Monday, February 15, 2010

Huskies, Walker Walk Over #3 Wildcats, 84-75, In Stunning Upset at the Wachovia Center

To the Wildcat faithful-

Well, the silver lining, is that this is what makes college basketball fun - namely, the unexpected.

The hated Huskies of Connecticut, left for dead after being crushed - at home - by Cincinnati on Saturday, stunned the #3 Wildcats, 84-75, at the Wachovia Center.  Kemba Walker scored a career-high 29 points for UConn.

For a valuable UConn perspective on the upset, take a look at this story from Andrew Porter at The UConn Blog.... 
Wow. After a year of heartbreaking and headscratching losses, UConn finally won when it needed to. The Huskies knocked off #3 Villanova, grabbing UConn's first road win of the year and (thanks to Texas' slide) the best win on the team's resume.

I do not have the slightest idea what to think of this team at this point, not that I did before either. I (mercifully) missed the Cincy game, so I came into this relatively hopeful from the way the team looked against 'Cuse, but even I was surprised at just how well the Huskies played tonight.
For Villanova, Scottie Reynolds scored 18 points on 8-14 shooting, but did not have enough support from teammates, as Villanova's high-octane offense managed to shoot just 40% from the floor.  The Wildcats also struggled to get to the foul line, taking just 20 free throws (although they made 16 of them).

Villanova fell to 11-2 Big East, 22-3 overall.  The Huskies now find themselves back on the NCAA bubble, with another big win over a top 5 team, despite their 5-8 Big East, 15-11 overall record.   They also own a win over then-top-ranked Texas.

What is particularly galling, is that the Wildcats had been exalted to the #3 spot in the AP poll earlier today, thanks to Louisville's upset win over then-#3 Syracuse on Sunday.  We won't be #3 any longer, even with a win @ Pittsburgh, on Sunday.

So what happened?  How did the Huskies manage to resuscitate themselves so quickly? 

1) Rebounding.

Battling against a bigger team, Jay Wright had to use Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton, more than he would have liked - especially given Antonio Pena's foul trouble.  It didn't matter.  The Huskies wiped out the Wildcats on the glass tonight, winning the rebounding battle, 40-29.

2) Free throw shooting.

As mentioned above, the foul line is a major source of points for the Wildcats, who lead the Big East in free throw accuracy.  UConn got to the line far more often than Villanova tonight, and made it count.  The Huskies went 35-44 (79.5%) from the line, more than double the Wildcats' totals, in both overall attempts and conversions.

In a corollary to free throw shooting- 

3) Foul trouble.

Pena, Sutton, and Corey Stokes all fouled out.  Pena is Villanova's only legitimate low-post scoring threat, and he was effective when he was on the floor - he finished with 10 points and three rebounds, despite playing just 18 minutes.  Ironically, pressed into additional duty, Mouph had one of the finest games of his young career: in just 13 minutes, he scored six points on 3-4 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.

4) Perimeter shooting.

Taylor King took half a dozen three-point shots, and made noneNone.  He played 15 minutes and grabbed half a dozen rebounds, but the six missed triples really hurt.

Corey Fisher shot well from beyond the arc, making two of his three attempts, but he was the only one to do so.  (Overall, Fisher finished with 14 points on 5-12 shooting, along with four assists and three turnovers.)

Stokes's foul trouble meant that he was effectively neutralized.  The Bayonne Bomber logged only 14 minutes, scoring seven points.  That's a good total, in light of playing only 14 minutes, but the points came at the end when Villanova was reduced to a bombs-away strategy.  He was a nonfactor, during the rest of the contest.

As a team, Villanova shot just 7-24 (29.2%) from beyond the arc.

5) The Bench.

Villanova's many reinforcements did not deliver their usual offensive punch.  In a rarity, they were significantly outscored by an opponent's bench; the Huskies had 27 points off the bench, compared to just 17 for the Villanova reserves.  Yarou was the only bench player to shoot well.

The other Wildcats off the bench - King, Isaiah Armwood, Dominic Cheek, Maalik Wayns, and Sutton - combined to shoot just 3-16 from the floor, 1-9 from beyond the arc, and 4-7 from the line, for a grand total of 11 points.  (Nonetheless, it should be noted that one of the three field goals was a spectacular dunk by Armwood.)

6) The Crowd.

The Wachovia Center crowd reminded me of the lean NIT years, as despite the large crowd, they did not cheer lustily, even when the game was close, and deprived the Wildcats of the boisterous crowd support that they very much need, when out of the Pavilion.

The Game Action

The teams traded baskets during the first half, with neither team gaining much of a lead; there were eight lead changes and five ties in the first half alone. The largest Villanova lead was four, first at 6-2 in the early going, and near the end of the half, with 1:34 remaining, a four-point margin of 35-31.  For UConn, their largest lead was half a dozen points at the midway point, when the Huskies' Alex Oriakhi dunked at the 10:05 mark, to give them a 21-15 lead.

However, I was feeling optimistic at halftime.  Villanova had transformed a 21-15 deficit, into a 35-31 lead, and although the Huskies had regained the lead at the buzzer, 36-35, it seemed like a matter of time, before the usual second-half Villanova run would wipe out the opponent's upset dream.

Another reason for optimism, was that Reynolds had had a superb first half.  And, as all of our opponents know to their peril, that he's usually a second-half scorer.  He already had 14 points on 6-8 shooting at halftime, and seemed poised for a big second half as well.

Of course, there were troubling signs in the first half.  Pena had picked up two quick fouls, and played only five minutes.  Stokes also had a pair of fouls and had played even less, with two minutes.  Fisher's shots were not falling, as he was 2-6 from the floor.  And Villanova's bench, usually a strength, had been outscored by the Huskies, 11-8.

The Wildcats - in contrast to their usual pattern - simply fell apart after play resumed.  The Huskies had led by just a single point at halftime, 36-35.  However, from the start of the second half to the under-16 TV timeout, UConn began to take control of the game by building a 51-44 lead.

The teams continued to trade baskets, with Villanova staying with striking distance, but the Huskies kept adding to the lead, until we reached the crisis point - UConn went up 63-54 with 8:06 to play, after Pena committed his fourth foul, against Gavin Edwards, who made one of two free throws, to push the lead to nine points- the Huskies' largest, until that point.

I was a bit surprised that at around the nine-minute mark, the newly-returned Jim Calhoun had opted to start running out the clock, given the closeness of the game.  But it paid dividends.  The Huskies began holding the ball with long possessions - and more importantly, Villanova wasn't stopping them.

The knockout blow came after Reynolds had hit a jumper to get Villanova back to within nine, 69-60, with 4:44 to play.  Orianhi dunked after an assist from Edwards, pushing the lead back to 71-60 with 4:21 left.  Wright called a timeout, but that effectively deflated morale, both among the Wildcats and the fans.

On UConn's next possession, Pena fouled out, and Jerome Dyson sank both free throws with 3:44 to play to given the Huskies yet another 11-point advantage, 73-62.  With no inside presence left, that was pretty much it for Villanova.

I must give the Wildcats great kudos, though, because they made a gallant rally, despite being down 11 with less than four minutes to play.  UConn was in control, with a nine-point lead (78-69) with 1:26 to go, after Sutton fouled out.

The Wildcats responded with a furious rally, pulling to within five, 80-75, with 16 seconds to play, after a triple from Fisher.  Wright used his final timeout to set up the press, and had they been able to force a turnover, Villanova was still alive.  But it wasn't to be.  Walker and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel each hit a pair of free throws, the final four points of the contest.

Final - Connecticut 84, Villanova 75.

One surprising aspect of the upset, was the turnover margin.  The Wildcats committed only nine turnovers, but forced 17 UConn turnovers, including 13 steals, which often lead to easy baskets in transition.

For UConn, Walker's performance was simply astounding: 29 points on 6-10 shooting, including 14-16 from the line, and nine rebounds.  Dyson had a dreadful shooting night, hitting just 3 of his 14 attempts, but managed to finish with 15 points, due to reaching the line frequently, where he went 9-14.  He also had five rebounds and half a dozen assists, against three turnovers.  Oriakhi had 10 points on 3-5 shooting, off the bench.  Stanley Robinson had 10 points on 5-9 shooting, plus seven rebounds and a pair of blocks (although he also committed seven turnovers).

Series History Update  

Villanova now leads, all-time, 32-28, and 27-25 in Big East regular season games.  Among games played at the Wachovia Center (regardless of its name), the Huskies now lead Villanova, 5-4.  However, it was UConn's first victory at the Center, since February 28, 2004, an overtime thriller decided by one point, 79-78.  

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Wildcats - for better or worse - have six days to consider the wreckage of this disaster tonight.  It gets a lot tougher, with a trip to nationally ranked Pittsburgh on Sunday.  A full preview will be up, later in the week.

Go Wildcats!



Anonymous said...

Disappointing game. Shouldn't count the win before the game, but I expected to win this one.

Have not seen UConn before tonight. They sure didn't look anything like their record. Great defense and their shots were falling. Looked like a real Calhoun team.

Well, on to the next game. We're still enjoy: a tie for first in BE; a two-game bye in the BE tournament; and a #1 seed. Let's not hang our heads.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. My thoughts:

I certainly was expecting to win this one, as well. Although UConn is dangerous (as we learned all too well), this is still a team that was lost at sea, with a 4-8 record in conference, playing on our quasi-home floor.

I had looked, of course, at both pairs of Georgetown and West Virginia games as potential losses, plus Pitt and Syracuse... but I wasn't expecting this one at all.

Well, hopefully this doesn't cost us a #1 seed.

The other really unpleasant aspect of this loss, is the fact that it may help the hated Huskies get back into the tournament, and one thing I was really looking forward to was a field of 65, without them in it...

Go Wildcats!