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Villanova Gets Ready to Face No. 1 UConn at WFC

Ryan Sarbello/Villanovan Photography
UConn is 42-9 all time when ranked at No. 1 in the AP poll.

Following a 61-55 loss at Villanova in 2020, UConn head coach Dan Hurley had a simple message for the rest of college basketball.

“It’s coming,” Hurley said.

Four years later, Hurley’s warning has come true. On Saturday night, the Huskies will face the Wildcats as the defending national champions and the No. 1 team in America. 

The Huskies stand at 16-2, with their only losses coming to No. 3 Kansas and Seton Hall. Their wins include No. 4 North Carolina, No. 18 Creighton and Gonzaga. 

The Wildcats have an overall record of 11-6. Early in the season they beat No. 4 North Carolina and No. 10 Memphis and started Big East play with a win at No. 18 Creighton, but fell to No. 17 Marquette on Monday. 

While North Carolina and Creighton were tough contests, UConn will be the Wildcats’ toughest opponent this season. 

The Huskies have reloaded and might have even become better since winning the championship in Houston last season. 

Championship aftermath

In the weeks following the championship victory several Huskies left for the NBA. This list included center Adama Sanogo, guard Jordan Hawkins and guard Andre Jackson Jr. 

Even with some key players leaving, several returned to Storrs. 

Graduate guard Tristen Newton, who scored 19 points in the national championship, is back for a final year. 

Sophomore center Donovan Clingan also returns. Clingan’s return was huge for the Huskies as he was crucial throughout the 2022-23 season.

Clingan recently returned from a foot injury suffered in December. He posted five points in his return to action against Creighton.

Despite returning three starters, two of the Huskies key players have been newcomers. 

After missing the start of the season with an injury, freshman forward Stephon Castle is growing with every game and has become a starter. 

In the past four games, Castle has averaged double-figure points.

Graduate transfer guard Cam Spencer has instantly become the energy behind Hurley’s team. 

The former Rutgers guard has gained a reputation as the player who does the dirty work on both ends of the floor. Spencer has had several big games with the most recent being a 20-point performance against Georgetown and a 13-point performance against Creighton.

Keys to the game and likely matchups

The Huskies are dangerous. 

Guarding Clingan falls on redshirt senior forward Eric Dixon. Clingan has already faced North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Kansas center Hunter Dickinson, both of whom are on All-American watchlists.

The guard/forward matchups will likely see sophomore guard Mark Armstrong matched up with Newton and graduate guard TJ Bamba facing Castle. 

Arguably the Wildcats’ most athletic player, Armstrong will need to attack the basket on offense and limit the scoring and facilitation provided by Newton on defense. 

At six-foot-five and 215 pounds, Bamba is just an inch smaller than Castle who is six-foot-six.

Throughout the season Bamba has used his strength to his advantage, outmuscling opponents, drawing fouls and scoring from multiple spots on the floor. With growing confidence, Castle makes this a matchup to watch as he will also look to use his frame to score. 

Following his return from a knee injury, graduate guard Justin Moore will likely be matched up with Spencer. Moore loves big games but keeping his composure will be crucial. 

Series History

The Huskies lead the all-time series with the Wildcats, 30-22. Prior to 2022, the Huskies were on a five game losing streak against the Wildcats, but swept the series last season. 

Tip-off is scheduled for 8 P.M. on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

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