Buffalo, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Old Big East Conference rivals match up in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, as the second-seeded Villanova Wildcats contend with the seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies.
Villanova had a pretty easy task in the second round, rolling over 15th-seeded Milwaukee, 73-53. It was a much-needed win for the Wildcats, who were coming off a 64-63 loss at the buzzer to Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
UConn had a much tougher time on Thursday, but eventually found a way to pull out an 89-81 overtime victory against 10th-seeded Saint Joseph's. The Huskies are now 27-8 overall, with their run in the American Athletic Conference Tournament coming to an end in the title game against Louisville (71-61).
After spending many years in the Big East, UConn made the move to the AAC this season. The Huskies got plenty of chances against Villanova in its time in its former conference, but trail in the all-time series by a count of 33-30.
Amida Brimah completed a 3-point play off an offensive rebound to even things at 70-70 near the end of regulation for UConn in Thursday's clash with Saint Joseph's. The Huskies then had a chance to win at the buzzer, but Shabazz Napier missed a running 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. With the teams tied at 73-73, UConn went on a 7-0 spurt to take control, with Napier's 3- point play at the 1:10 mark capping the run.
Napier, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, did not have a very strong game in the win. Despite finishing with a team-high 24 points, he only connected on 7-of-22 shots from the floor, including 2-of-8 from 3-point range. However, he made his presence felt in other areas, as he has done all season, collecting eight rebounds and handing out six assists. Napier leads the Huskies in scoring (17.6 ppg), rebounding (6 rpg) and assists (5 apg). The other main contributors include Ryan Boatright (12 ppg, 3.5 apg), DeAndre Daniels (12.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and 3-point marksman Niels Giffey (8.6 ppg, .524 3-pt. percentage).
Darrun Hilliard scored 16 points to lead five players in double figures for Villanova as it eased past Milwaukee in its first NCAA Tourament game. The Wildcats only connected on 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc, but they also held the Panthers to just 28.6 percent shooting and outscored them, 46-20, in the paint.
Villanova is one of the better offensive teams left in the tournament. The Wildcats ranked second in the Big East and are among the top-35 teams in the country in scoring (78.4 ppg), while shooting a respectable 45.9 percent from the field. They are also a strong team on the glass, ranking at the top of their conference in that category (37.4 rpg). James Bell (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is the top scoring option, but he has struggled of late. He went just 5-of-14 from the floor against Milwaukee and has missed all but two of his last 23 3- point field goal attempts. Fortunately, the Wildcats have scoring depth with players like Hilliard (14.3 ppg), JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Ryan Arcidiacono (9.7 ppg, 3.4 apg).