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Three Key Takeaways.
- Shabazz Napier was awesome. Killer crossovers, in-your-face threes, acrobatic layups – Napier took the game over in the second half like only he could. The senior guard scored 21 points in the final 20 minutes – including three straight triples midway through the period – to give Connecticut the edge in what had looked to be a barnburner. Even a late, seemingly serious ankle injury couldn’t stop the AAC Player of the Year. After sitting out a minute or two of action, Napier returned with a bang, making a crucial reverse layin and nailing several big free throws to effectively finish off the Wildcats. He ended the night with 25 points, just one more than he scored against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday, but the difference was his efficiency: Napier shot 9-of-13 from the field and 4-of-8 from distance.
- The Huskies’ defense shined during key stretches. Connecticut entered the night ranked 15th in the country in defensive efficiency, and that stinginess was on full display during several crucial periods against Villanova. When the Huskies trailed 20-11 at the 10-minute mark of the first half, their defense promptly shut out the Wildcats for over nine straight minutes and enabled the offense to chip away at the lead. Then, following a back-and-forth start to the second half, Connecticut asserted itself on the interior and prevented Jay Wright’s club from finding any good looks in the paint. It put a lot of pressure on Villanova’s three-point shooters, who were unable to carry the full load.
- Villanova probably overachieved in 2013-14, and it will be back. Many people felt the Wildcats were the most vulnerable #2 seed entering the NCAA Tournament, and they were probably correct. The fact is that this team likely won more games than it should have this season, especially considering their lack of NBA-caliber talent (according to projections) and limited experience. But the good news for Jay Wright is that – aside from James Bell – every significant contributor returns to the Main Line next year. Expect very good things out of Villanova in 2014-15.
Star of the Game. Shabazz Napier (25 points, five rebounds, three assists, 9-of-13 FG). Who else? The star point guard was extremely efficient and took the game over in the second half, nailing big shot after big shot and propelling Connecticut on to the Sweet Sixteen.