UConn-Villanova men: Haven't we met before?

UConn players Shabazz Napier, left, and Niels Giffey appear at an NCAA news conference Friday prior to today's game against Villanova in Buffalo.
UConn players Shabazz Napier, left, and Niels Giffey appear at an NCAA news conference Friday prior to today's game against Villanova in Buffalo. Harry Scull Jr./AP Photo

Buffalo, N.Y. - No introductions are necessary tonight.

UConn and Villanova are familiar foes from their old Big East Conference days.

The former conference dance partners renew their rivalry tonight on the grand NCAA tournament stage, playing an East Region third-round game at the First Niagara Center. Game time is approximately 9:40 p.m.

Given their fiercely competitive history, the seventh-seeded Huskies (27-8) and second-seeded Wildcats (29-4) are expecting quite a battle.

"It's going to be 40 minutes of just people killing each other," Villanova sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono said. "It's going to be interesting, but it should be a fun game."

Sounds more like a World Wrestling Entertainment cage match than postseason college basketball.

There is a lot at stake: the winner gets a trip to the Sweet Sixteen next week at Madison Square Garden and the loser's season is painfully over. The Huskies are attempting to win two games in the tournament for the first time since the 2011 national championship season.

"I don't care who we're playing," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "We want to get to the next round. … It's great to see a foe that we've had so many battles against. Villanova's a great team."

UConn gained confidence from a dramatic 89-81overtime win over Saint Joseph's in an NCAA opener on Thursday. The Huskies displayed their trademark grit and heart to fend off elimination and avoid joining the upset ranks.

"It was a confidence booster for the entire team," junior Ryan Boatright said. "It was good to get one of those games out of the way early because that's how it's going to be throughout this whole tournament. You're not going to win too many games by 10 or more points. It's going to be a grind-out game all the time."

"…We're going to have to go out there and play like we've been playing the whole year."

The scouting reports should be relatively easy to compile considering UConn and Villanova met just last season in Hartford. Arcidiacono scored 25 points to lift the Wildcats to a 70-61 victory. In 2012, Shabazz Napier's game-winning, buzzer-beating 30-footer handed UConn a 73-70 overtime win in Philadelphia.

Both rosters remain about the same from last year.

Villanova relies on a versatile and balanced attack that can be deadly from 3-point range and also beat up opponents inside. Senior James Bell (14.5 points), junior Darrun Hilliard (14.3) and Arcidiacono (9.7) are perimeter threats and 6-foot-11 junior JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2) can punish opponents inside.

The Wildcats, who won the Big East regular season title but bowed out early in their conference tournament opener, are also relentless on the boards and on defense. They overcame a poor perimeter shooting game to beat 15th-seeded Milwaukee 73-53 in their NCAA opener on Thursday.

Tonight's outcome may come down to willpower and desire.

"They're always going to have a lot of aggressiveness and passion," UConn's Napier said. "At this stage, you want to move on. You're going to do whatever it takes. They're going to be scrappy. That's what a Big East team is about. … We're going to be ready."

Villanova coach Jay Wright expects to see a different UConn team than last year when Villanova visited Hartford.

For one, Wright doesn't expect the Wildcats will hold Napier to just two points like they did. And UConn has a developing freshman center in Amida Brimah, who made a sparkling NCAA debut against Saint Joseph's.

"This is going to be a heck of a battle," Wright said. "I think Kevin Ollie has done an incredible job with his team. … Having watched the film of our game last year and now watching them, every individual on this team has gotten better, and they've gotten better as a team."

g.keefe@theday.com

Villanova's Josh Hart, left, fights for control of the ball during Thursday's NCAA tournament victory over Milwaukee in Buffalo. Villanova meets UConn tonight with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Villanova's Josh Hart, left, fights for control of the ball during Thursday's NCAA tournament victory over Milwaukee in Buffalo. Villanova meets UConn tonight with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Nick LoVerde/ AP Photo
UConn's Terrence Samuel (3) joins teammates Niels Giffey (5) and Phillip Nolan (0) in cheering on the Huskies during overtime of a second-round NCAA tournament men's basketball victory Thursday night over Saint Joseph's. UConn will play former Big East rival Villanova in the third round tonight at approximately 9:40 for a trip to the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden.
UConn's Terrence Samuel (3) joins teammates Niels Giffey (5) and Phillip Nolan (0) in cheering on the Huskies during overtime of a second-round NCAA tournament men's basketball victory Thursday night over Saint Joseph's. UConn will play former Big East rival Villanova in the third round tonight at approximately 9:40 for a trip to the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden. Nick LoVERDE /AP Photo

UConn vs. Villanova

Tip-off time: Approximately 9:40 p.m. (TBS).

Location: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

Records: No. 7 UConn 27-8, No. 2 Villanova (29-4).

Last game: UConn beat Saint Joseph's, 89-81 (OT), Thursday; Villanova defeated Milwaukee, 73-53, Thursday.

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.6 pts, 6.0 rebs, 5.0 assists), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12 pts, 3.5 assists), 6-9 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (12.7 pts, 5.7 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Niels Giffey (8.6 pts, 3.5 rebs), 6-10 so. center Phil Nolan (3.7 pts, 2.5 rebs).

Villanova, 6-3 jr guard Darrun Hilliard (14.3 pts), 6-3 so. guard Ryan Arcidiacono (9.7 pts), 6-6 sr. guard James Bell (14.5 pts, 6.1 rebs), 6-7 jr. forward JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2 pts, 6.1 rebs), 6-11 so. forward Daniel Ochefu (5.7 pts, 6.1 rebs).

Noteworthy: First meeting between two old Big East foes in an NCAA game. … Series: UConn trails 33-30, losing last meeting 70-61 on Feb. 16, 2013, at the XL Center. Huskies won four of last five overall. … Wildcats second in Big East in scoring at 78.5 and make 9 3-pointers per game. … Villanova sixth in AP poll. UConn 6-4 vs. ranked teams this season. … Top reserve: 6-5 fr. guard Josh Hart (8 pts, 4.5 rebs). … Common opponents: Temple (UConn swept, 90-66 and 68-55; Villanova won 90-74), Saint Joseph's (UConn won 89-81, Villanova won 98-68). … Huskies own 33-8 record in last 12 NCAA trips, dating back to 1999. … Hot: Reserve Amida Brimah averaging 9 pts, 6.7 rebs and 2.3 blks in last three games. Cold: Lasan Kromah sinking 33 percent (14-for-43) in last 10 games. … The Huskies are 3-0 in NCAA tourney games in Buffalo. … Winner advances to the Sweet Sixteen Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

- Gavin Keefe

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