Wildcats Come Back to Beat UConn, Future Big East Rival

Jermaine Samuels and Collin Gillespie led Villanova to a late second-half comeback to beat UConn, 61-55. Samuels finished the game with 19 points and five rebounds, while Gillespie finished with 12 points, all in the second half, four rebounds and three assists. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl added 11 points and seven rebounds and Saddiq Bey added nine, all in the first half, along with three assists. The key for Villanova in this game was the three-point shooting. The ‘Cats hit their first four, and finished 11-23, while the Huskies went 2-15. Villanova’s defense also stepped up and caused 17 turnovers. 

Villanova started off slowly, going down 11-4, before Bey had seven straight points to get it back to 13-11. Villanova then took the lead with a three from Justin Moore, who finished with five points, followed by a layup and three from Samuels to get it to 19-15. UConn came back, however, to tie it up at 21, before Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine drained consecutive threes to get it to 27-21 going into halftime. It didn’t take long for the Huskies to bring it right back, however, scoring the first six points of the half to tie it at 27.

The game started going back and forth until UConn jumped out to a six-point lead at 41-35. Then, after a scoreless first half, Gillespie started to catch fire, hitting a mid-range jumper, two threes, and another shot to get the Cats back in the game and tie it up at 43. UConn took the lead again and ran with it, before Samuels helped bring Nova back to take the lead for good at 52-51. Also important was Robinson-Earl’s play at the end, hitting six free throws and a crucial block to seal it. 

When asked about what he told the guys in the huddle after they went down late in the second, head coach Jay Wright said, “Just get on to the next play, they have been really great at that. We have been in trouble in a lot of games, and they’ve found ways to keep a good attitude and finish strong.”

While Villanova was able to get their threes to fall, they struggled to get inside against the Huskies, only scoring 12 points from the paint and allowing six blocks. UConn’s Akok Akok and Josh Carlton had five blocks between them to outscore Villanova 36-12 in the paint. The Wildcats scored 23 points off turnovers while UConn had just four. Villanova was also able to handle the full-court press well. 

When asked about UConn joining the Big East, Jay Wright laughed and said, “If I’m honest, I’d tell you I’d rather not [play them more], but it’s good for the league, but we don’t need another tough team like that in the league. They’re not just talented, but mentally and physically tough as well.” 

Up next, Villanova comes back to the Finn for a top 25 matchup versus Butler on Tuesday.