In a closely-contested, Big East throwback game at the Wells Fargo Center that featured the two schools who are responsible for 5 of the last 12 national championship titles, the top-ranked UConn Huskies seemed poised to run away from the Villanova Wildcats right out of the gate by securing an early 11-0 lead that immediately put ‘Nova’s back against the wall and quieted the home crowd.
Even though the visitors were seriously threatening to make the game’s result a foregone conclusion in the contest’s opening 5 minutes, Justin Moore and his teammates were able to respond to the U’Conn onslaught by continuing to play solid defense and improving their offensive execution; eventually leveling the score at 18-all. Thanks to a pair of fouls in the game’s opening ten minutes, the ‘Cats’ emerging combo-guard, Mark Armstrong, was promptly pulled by Kyle Neptune and limited to 9 minutes & change of first-half playing time.
To start the second half, Neptune placed Armstrong in his team’s starting five (again) and looked on as the young guard was positively impacting the game until he was practically forced to pick up his third foul at the 3-minute mark (/17 mins remaining); hacking one of U’Conn’s offensive-rebounders on an unsuccessful point-blank, put-back attempt that not only sent him to the charity stripe but (it) sent Armstrong back to the bench. Including Armstrong’s meaningless, (yet) impressive buzzer-beating half-court shot that went in as time expired, the speedy sophomore was able to make 4 of his 7 shots on his way to scoring 9 points; but the larger story here was how Armstrong only saw 12 minutes on the court for the entire game. While Armstrong warmed the bench, his teammates were going to work as Justin Moore and TJ Bamba kept ‘Nova afloat with 15 points a piece on 7-for-9 & 4-for-11 shooting marks; respectively.
In Donovan Clingan’s second game back after injuring his foot during U’Conn’s loss to the Pirates of Seton Hall before Christmas, the 7-foot 2-inch big man logged 24 minutes of game-time against the Wildcats and was able to drop 6 points, pull down 7 boards, and reject 2 shots despite being out of shape; huffing and puffing his way up-&-down the floor as the game matured. Although the sophomore center was productive and efficient during his extended run (of game-time) in the sense that he pushed his body to the limit, made 3 of his 4 shots, and impacted the game beyond the stat sheet, the opposition was able to curtail his offensive & defensive game by being physical with him, fronting him in the post, and pulling him out of the paint. Because the 7-foot 2-inch goliath was responsible for guarding Eric Dixon in the half-court, ‘Nova gravitated towards an offensive strategy that allowed (both) Dixon to roam the perimeter and the ‘Cats’ ball-handlers to attack the paint off-the-dribble in the absence of U’Conn’s gigantic rim-protector.
Undoubtedly, the star that shined the brightest in this memorable clash of blue-bloods had to be the Huskies’ senior guard, Tristen Newton, whose stellar performance stood out from the rest via his game-high scoring-mark of 25 points (on 8-of-17 shooting); not to mention the fact that the 6-foot 5-inch guard played all but one minute (or 39 mins) and was able to impact the game on the glass and in the shot-creation category with 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
With the Huskies’ top scorers, Cam Spencer and Alex Karaban, being held to a combined scoring total of 24 points on 6-for-19 shooting, the road team had no choice but to lean on their trio’s third-leg; as Newton’s dynamic scoring-&-playmaking ability was on full display from start to finish in his team’s one-point victory. While it’s true that both teams play the game in different ways, their somewhat contrasting styles came together rather harmoniously during their Saturday match-up; as both teams shot the 3-ball right around 30 percent, made between 40 and 45 percent of their field goals, pulled down exactly 30 rebounds, turned it over (either) 7 or 8 times, dished-out between 10 & 13 assists, and scored within 4 points of each other in the paint (26 to 22 in favor of Nova).
However, Villanova was almost inexplicably called for 21 of the game’s 35 fouls. To make matters worse, in the game’s final 85 seconds, Justin Moore got whistled for virtually the same offensive hooking foul on two occasions. While you could say one of those “fouls” was rightly called by the game’s officiating crew, it’s indefensible to say that both of those offensive fouls were warranted.
Considering the fact(-s) that U’Conn’s Spencer & Diarra was hand-checking (and reaching in on) ‘Nova’s ball-handler, Moore, (and) w/ two hands on the first & second back-down before (the whistle blew; and before) Moore responded to his defender’s initial-contact (w/ him) by using his off-arm at 1:25 left to-play and 18.8, (left) respectively; it’s very strange how the officials seemed so eager to whistle Moore for the questionable infraction on two occasions. On the road, such treatment from the referees is expected from the referrees. On ‘Nova’s home floor, however, not only did “the tie not go to the runner” (/the home team) but 60 percent of the game’s fouls were charged to the ‘Cats; none more costly than Moore’s hooks at the game’s end.
Even with the whistles going Villanova’s way down the stretch, there’s a very, very good chance the ‘Cats still lose this game. But, the home team would’ve had a better chance of winning it; and deserved a better chance.
All ‘Nova Nation is asking for is a fair-shake, blue!