UConn men no match for top-ranked Villanova
Hartford — A decent number of UConn basketball fans headed for the XL Center exits with just under eight minutes left Saturday afternoon.
They had seen enough.
The outcome was already decided in a game between two former Big East rivals.
Boos could be heard at various times during a lopsided 81-61 loss to top-ranked Villanova. Not a good look for a once elite level program, especially in a nationally-televised game.
The Huskies (10-9) played hard but couldn't overcome a sizable talent deficit. There's a huge gap between them and the Wildcats (18-1), who led for all but 28 seconds and built a 21-point halftime advantage.
It was UConn's fifth loss by at least 20 points this season, the first time that's happened since the 1968-69 season. The Huskies fell to 0-4 this season — all double digit defeats — versus ranked teams.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie addressed the state of the program during his postgame remarks.
"Of course, I don't want to be 10-9," Ollie said. "But, at the end of the day, I know this is not going to last. This is temporary. We're going to keep fighting. We're going to keep fighting on the recruiting trail, getting UConn players in here and meshing with the guys that we do have here.
"And we're going to keep getting better. At the same token, we've got to fight. We've got to play with pride for this UConn jersey. ... The biggest thing, when they feel the ship is sinking, the rats jump off first and the scavengers jump off. We're not scavengers and we're not rats. So we're staying right on the damn boat.
"... I've been through a lot. Never going to give in, never going to give up. Going to keep pressing. These guys will get better and that continues on Monday."
The UConn boat is certainly taking on water. Ollie took consolation in the fact that the Huskies, who trailed by as many as 31, never gave up during the second half despite the huge deficit.
Junior Jalen Adams finished with 19 points and five assists but had six of UConn's 10 turnovers while sophomore Christian Vital had 15 points and freshman Josh Carlton added 13 points and a team-best nine rebounds.
Redshirt junior Terry Larrier, who wore a face mask to protect a fractured anterior wall of his maxillary sinus, was understandably ineffective, converting just 3 of 14 field goal attempts and scoring six points. He is expected to have surgery on Wednesday and will be sidelined for 7-10 days, missing at least Thursday's SMU game.
"Of course, I imagine it bothered (Larrier), but I was so proud that he didn't use it as an excuse," Ollie said.
Villanova exposed every UConn weakness.
The perimeter-powered Wildcats exceeded their average of 11.5 3-pointers per game by making 15. They dominated the boards (48-32), setting an early tone by grabbing 12 of their 16 offensive rebounds before intermission. Guard Jalen Brunson led the charge with a game-high 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo chipped in 17 off the bench. Both players hit five 3-pointers.
"I think there were some points where we kind of put our heads down and Villanova showed no mercy and kept going," Adams said.
The Huskies also fell short in the EGB — Energy Generating Behavoirs — department.
"We wanted to dominate the EGBs," Ollie said. "The first play, we didn't get on the floor and they got on the floor and got the loose ball. When they see blood, they're like sharks. We didn't rebound."
The game was basically decided when Villanova closed the first half with a 21-4 run. The Wildcats fired in three 3-pointers and Phil Booth's driving basket capped it off.
The Wildcats made just six of their first 26 field goal attempts and shot just 41.2 percent overall, but the offensively-challenged Huskies failed to take advantage. UConn shot an icy 34.4 percent, giving the sellout crowd of 15,564 fans little to cheer about.
"Villanova is a really, really good team," Ollie said. "Whenever we made a mistake, they made us pay. Shooting the ball, passing the ball, sharing the ball, if there's one team that you want to emulate, that's them. That's the No. 1 team for a reason."
UConn heads back into American Athletic Conference play on Thursday, hosting SMU in Storrs.
"There's not any discouragement," Adams said. "We go into every game thinking we can win the game. When we get out on the floor, we just have to continue to play hard for the whole 40 minutes. We can't have spurts where we play hard and then relax, because teams like this, they take advantage of that."
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