BUFFALO, N.Y. - A second half scoring outburst ignited by guard Shabazz Napier lifted No. 7 seed Connecticut (28-8 overall) to a 77-65 victory over No. 2 seed Villanova in an NCAA Tournament second round contest played here at the First Niagara Center. The Wildcats, the BIG EAST regular season champions, conclude their season at 29-5.
Napier, who was limited to eight first half minutes after picking up two early fouls, scored 21 of his 25 points after intermission. That burst included four 3-pointers, including three from well beyond the 3-point arc.
"This is certainly a tough way to end a season," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "I don't want to let this put a damper on what this group has done this year. I want to congratulate UConn. Their defense in the second half was outstanding and Napier was just awesome. There was just a period there where he hit those three 3's and it created separation for them."
The Wildcats got themselves off to a fast start at the offensive end in the very earliest minutes of this one. Arcidiacono dropped in the `Cats first 3-point field goal attempt of the evening and three of his teammates - JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, and Daniel Ochefu - put their names into the scoring column as VU claimed a 13-5 lead with 4:32 of the first half elapsed.
The Wildcats stretched the lead to 19-11 on a deep Hilliard triple, which took the junior over the 1,000 point mark for his career as a Wildcat. A Pinkston free throw extended the advantage to 20-11.
"I really felt like we really were going to shoot the ball well," stated Wright. "I don't think they came out really aggressively then. They stepped up their defense big time. We had a couple of easy ones early."
That defense sparked a 9-0 run that pulled them even at 20 with 3:51 to play in the first period.
The Villanova scoring drought allowed Connecticut to make it a 14-0 run before a Pinkston free throw with 29.9 seconds on the clock snapped the charge. Connecticut took a 25-20 lead.
All of the damage came with Napier out of the game with those two fouls incurred over the first 8:01 in action.
"I thought that was the second most critical time of the game," noted Wright.
An Arcidiacono 3-pointer on the Wildcats' final possession helped narrow the gap for the Wildcats to 25-24 after 20 minutes of action. UConn closed the period on a 16-5 run.
Arcidiacono led VU with eight first half points while DeAndre Daniels topped the Huskies with six points. The Wildcats were just 3-of-17 from the field in the first half after opening the game by connecting on four of their first six attempts from the field.
On the first possession of the second half another Arcidiacono long ball helped VU get the lead back but it didn't last for long as the Huskies pushed their offense into high gear. Connecticut connected on seven of their first 12 attempts from the field in the first 8:12 of the period to put together a 17-9 surge that gave them a 42-36 lead.
Each time the Wildcats pulled to within striking range it was Napier who stepped forward. The Husky guard dropped in four 3-point field goals, three of them from deep, to allow UConn to maintain a working margin. The count was 56-47 with under five minutes to play.
"In a close game like this, that kind of separation is tough to make up," stated Wright. "I think their defense and that period when Napier hit three deep threes was the story of the game."
The `Cats closed to within 56-51 with just under four minutes left but UConn used another surge, this one a 9-2 burst over a two minute span to take a 65-53 lead with 1:38 to play.
The final count was 77-65. The Huskies advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 next weekend at New York's Madison Square Garden.