PHILADELPHIA, Pa. 12/20/2012 – The Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball team took the Wells Fargo floor 2 nights after a hard-fought loss to Notre Dame. Their opponent in the Big Monday game was the defending national champion University of Connecticut Huskies. Neither team is playing as well as one year ago, but this is a Big East rivalry. The game had an eerily similar pattern to Villanova’s previous outing against Notre Dame. Playing without leading scorer Maalik Wayns Villanova got out to an early lead, Connecticut comeback and took a lead, Villanova tied it late, and lost in overtime. This time the game was decided on a 29 foot three-point shot by UConn guard Shabbaz Napier that went through the new with .6 seconds to play giving the Huskies a 73 – 70 victory.The bottom line is that it is another tough loss for the Villanova team.
“We have a couple of ways to look at this,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “We are going to learn from this and get better. There will be a point where this is something we draw upon, but right now there is no question ut is tough on our guys. We are battling. In end of game situations we are doing good things. That’s twice now we get a stop and score a basket. We have defensive miscues and turnovers too, but I think we are going to learn from this. This is a process from an inexperienced team. It is honestly painful, but it is what sports are all about.””
Villanova started quickly racing out to the early lead. The Wildcats did so behind a 22 – 4 run in the early minutes of the half. Six Villanova players scored in the run as they led 26 – 8 with 8:22 to play in the half. But Villanova gave up this lead in this game as well, this time quicker. Connecticut guard Jeremy Lamb began to find the range. He scored 11 of the next 15 Connecticut points to cut the lead to 30 -23. UConn got the next seven and the team went into halftime tied at 30.
The second half was tightly contested. UConn grabbed a seven point lead with 6:28 to play at 54 – 47 behind 12 second half points by guard Jeremy Lamb. He would lead all scorers in this game getting a career-high 32 points. Villanova began their charge. The Wildcats held UConn to just six more points in the game. Getting the ball moving to the basket Villanova went on a 13 – 4 run taking a 60 -58 lead when Junior Center Mouphtaou Yarou sank two free throws at the 2:18 mark. UConn guard Ryan Boatright had an opportunity to give his team a late lead, but missed two free throws with 1:05 remaining in the game. With31.9 seconds to play Junior guard Dominic Cheek had a bad inbounds pass stolen by UConn forward Roscoe Smith.
“As the leader of the team, I take responsiblity for the that loss,” Cheek said. “I should have called timeout. I wasn’t thinking at the time.”
After Lamb missed a potential game-winning three forward Alex Oriaki rebounded the ball and made the regulation time tying layup. Villanova had one more chance, but Freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston missed a 16 foot jumper. It was the second overtime game in two days for The Wildcats.
The overtime period saw UConn serve a steady diet of Lamb. He scored the first 10 points for the Huskies, and his two free throws gave his team a 3 point edge at 69 – 66 with just 22.1 seconds remaining. Villanova again showed heart. Freshman guard Ty Johnson got the ball to the basket and got credit for the hoop due to a goaltend by center Andre Drummond that cut the deficit to one point. On the ensuing possession Lamb had two free throws. He missed the second, and Villanova had a chance with 10.9 seconds to play. Johnson streaked down the court making a two-footer with 5.9 on the clock. UConn inbounded the ball to Napier who got off the deep three to win it. Napier played limited minutes due to a foot injury,
“He is really good when he feels it,” said Connecticut Associate Coach George Blaney. “When he is on , he can pull up from anyplace.”
Cheek led Villanova in scoring with 23 points . Johnson added 14 points and 6 assists. Pinkston scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds, 9 after halftime. Yarou had 11 points and 6 rebounds. The Wildcats are 11 – 16 on the season, 4 – 11 in conference, and came into the game tied for 11th in the Big East. The
Lamb in addition to his 32 points got 5 rebounds. He was the only double-figure scorer for the Huskies.
“Jeremy Lamb is a great player and I respect his game,” said Cheek who drew Lamb as a defensive assignment during the game. “Defense is something that I need to continue to working on.”
The streak of gut wrenching losses continues for Villanova. They have no choice but to battle and keep their confidence.
“You just have to look at the positive situations in those tight games,” Wright said. “For instance, in the Notre Dame game they had the ball and tried to run a play and couldn’t, so they called timeout. They couldn’t get a shot off and we got a stop and came down and scored. It is the same end of game situation, but you have to do that one or two possessions more and not look at the results. The results hit you right now, so everybody is hurting. There is no sense when we look at this tomorrow in reliving the hurt, it is just what we can learn from it.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian