10:00 PM ET, March 22, 2014
First Niagara Center, Buffalo, New York
Now, the seventh-seeded Huskies are off to the East Regional semifinals in New York City to see how much more bracket busting they can do a year after being barred from the postseason because of academic sanctions.
Second-seeded Villanova became the highest seed to fall so far after Napier scored 25 points in leading UConn to a 77-65 victory Saturday night. The win came on the heels of another upset in Buffalo, where Dayton, the 11th seed in the South, beat third-seeded Syracuse 55-53.
"I guess it means something to you guys but at the end of the day, just because they're No. 2 and we're No. 7, they don't get extra points to start the game off," Napier said. "Everybody's the same."
UConn was better thanks to Napier, who scored 24 points two days earlier in an 89-81 overtime win against Philadelphia's other tournament entry, Saint Joseph's.
Napier had 21 points in the second half and helped put the game away by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers to give the Huskies a 54-45 lead with 6:08 remaining. The star guard was limited to 8 minutes in the first half by foul trouble, and he avoided a major scare when he briefly left the game after hurting his right shin with 4:01 left.
"The pain was excruciating. I couldn't put any pressure on it," Napier said. "Our trainer told me to mentally stay strong. ... He put that Bio-freeze on it, and I was ready to go."
The freeze didn't cool him down once Napier returned after missing only about 40 seconds of action.
Holding the ball atop the 3-point arc, he blew past a defender while driving into the paint and flipped in an underhanded reverse high off the backboard to put UConn ahead 60-51 with 2:19 remaining.
Connecticut (28-8) advanced to face the winner of Sunday's game between third-seeded Iowa State and No. 6 seed North Carolina.
"It's unbelievable," UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said. "It's extra special, given what this team went through last year. Extra special."
Manuel was referring to the academic sanctions that essentially rendered the Huskies' 20-10 finish meaningless last year in Kevin Ollie's first season as coach. Ollie has improved to 2-0 in his tournament debut, two years since taking over after Jim Calhoun stepped down because of health issues.
"Certainly a tough way to end the season," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I didn't want to let this put a damper on what this group has done all year."
Villanova fell one win short of matching the school record set in 2009, when the Wildcats lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals.
Napier's performance played a significant role.
"He was just awesome," Wright said. "There was a period where he hit three 3s, and it just created a separation."
Wright was referring to a surge during which UConn took control in a span of 1:32 as Napier made three consecutive 3-pointers to build a 51-40 advantage. Kromah started it and Napier struck a pose for the cameras after hitting the second 3 with 8:59 left.
"He led us to victory," Ollie said. "He was just unbelievable in that second half: 21 points, crucial 3s, dagger 3s. He was 30 feet out and he was making them."
The Huskies are marching on to Madison Square Garden in their first season as members of the American Athletic Conference after the Big East was realigned following a series of defections.
Villanova remained a Big East holdover, but wound up being bounced by a familiar foe.
The teams traded leads four times in the opening 5:25 of the second half, with Daniels putting UConn ahead for good, 37-36, with a layup.
Poor shooting continued to haunt the Wildcats, who were coming off a 75-53 win over Milwaukee on Thursday.
After hitting five of their first eight attempts through the first 6:11, the Wildcats closed the half going 2-of-15. Their offense went stone cold after Hilliard hit a 3 to put them up 19-9 with 11:30 left.
Villanova went 11:24 without a field goal, missing 10 straight shots before Arcidiacono hit a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left in the first half that cut the Huskies' lead to 25-24.
Villanova was down 42-36 with 11:48 left when Hilliard drove into an opening on the right wing and, as he went up to shoot, the ball slipped out of his hands and bounced out of bounds.
NCAA Mens Tournament
BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 22: Members of the Villanova Wildcats participate in a pregame huddle prior to the game...(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: When UConn wins, Shabazz Napier is usually the reason. Despite a bruised shin, Napier took care of things in the closing minutes to send Villanova home.
Player of the game: Napier. He had four points at halftime but threw in 21 in the second half. Cue up some more Kemba Walker comparisons.
Key stat: Napier missed only four shots in an efficient -- and impressive -- 25-point night.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||23-52 (.442)||18-51 (.353)|
|3P Made-Attempted||9-20 (.450)||11-31 (.355)|
|FT Made-Attempted||22-28 (.786)||18-24 (.750)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||17 (0/0)||24 (0/0)|
|» Mar 22, 2014||CONN 77, @VILL 65||Recap|
Shabazz Napier scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half Saturday. Napier made 5-of-7 shots from outside the paint in the second half, including his last four.
Connecticut outscored Villanova 20-4 in points off turnovers Saturday. The Wildcats' four points off turnovers are a season low, having scored at least seven such points in every other game. Villanova scored four second-chance points, tied for its fewest this season. The Wildcats' 14 points in the paint are their third-fewest this season.[+]
Villanova Offense - Saturday
ESPN Stats & Information