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GAME NOTES: As two of the most disappointing teams in the Big East Conference, the Connecticut Huskies and Villanova Wildcats square off tonight in Philadelphia as both try to get their seasons back on track with just a handful of games remaining.
UConn started the season red-hot with a 12-1 record and a national ranking as high as eighth following a New Year's Even win over St. John's. As the Huskies got deeper into the Big East schedule however, wins became more and more scarce. They've won just four of their past nine games and are in 10th place in the conference with a 6-8 record. UConn's latest loss came at home on Saturday in a 79-64 final against nationally-ranked Marquette in what many considered a must-win game for the Huskies.
Connecticut continues to play without head coach Jim Calhoun, who is nursing a back injury that has been bothering him for some time.
A down year for Villanova was anticipated this season, but few foresaw it struggled to the tune of an 11-15 record overall with a 4-10 mark in conference. After starting the season 4-0, the Wildcats have been little more than an afterthought in the Big East, where they are tied for 12th place in the standings. They had an opportunity to make some noise against nationally- ranked Notre Dame on Saturday, but coughed up a big second-half lead and lost in overtime, 74-70.
Villanova leads the all-time series with UConn, 32-29. The teams met last on January 17, 2011 when both were ranked in the top-10. The Huskies defeated the Wildcats, 61-59, to post their third straight win in the series.
Hosting No. 12 Marquette on Saturday gave UConn the opportunity to show that it could still be a factor in the Big East, but it got down early and could never climb back, causing clear disappointment in the fans at the XL Center. Barring an improbable run in the Big East Conference Tournament, the Huskies will more than likely be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Jeremy Lamb continued his stellar play in the recent loss, tallying 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor. Lamb is the conference's fifth-leading scorer at 17.3 ppg and he connects on a solid percentage from the field (.479) and three-point range (.342). Shabazz Napier adds 13 ppg and dishes out 5.8 apg, good for fourth in the conference. Center Andrew Drummond adds 10 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 2.5 bpg to the mix. Giveaways have plagued UConn this season as it owns a turnover margin of -2.04.
Villanova appeared to be on its way to an upset victory over Notre Dame as it was up 16 points at the half after shooting 48.4 percent from the floor in the frame. The Wildcats went ice-cold after the break however, connecting on only 5-of-21 from the field, as the Irish climbed all the way back to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime in a game that has become a microcosm of the Wildcats' season. JayVaughn Pinkston scored a game-high 24 points for Villanova, while Maurice Sutton logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. The Wildcats were without two of their starting guards Maalik Wayns (team-best 17.8 ppg and 4.5 apg) and James Bell in the loss with leg injuries and both remain unlikely to play this evening. In their absence, the offensive attack will be led by Dominic Cheek (12.6 ppg), Mouphtaou Yarou (10.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg), and Pinkston (10.2 ppg). Though Villanova has put up a respectable 72.6 ppg, it is the least-efficient shooting team in the Big East, connecting on just 41.4 percent of its field goal attempts.
It will be interesting to see how these teams respond following their losses over the weekend as both seem to be without much confidence at this point. Even in front of the Philly faithful at the Wells Fargo Center, the loss of the Wildcats' best player will still prove much to overcome.
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