It’s only fitting that the first Saturday of the 2014 NCAA tournament would end with an upset.
The No. 7 seed UConn Huskies are headed back to familiar territory, knocking off the East Region No. 2 seed Villanova Wildcats 76-65 on Saturday night in Buffalo, advancing to Madison Square Garden and the Sweet 16.
The Huskies (28-8) will now await the winner of Sunday’s contest between No. 3 seed Iowa State and No. 6 seed North Carolina.
UConn fell behind early in the first half and appeared on the verge of being run off the court by a fast Wildcats start. Compounding matters, Huskies star guard Shabazz Napier found himself in early foul trouble and sat for the majority of the first 20 minutes.
But the Huskies battled, and led by strong contributions off their bench—Terrence Samuel and Lasan Kromah in particular—ended the fist half on a 16-5 run to take a 25-24 lead at the break.
Villanova (29-5) came out strong in the second half and made a game of it. The opening minutes of the half were close, but the Wildcats fell behind 37-36 after a DeAndre Daniels layup with 14:37 to play and never led again.
For the Huskies, the credit for this victory must be divvied up a bit.
Napier, who only played eight minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and sat again late in the second with a right leg injury, had 25 points, five rebounds and three assists on 9-of-13 shooting.
He was in the zone on Saturday night and was clearly the best player on the floor.
But it was the UConn bench—forced to step up early and often—who are the unsung heroes.
With Napier limited, Kromah and Samuel combined for 23 points off the bench, and each made big plays to keep the Huskies in the game early and seal it for them late.
Villanova didn’t get nearly the same level of contribution outside their starting five, and wasn’t able to do anything to slow down Napier or the Huskies other guards.
Ryan Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with 18 points.