Not every Big East game is going to be pretty. In fact, there's going to be a lot of ugly games played. But if the UConn Huskies men's basketball team can continue to pull out wins like they did on Monday afternoon, whether it's pretty or ugly probably won't matter.
Kemba Walker was once again the hero as his shot with 2.5 seconds left gave the No. 8/8 Huskies a 61-59 win over the No. 7/7 Villanova Wildcats in front of a sold-out crowd and nationally-televised audience at Gampel Pavilion on ESPN's Big Monday MLK Day coverage.
With the score tied at 54, Walker hit a three-pointer to put the Huskies up with 1:09 remaining. After Villanova's Maalik Wyans missed a three-pointer, Walker was fouled and hit two free throws to put the Huskies up by five points with 45 seconds to go.
'Nova answered back though with a three-pointer by Corey Fisher to cut the UConn lead to two at 59-57. After a timeout, the Wildcats fouled Walker who uncharacteristically missed both free throws giving them a chance to tie it up. And 'Nova did that as Walker fouled Fisher, who hit both free throws with 22 seconds left.
After Jim Calhoun called a 30 second timeout, Shabazz Napier held the ball at the top of the key until Walker came to get the ball with about 10 seconds left to go. Walker got the pass and worked his way into the lane and hit the floater with 2.5 seconds. Fisher's last ditch three was off the mark and the Gampel crowd celebrated a big win by the Huskies.
UConn moves to 15-2 (4-2 Big East) while the Wildcats suffer their second loss of the season and first Big East loss (16-2, 4-1). Only Pittsburgh and Syracuse remain undefeated in Big East play and after Monday night, one of them will have one loss as they are currently playing each other.
Despite a poor shooting night (6-18), Walker led the Huskies with 24 points and added six rebounds and five assists. Alex Oriakhi had another double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb had another good game on both ends of the floor with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Fisher lead all scorers in the game with 28 points and added three rebounds and six assists. There were no other Wildcats in double figures. Wayns had nine points while Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou chipping with eight points. Yarou led the Wildcats with 10 rebounds.
The Huskies got out of the gates quickly in this one as they took an early 10-0 lead as the Wildcats started 0-for-10 from the floor. Villanova finally got on the board at the 15:47 mark on a Wyans jumper. Including Wyans' basket, the Wildcats scored the next six points before a Walker layup ended that run.
UConn went cold again as another 6-0 run by 'Nova tied the game at 12-12 before Lamb ended that with a three-pointer. With the Huskies up 17-14, yet another 6-0 run by Villanova put them out front 20-17 before two free throws by Walker cut the lead to one. Wyans and Lamb would exchange baskets as Villanova took a 22-21 lead into the break.
The offenses for both teams were much better early on in the second half as the teams traded baskets before a mini 4-0 run put the Wildcats up five at 36-31 with 14:51 remaining. The Huskies scored the next four points to get it back to one point but Villanova eventually opened up a seven point lead at 43-36.
Over the next four minutes or so, the Huskies tied the game up on two Walker free throws. UConn would eventually take a four-point lead with 3:56 to go on a Lamb layup before Nova would tie it up again.
It was nice to see the Huskies stay composed during a tight, physical Big East game. Last year's team probably would have collapsed but as we've seen all season long, this is a much different team. They are a lot closer and you can tell that they genuinely like each other.
The players will start classes on Tuesday and will take the court again on Saturday when the Tennessee Volunteers come to the XL Center in Hartford, CT. Game time is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game will be nationally-televised on CBS.
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