead in single digits, but their offense could not score on a consistent basis. Dixon made a tough jump shot with 77 seconds left to give him eight points in the first half, which also cut the deficit to eight points. But one of the stars of the night, Tristen Newton, pushed the lead back to ten with a jump shot of his own before halftime. The Wildcats battled in the first half, but UConn still held a ten-point advantage at home. Villanova had their work cut out for them heading into the second half.

Second Half: UConn scores 47 points

After making just one of ten three-point attempts in the first half, Villanova tried their best to attack the rim more in the second half. However, UConn’s size in the paint with Clingan and Samson Johnson made it extremely difficult. After Spencer hit another three-pointer to keep the lead in double-digits, Bamba, Mark Armstrong, and Eric Dixon ignited a 7-0 run to trim UConn’s lead to just five points. The Huskies called timeout as Villanova finally started to have some momentum and efficient scoring.

Unfortunately, Villanova could not keep that pace and scoring throughout the second half. The duo of Spencer and Clingan for UConn quickly extended the lead back to 13 points, 53-40, with 9:55 remaining in the game. After a good month of February and solid first half, Villanova’s defense did not play well at all in the second half. Without Burton in a starter’s role and poor play from most of the starters, Villanova could not get many rebounds.

The Huskies continued to build their lead late in the second half. Their entire roster contributed and helped Newton pick up his tenth assist needed for the triple-double in the final couple of minutes. The game ended with an Alex Karaban three-pointer and two successful free throws from Jaylin Stewart. UConn demonstrated their star talent and scoring ability in the second half to dominate Villanova.

Villanova’s Rebounding + Defensive Mistakes

The Huskies outrebounded Villanova, 46-32. The Wildcats had just three turnovers in the entire game compared to UConn’s seven turnovers, but the Wildcats lost almost every other stat, including assists. Villanova had just six assists in this game. The Huskies scored 47 points on Villanova’s defense in the final twenty minutes, which has only allowed an average of 55 points to opponents in February.

My Thoughts: Is it time to panic? What does this loss mean for Villanova’s March Madness hopes?

Yes, Villanova was playing with “house money” on Saturday. The loss against UConn does not really hurt their March Madness hopes. However, there are some concerns from that game. First, the Wildcats are now just 3-7 on the road. Villanova looks like a completely different basketball team away from the Finn and the Wells Fargo Center. Their offense looks lost, and the defense does not have that same intensity. Obviously, it’s hard to win road games especially in the Big East against the best team in the country and defending champions, but their poor performance on the road has been a theme all season long. It started with losses to Philly Big 5 schools like Penn and Drexel (neutral site), which overall could stop Villanova from making the tournament in the end.

Second, Villanova was predicted to lose this game by double-digits, and they did. But after playing their best basketball of the season during the month of February, this was a test for the team to see if they have gotten better. However, I think the team just showed their identity: they are a good team in the middle of the Big East standings that can beat some Top 25 teams occasionally, but there is a big gap between Villanova and the best teams in the country. Their offensive game plan of attacking with Eric Dixon and chucking up a bunch of threes does not work against great teams like UConn, Marquette, etc.

Now the positives: Villanova did not have a fully healthy Tyler Burton or Lance Ware tonight. Would them being fully healthy changed the outcome of the game? No, but Villanova’s bench depth, which has been so helpful over the last five games, was severely impacted with Burton not starting against the Huskies. Burton should be back in the starting lineup for Villanova on Tuesday against Georgetown.

Besides getting more bench depth and a better starting lineup, Villanova also plays Georgetown on Tuesday. It is obviously a must win for Villanova, but it’s a game they should completely dominate and use to gain some confidence back for the final three games of the season.

Overall, this loss against UConn is not the end of the world. They are the best team in the country for a reason, but there are some concerning trends for Villanova even when they are playing their best basketball. These final four games are the make-or-break moments for this team before the Big East Tournament. The path to March Madness is still right there for the Wildcats.

Big East Standings + The Road Ahead: Villanova vs. Georgetown Tomorrow

With their loss to the Huskies, the Wildcats are now 15-12 overall and 8-8 in conference play. They remain in 6thplace in the Big East standings, just one game behind Providence. Villanova battles Georgetown tomorrow night at 6:30pm. WXVU’s live coverage begins at 6pm with the pregame show.