After a convincing W against Seton Hall on Thursday night, the UConn Men’s basketball team had a late-night date with the #8 Villanova Wildcats for a spot in the Big East Tournament championship game. From the jump, it was a tight back and forth contest in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd and would you expect anything less? These two teams had already played twice this year, with each team winning at their respective home arena, so the familiarity was there and it came down to execution. As with most games in the Big East Tournament, it came down to a one-possession game late.
UConn’s game plan going into Friday was to shut down guards Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore for Villanova and make Brandon Slater and Jermaine Samuels beat them from deep. Early on, the plan worked well in that Gillespie and Moore were very quiet. On the other side, Nova countered the strategy by empowering Slater and Samuels to hit threes and burn the Huskies. UConn absolutely dominated the points in the paint in the first half, but Adama Sanogo was unusually bad at finishing his shots which ultimately came back to haunt the Huskies. A well played, well coached, well executed game in general, but UConn ultimately fell to the perennial powerhouse Nova by 3. While disappointing, they should still be holding their heads up high after the performance.
The goal is obviously a W, but taking the #8 team in the country to the brink in a do-or-die game will fuel the fire for an NCAA Tournament run. Projected as a 5 seed at the moment, the matchups for UConn will play a factor in their success. I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, if UConn plays their best basketball, there is no team in the country they can’t beat. If Sanogo has a better shooting performance on Friday night, UConn wins. Now the loss is not all on Adama, but it illustrates the point about the strength of this team. Their defense and rebounding is one of the best in all of basketball and it was clear against Villanova. The Big East player of the year, Collin Gillespie only had 5 points in the game. He’s a smart player and was able to dish the ball a lot, but UConn was able to completely shut down his offense. Not many teams in the country can win with their best player being held down for 35+ minutes.
The wildcard for this team is consistent offense. When the offense is clicking, they are tough to stop, but have a tendency to get stuck and go through prolonged scoring droughts. Against a top tier team, long 5+ minute scoring droughts will be tough to overcome. The defense can keep them in a game, but obvious they need to score to win (thank you John Madden). Tyrese Martin has become a consistent force offensively, R.J.Cole is the sparkplug and Mr. clutch, Andre Jackson is all over the place, Tyler Polley can drain 3s, and Sanogo can dominate inside, but they rarely are all clicking at the same time. The Nova game saw a strong showing from Martin, a few big shots from Jackson and Sanogo who struggled to put the ball in the hoop despite getting the looks and they lost. They need more consistency inside and out to keep opponents guessing and to get quality chances offensively.
Hopefully the selection committee does UConn a solid and puts them in a favorable bracket. If so, the Huskies could be dancing deep into the 2nd weekend. More to come…