Villanova beats UConn to reach Big East Tourney final

It felt and sounded like the old Big East. The result was familiar to the newcomer.

A sold-out Garden rocked like it used to in March – before the realignment – as two old rivals met in an electrifying atmosphere that could see two teams performing in the second weekend. Ultimately, No. 2 Villanova reminded everyone that it still controls this league, outplaying the third-placed Huskies for most of the second half and advancing into Saturday night’s Big East Tournament title game with a 63-60 semifinal win.

After being eliminated in the Georgetown Quarterfinals a year ago, the Wildcats will look to cut the nets against fourth-place Creighton. an 85-58 blowout winner over No. 1 Providence.

Villanova, the betting favorite at the start of this tournament, fell behind St John’s by a point in Thursday night’s quarterfinals. Twenty-four hours later, using Connecticut’s strength — its insides — against them was far more impressive. The Wildcats mostly went on a five-out attack, resulting in mismatches on the rim, and they defended the Huskies’ big man Adama Sanogo well, limiting him to 15 points on 6 of 15 shots.

Jermaine Samuels dunks the ball in the second half.
Jermaine Samuels dunks the ball in the second half.
Getty Images

At the other end of the floor, Sanogo frequently faced more agile forward Jermaine Samuels, who set him on fire with 19 points and 11 rebounds. This game was about the other guys for Villanova. Alongside Samuels, Brandon Slater had 15 points after sinking the game-winning free throws in the final seconds against St. John’s the night before. Co-stars Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore had just 12 points combined, though Gillespie had 10 assists and a turnover as he deftly dealt with Connecticut pressure.

Tyrese Martin led the Huskies with 19 points and six rebounds and RJ Cole added 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Martin had a shot at the buzzer after Gillespie missed a free throw, but his throw right down the half-court had deviated to the left.

Villanova entered the competition with a plan to study the color, but not go all the way. Eighteen of his first 23 shots were 3-point attempts. They made eight of them, which allowed them to stay close despite Connecticut’s size and strength advantage.

Brandon Slater
Brandon Slater finished with 15 points.
Tim Nwachukwu

That was no surprise. The surprise was the players who injured the huskies. Moore and Gillespie combined just two points on 1 of 6 shooting stages. Slater and Samuels were the Wildcats’ top two players in the first half, combined for 22 points and hitting five 3-pointers.

Neither team led by more than five points at the half, and Villanova led by a point at the break. The momentum changed early in the second half after Sanogo missed a few hares. Coach Jay Wright’s team put on a 15-6 run and made six of eight field goal attempts to score 52-44 on Eric Dixon’s 3-pointer by 10-21. UConn, meanwhile, remained scoreless for 3:20 until Martin’s three-point game ended the drought. Villanova beats UConn to reach Big East Tourney final


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