Mon, 24 Feb 2020

Old foes UConn, No. 14 Villanova to reunite

Field Level Media
17 Jan 2020, 20:05 GMT+10

Two former Big East Conference rivals are going back to the future on Saturday.

When Connecticut visits No. 14 Villanova, it will feature a matchup of teams that once made this the best basketball conference in Division I, and will aim to do it again starting next season.

This is the Huskies'final season in the American Athletic Conference before they return to their Big East roots. They were a member of the conference from its inception in 1979 until it left in 2013 to join the AAC in a move related to football.

With UConn's programs mostly scuffling, aside from women's basketball, a return to the Big East might lead to a resurgence for second-year coach Dan Hurley. The Huskies (10-6) have enjoyed a good recruiting year, successfully selling their change to a conference that makes more geographic sense.

Villanova coach Jay Wright is looking forward to UConn's return to the Big East.

"Everywhere they go to play, it's going to be a great game," he told the New York Times last month. "And everyone that goes there, you know they're going to be sold out."

The Wildcats' on-campus gym should be filled to its last rafter for this one. Villanova (13-3) enters this game fresh off a 79-75 overtime win Tuesday night over DePaul, which rallied from an 11-point deficit with 2:14 left in regulation to force extra basketball.

However, the Wildcats fought off the Blue Demons behind 21 points from Collin Gillespie and 18 from Saddiq Bey. Five Villanova players average in double figures on the season, led by Bey at 15.4 and Gillespie at 15.1.

"That's what the Big East is going to be like this year," Wright said. "You're just going to have to survive. We were very fortunate to come out with a victory. We'll take it. Any Big East victory is going to be valuable this year."

Villanova outscored DePaul 12-8 in overtime, Gillespie converting six straight free throws to help it win for the fourth time in five conference games.

Meanwhile, UConn pushed then-No. 23 Wichita State into double overtime Sunday in Hartford before losing 89-86 as Christian Vital's bid to force a third OT rattled off the iron at the horn.

"It was just tough," Vital said to the Hartford Courant. "We fought. We fought for that. Some moments didn't go our way, when we thought it would or should have gone our way, but it was just tough because we fought for that.

"We didn't just let them come in here and let them think they were going to bully us. It was tough to end that game and not be on the winning side."

Vital is the Huskies' only double-figure scorer on the season at 14.9 points per game.

--Field Level Media

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