PHILADELPHIA - Itâ€™s not here yet. The UConn menâ€™s basketball team, despite the strides it has taken in recent years and the resurgence itâ€™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 Hurleyâ€™s oft-cited proclamation following a narrow defeat Jan. 18, 2020.
â€śPeople better get us now,â€ť a stoic, determined Hurley said at the time. â€śBecause itâ€™s coming.â€ť
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 conferenceâ€™s crown since the breakup of the league back in 2013, continue to lord over the Huskies now that theyâ€™re brethren again.
Hurley on Saturday wasnâ€™t nearly as defiant in his predictions of future success. And, to be fair, he wasnâ€™t talking about Villanova exclusively two years ago when he uttered his now famous phrase.
The coach also said on Saturday he isnâ€™t overly concerned about failing to beat Jay Wrightâ€™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.
â€śI think any particular team in the league is in our head,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any team we think that we canâ€™t beat. I donâ€™t think we came in with like a â€¦ when you play at UConn thereâ€™s no brand that you play against where itâ€™s too big for you.
â€śWe just didnâ€™t play well enough to win. Weâ€™re going through a bad stretch right now in a very tough league.â€ť
His players largely agree. They say they donâ€™t see Villanova as some brass ring to be seized; they just want to beat everyone.
â€śWe want to beat every team we play against. Itâ€™s not just Villanova,â€ť point guard R.J. Cole, who had 25 points in the loss Saturday, said. â€śI guess Villanova is the standard in this league but weâ€™re a good team, too. Weâ€™re going to continue to believe in ourselves and come out with confidence.â€ť
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 Hurleyâ€™s phrasing, lost their identity.
In other words: they stunk on defense against Villanova.
â€śYou go through valleys. This is a valley for us. We havenâ€™t played well. We have to have guys step up. We have to coach better. We have to play better,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI still think weâ€™re one of the best teams in this league. And weâ€™re going to see these guys again at home.â€ť
Both the coach and his players insisted after Saturdayâ€™s game they saw largely what they expected from the Wildcatsâ€™ 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 gameâ€™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 minutesâ€™ time - there were no foul issues to hold the Huskies back.
â€śAt the point man-verse-man, one-on-one situations, we lost the edge,â€ť Hurley said. â€śAnd we got scored on.â€ť
Yes, much like Creighton did earlier in the week, Villanova got a couple lucky bounces. Star guard Collin Gillespieâ€™s 3-pointer from the corner bounced three times before dropping in during Saturdayâ€™s decisive run, not unlike Creighton forward Ryan Hawkinsâ€™ shot in Hartford four days earlier just before the half that took three caroms before falling, too.
And, yes, the game officials werenâ€™t exactly giving UConn defenders the benefit of the doubt.
â€śThe outcome had nothing to do with the officiating but I just couldnâ€™t believe both those guys (Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley) getting some really touchy fouls to start the game,â€ť Hurley said.
But even with those factors discounted, UConn still wouldnâ€™t be able to get over the hump against the Wildcats.
UConn fans are still waiting for it to come.