Villanova became the first No. 2 seed to lose in the 2014 NCAA tournament, as the Wildcats fell 77-65 to the No. 7 Connecticut Huskies in the third round.
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Given these teams' history in the Big East, you knew that points would be at a premium. They had some absolute dogfights against one another in the past, and the most recent edition of this old rivalry was no different.
A total of 41 fouls were called, which was in reality a much lower total than it could've been. Raphielle Johnson of College Basketball Talk commented that the officials were a little lenient with the whistle:
Refs letting this one turn into a brawl on both ends. “Let’s recreate some of those clips from ‘Requiem for the Big East’.”— Raphielle Johnson (@raphiellej) March 23, 2014
In what was an ugly, physical game in most respects, the performance of Shabazz Napier was a welcome release. The star senior took over in the second half, propelling UConn to victory. When the Huskies needed a big shot, Napier was there to connect.
Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore had this about Napier:
Arcidiacono : "Napier was making great shots. That's what great players do"— Dom Amore (@AmoreCourant) March 23, 2014
Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com summed it up well:
When Shabazz Napier is on, it's lights out.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 23, 2014
It was fun to just sit back and watch a player with such a hot hand and who wanted it on every possession. CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein made the parallel to Sam Cassell:
Shabazz Napier is college basketball's version of Sam Cassell. Wants to take ---- and believes he will make EVERY big shot. No fear.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 23, 2014
Even Creighton star Doug McDermott took notice:
Bazz.— Doug McDermott (@dougmcd3) March 23, 2014
Villanova had no counter to Napier. The Wildcats couldn't stop him nor could they find anybody on the offensive end to match him shot for shot.
Their only chance to get back into the game was when Napier got hurt with a little over four minutes to go in the game, per ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil:
Napier looks like he's holding right ankle... Tweaked it a bit earlier in game, too. Entire state of Connecticut now holding its breath.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) March 23, 2014
Napier not in the huddle during this timeout. Sitting on bench, being attended to by athletic trainer.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) March 23, 2014
With a little over two minutes to go, Napier returned and promptly nailed a ridiculous layup. That's the kind of night he was having. He finished the game with 25 points, five rebounds and three assists.
UConn had a slim 25-24 lead going into halftime. Neither team could find any sort of offensive rhythm, particularly Villanova. The Wildcats went a stretch of 11 minutes, 22 seconds in which they failed to hit a field goal:
Villanova went 11:22 without a field goal before that Ryan Arcidiacono 3-pointer. Only down one at the half.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 23, 2014
Nova should've considered itself lucky to have only been down a point after what was an awful first half.
Give credit to UConn, though, as it arguably played its best basketball in the first half without Napier on the floor, oddly enough. The Huskies were down seven points when he exited the game, and with him off, they turned the game around, per Tim Fontenault of The Daily Campus:
Shabazz Napier came out with 12:09 left. It was 16-9 Nova. UConn won the rest of the half 16-8.— Tim Fontenault (@Tim_Fontenault) March 23, 2014
With as badly as the Wildcats played to start the game, you expected a swift turnaround to start the second half. Only it never came.
Villanova showed flashes of the team that went 28-3 in the regular season. Ryan Arcidiacono hit a three to give the Wildcats a 27-25 lead, but UConn quickly got back up 33-27. Then Darrun Hilliard hit a three-pointer, followed by two from James Bell, eventually putting Nova back on top 36-35.
That's when the bottom fell out for Jay Wright and his team. Nova simply couldn't string scores together. After Bell's second three-pointer, his team went over four minutes without another field goal. By then, the Huskies had retaken the lead, and they weren't looking back.
Once Napier caught fire, it was over.
Aside from Napier, the Huskies' bench played a major impact. UConn outscored Nova 26-5 in bench scoring. Terrence Samuel and Lasan Kromah combined to score 23 points.
That helped to cover up the lukewarm performances of Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, who shot a combined 7-of-22 from the field for 22 points.
It helped that Villanova struggled so mightily on the offensive end. The Wildcats were far too reliant on the three, as 11 of their 18 made field goals came from long range. When you make only seven two-pointers, it's never a good sign.
Arcidiacono led Nova with 18 points, with Bell right behind at 14 points.
Connecticut plays the winner of the Iowa State/North Carolina game on Sunday. The Huskies will be looking to make their 11th Elite Eight appearance. The last came in 2011 during that miracle run to the national championship.
Kemba Walker's performance is looked upon as the driving force behind that improbable title win. While Napier isn't as dynamic a scorer, he's a similarly energizing presence on the court. When he's shooting as well as he was on Saturday night, UConn can beat just about anybody.