Wildcats Come Up Short, Fall to UConn, 71-69


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Collin Gillespie (above) finished with 17 points in the loss.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

The No. 21 UConn Huskies eked out a 71-69 victory against the No. 8 Villanova Wildcats in downtown Hartford Tuesday night. The game was a chippy wire-to-wire battle, featuring 18 lead changes and four combined technical fouls. The ‘Cats went cold down the stretch, as the team was unable to generate any points from the field in the last 2:56 of play while the Huskies were able to go on a 6-0 run over the last 21 seconds to secure the win.

“It was just getting outplayed down the stretch,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Two great teams battling it out, and down the stretch they made the plays, we didn’t make the plays. It was that close of a game.”

Huskies sophomore forward Adama Sanogo led all scorers with 20, as graduate guards Isaiah Whaley and R.J. Cole contributed 13 and 12, respectively, to the Huskies’ final tally. The Wildcats had four players in double figures, with graduate guard Collin Gillespie’s 17 point performance leading the way. Senior forward Brandon Slater had 15 and graduate forward Jermaine Samuels had 13. The team had 14 turnovers in the matchup, with Gillespie accounting for five of them. 

The Wildcats’ inability to find a response for Sanogo’s size on the interior was a problem all night long for Wright. Sanogo sat out much of the earlier matchup between the two squads in a game that resulted in a Wildcats victory.

“[Sanogo]’s really good,” Wright said. “He’s a really good player, they do a really good job finding him, he had a great game. Definitely a force.”

Huskies head coach Dan Hurley was ejected from the matchup late in a tight first half after earning two technical fouls in the same dead-ball period. The first was seemingly for slapping the scorer’s table with 4:53 to play in the half. After the first technical was issued, Hurley waved his arms in an effort to excite the crowd, and was subsequently issued his second technical, leading to an ejection.

The back-to-back technicals were indicative of the kind of energy the game was being played in, as the XL Center rocked with energy from the opening tip.

“Every time we come here it’s a great atmosphere,” Wright said. “I can’t remember the game, but I remember the last time we were here it was the same way.”

The ‘Cats were able to survive an early barrage from the Huskies on the back of some excellent three-point shooting. From there, the teams stayed tight, trading bucket after bucket. Offsetting technicals were called on junior guard Justin Moore and Huskies sophomore guard Andre Jackson after a common foul shortly after the Hurley ejection. The Huskies would go into the locker room with a one-point lead, 33-32. 

The Huskies came out of the halftime break hot, as the team went on a 10-2 run early in the second half, with their lead growing to seven at one point. The ‘Cats were able to fight back, taking back the lead 56-54 with 7:50 to play. From there, the game stayed close. The Wildcats were able to build a lead of four points twice down the stretch, but neither were sustained for long.

With 17 seconds to play and the score 69-68 in the ‘Cats favor, Gillespie got tied up in the backcourt while handling the ball, resulting in a jump ball. 

“I was pivoting, and I was looking up the floor for somebody to throw it to, and they just tied me up I guess,” Gillespie said postgame. 

UConn got the ball back, and Cole drove in for a layup to give the Huskies a one-point advantage. The ‘Cats had a chance on the final possession, with just under five seconds to get the ball up the floor and score. Gillespie received the ball and flew down the court, but was called for an offensive foul on his final shot attempt. 

“I was trying to get it to the middle of the floor and Sanogo played the middle so I had to go back right,” Gillespie said. “I just wanted to get a shot up or try and draw a foul going to the rim.”

For Villanova, the loss drops the squad to 21-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big East, removing control of its own destiny for the Big East regular season title, as it now trails the Providence Friars by two games. The ‘Cats remain in the race, but would need a loss from the Friars in one of their next two games in combination with a win against the Friars on Mar. 1. 

The ‘Cats will be back in action on Mar. 1 for the aforementioned crucial matchup with the Friars at the Finneran Pavilion at 6:30 P.M. The Friars will play against Xavier and Creighton at home before traveling to Villanova for their final game of the regular season. Villanova will play one more game after the Mar. 1 matchup, traveling to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on Butler.