Villanova will be searching for its ninth consecutive victory when it faces UConn on Thursday in Storrs, Conn.
The third-ranked Wildcats improved to 10-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big East with a 71-56 win over Providence on Saturday. Villanova the only Big East team without a conference loss.
Make no mistake: The victory over the Friars was far from easy. Villanova led by only three points with 13 minutes remaining.
“We were playing off our defense,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We were getting confidence from getting stops defensively. We kept grinding.”
That especially applies to Jermaine Samuels, the reigning Big East Player of the Week.
Samuels had 10 points and 10 rebounds against Providence after amassing 20 points and nine rebounds in a 76-74 victory over Seton Hall on Jan. 19.
Samuels and his teammates are putting in the hard work on defense, which is where the Wildcats are thriving.
“I think Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is one of the best defensive players in the country,” Wright said. “He can guard any position and it helps everybody else. Justin Moore is the same kind of guy, believe it or not. Our other teams could do that, but not as well as this team. Other teams were better offensively.
“We’re not there offensively yet, but we have a chance to be one of our best defensive teams.”
Moore and Collin Gillespie each scored 15 points against the Friars while Caleb Daniels had 12 points to go with Samuels’ 10.
“I was getting in the lane, trying to make plays,” Moore said. “We were being aggressive. I was taking my shot when it’s there, finding my teammates. Of course, my teammates were there to encourage me and keep it going.”
Connecticut (8-3, 5-3) is coming off a hard-fought 63-51 victory over visiting Butler on Tuesday.
Tyrese Martin led the Huskies with 20 points, R.J. Cole added 11 and Isaiah Whaley played a solid all-around game with six points, five rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Connecticut shot 50 percent (24 of 48) from the floor, including 7 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Leading up to the game, Huskies coach Dan Hurley had been very critical of his team’s shot selection and offense as a whole.
Clutch shooting is needed since the Huskies are short-handed with key players injured such as James Bouknight (elbow), Andre Jackson (wrist) and Akok Akok (shin).
“It’s hard to simulate, in the stretch of games we now find ourselves in from not playing very frequently to a bunch of games on top of each other, down to nine guys for practice,” Hurley said.
One of the nine guys who must continue to perform at a high level is Cole.
“The way he’s just driving the team, possession in and possession out, has got to be at a higher level,” Hurley said. “The leadership thing on him is what it’s about. Obviously, he’s got to do a better job on finishing twos and making free throws at the end of games, but it’s just leadership and intangibles, I think.”
–Field Level Media