No. 1 Villanova renews rivalry with Connecticut
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Three days after routing current Big East team Georgetown by 32 points on the road, the top-ranked Villanova Wildcats will travel to face a former conference rival in Connecticut.
The Wildcats (17-1, 5-1 Big East) will face the Huskies (10-8, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) Saturday afternoon at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Jalen Brunson led Villanova with 18 points while Mikal Bridges added 17 and Omari Spellman 14 in the win over Georgetown, a game in which the Wildcats led by as many as 42 points.
"This current conference is very tough," Brunson said of the Big East. "It's been eye-opening ever since I've been here. I don't know too much about the old Big East. I think I know a decent amount, not as much as Coach (Jay Wright) knows."
Though Connecticut isn't as solid as it has been in recent years, Wright is viewing this matchup as an old Big East battle.
"I don't know how much our players know about the old Big East," Wright said. "As a team, we're always talking about this Big East and this Big East is good. It's really good basketball and I'm shocked it's as good as it is. Being in the old Big East I didn't think anything could come close to that, but this is coming pretty close."
The Wildcats knocked down 17 of 33 shots from beyond the arc against Georgetown. The combination of hot shooting and stingy defense was too much for the Hoyas to overcome.
"It was just one of those nights when we were making shots," Wright said. "We ran into it at Butler. With the 3-point line, when a team gets it going, there's not a lot you can do."
Connecticut won the last matchup between these two programs, a 77-65 victory in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament on its way to a national championship. Saturday's game will be the Wildcats' final non-conference matchup of the season.
Following a three-game winning streak, the Huskies were thumped 73-49 Tuesday night at Memphis.
Josh Carlton paced Connecticut with 15 points, Christian Vital scored 14 and Jalen Adams had 11. Terry Larrier entered the game averaging 15.3 points but was out with headaches. Larrier, its second-leading scorer, was elbowed last Wednesday against UCF but returned to play Saturday at Tulane.
The Huskies recorded a season-low 49 points, shot 37 percent and committed 17 turnovers against Memphis.
"We just didn't have the toughness tonight that it takes to win these type of games," Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie told the Hartford Courant. "We gave up 22 points off turnovers, outrebounded by 15, those toughness things that we've got to correct."
After losing badly, the Huskies won't have much time to regroup with the No. 1 team in the country on the way.
"I hope we had the right mentality," Ollie told the Courant. "But on some plays it didn't show. It has to show with the toughness, it has to show with the defense. We didn't have the defense that we've been playing the last three games."
Updated January 19, 2018