UConn men remain 0-for-'Nova

Published on Monday, 7 February 2022 19:34

Journal Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA - It’s not here yet. The UConn men’s basketball team, despite the strides it has taken in recent years and the resurgence it’s experienced under coach Dan Hurley, has not quite caught the standard-bearer for excellence in the Big East Conference.

The 17th-ranked Huskies suffered an 85-74 loss to No. 12 Villanova Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, their first game against Villanova here since UConn coach Hurley’s oft-cited proclamation following a narrow defeat Jan. 18, 2020.

“People better get us now,” a stoic, determined Hurley said at the time. “Because it’s coming.”

Many fans thought it would come this year, and, more specifically, this weekend.

But there remains a gap between the two teams.

The Wildcats, who have owned the conference’s crown since the breakup of the league back in 2013, continue to lord over the Huskies now that they’re brethren again.

Hurley on Saturday wasn’t nearly as defiant in his predictions of future success. And, to be fair, he wasn’t talking about Villanova exclusively two years ago when he uttered his now famous phrase.

The coach also said on Saturday he isn’t overly concerned about failing to beat Jay Wright’s Wildcats yet.

UConn had lost five straight games to the Wildcats and is winless against its old rival since returning to the Big East.

“I think any particular team in the league is in our head,” Hurley said. “I don’t think there’s any team we think that we can’t beat. I don’t think we came in with like a … when you play at UConn there’s no brand that you play against where it’s too big for you.

“We just didn’t play well enough to win. We’re going through a bad stretch right now in a very tough league.”

His players largely agree. They say they don’t see Villanova as some brass ring to be seized; they just want to beat everyone.

“We want to beat every team we play against. It’s not just Villanova,” point guard R.J. Cole, who had 25 points in the loss Saturday, said. “I guess Villanova is the standard in this league but we’re a good team, too. We’re going to continue to believe in ourselves and come out with confidence.”

UConn (15-6, 6-4 Big East) has lost consecutive games for the first time this season, though some of that is due to an increasingly difficult schedule. The other part is the Huskies have, to use Hurley’s phrasing, lost their identity.

In other words: they stunk on defense against Villanova.

“You go through valleys. This is a valley for us. We haven’t played well. We have to have guys step up. We have to coach better. We have to play better,” Hurley said. “I still think we’re one of the best teams in this league. And we’re going to see these guys again at home.”

Both the coach and his players insisted after Saturday’s game they saw largely what they expected from the Wildcats’ attack. There is of course a difference between knowing what is coming and stopping it.

UConn struggled with the latter. Some of it was due to cautious play after early foul trouble.

But in the game’s decisive run - when Villanova turned a rather tenuous 7-point lead early in the second half to a gigantic 23-point advantage in a matter of five minutes’ time - there were no foul issues to hold the Huskies back.

“At the point man-verse-man, one-on-one situations, we lost the edge,” Hurley said. “And we got scored on.”

Yes, much like Creighton did earlier in the week, Villanova got a couple lucky bounces. Star guard Collin Gillespie’s 3-pointer from the corner bounced three times before dropping in during Saturday’s decisive run, not unlike Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins’ shot in Hartford four days earlier just before the half that took three caroms before falling, too.

And, yes, the game officials weren’t exactly giving UConn defenders the benefit of the doubt.

“The outcome had nothing to do with the officiating but I just couldn’t believe both those guys (Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley) getting some really touchy fouls to start the game,” Hurley said.

But even with those factors discounted, UConn still wouldn’t be able to get over the hump against the Wildcats.

UConn fans are still waiting for it to come.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Monday, 7 February 2022 19:34. Updated: Monday, 7 February 2022 19:36.