HARTFORD, Conn. – It's a well known fact that Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier are Connecticut's top two scorers and the focal point of the Huskies' offense. Together, they combine for an average of almost 33 points a game this season.
In Saturday's 70-61 loss to rival Villanova (16-10, 7-6 Big East), they were virtually nonexistent for UConn (17-7, 7-5).
The two guards combined for six points on 3-for-15 shooting from the floor. Napier had two points and all four of Boatright's points came in the final minute. Neither player hit a three-pointer. Napier attempted five and Boatright two.
"They just played good defense," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said of Villanova's pressure on Napier and Boatright. "They played good gap defense."
The point totals for both players were season lows. Villanova coach Jay Wright echoed the sentiment of almost every coach UConn has faced this season.
"Their two guards, I think, are the key. And I think we did a really good job on them," Wright said. "Those two guards are two of the best in the country. I think doing the job on them was the key."
Napier, who picked up two quick fouls to start the game, played nine minutes in the first half. He had six assists by halftime, but no points. He finished with a season-high 10 assists.
"I started looking for my teammates when I got in the game in the first half and in the second half I did the same thing," Napier said. "I wasn't too aggressive. I took a lot of threes and I didn't see them connect so i started to be more passive."
The lack of scoring from UConn's marque players was compounded by a lack of rebounding on both ends of the court. Villanova out-rebounded UConn 41-25. On offensive rebounds alone, the Wildcats held a 20-5 advantage. Villanova had 20 second chance points compared to UConn's eight.
"It's about toughness," Napier said. "We didn't come out with toughness. We didn't play with the team toughness that we usually play with."
The lack of rebounds prevented the Huskies from getting into their transition game, which is where their offense shines. The Huskies committed a season-high 19 turnovers.
"We had to move the ball against them, get in our cracks and then we have to hit some shots, but we couldn't get out in transition because of offensive rebounds," Ollie said. "If you keep us in the half court game, you can't bottle up (Napier and Boatright), but most the time they're getting out in transition and that's what gets them their lay ups, that's what gets them their threes."
With Napier and Boatright shut down, UConn had to get points from their supporting staff. Omar Calhoun led the Huskies with 16 points, including 9-of-9 shooting on free throws. DeAndre Daniels added 13 points and four rebounds and the UConn bench contributed 20 points, including 11 from Niels Giffey.
Mouphtaou Yarou recorded a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, tying a career-high. Ryan Arcidiacono scored 25 points on 5-for-8 shooting on three-pointers. He was unstoppable with 17 points of Villanova's first 30 points in the first half.
"I'm the only coach in the world who gets the kid who is an unbelievable scorer and he wants to be the nicest guy and pass to everybody," Wright said about Arcidiacono. "No one ever had to tell me to shoot. We tell him to shoot, we want him to score, he's just too nice of a kid. He just wants to make everybody on the team happy and I think he's learning he makes everybody happy when he makes buckets and they win games."
Coming off Wednesday's 66-58 win over No. 6 Syracuse, this what not the result the Huskies were looking for. Ollie isn't worried about his team's response on Thursday when the Huskies play Cincinnati.
"I'm not jumping off a cliff," Ollie said. "We'll be ready for Cincinnati. We're going to come in and prepare very, very hard for them. I told my team, this is another team that's going to have the same recipe, so if we don't get tougher, it's going to be a tough road ahead. I think our guys are going to come back. They've been very resilient this year."
The Huskies have lost back-to-back games only once this season, falling to then-No. 1 Louisville and Pittsburg on Jan. 14 and 19.
Wright reflects on Big East
As the season winds down and coaches think about the future of the Big East Conference after realignment, some are becoming sentimental. Wright was no different Saturday.
"I don't know if this is the last time around for the Big East or not, but it's been great coming up here," he said. "This is special basketball country up here. We've had some great games against UConn. I have so much respect for Coach [Jim] Calhoun. I got to see him before the game and I really appreciate that he came to say hello. I think he's one of the all-time greats and he's always been great to me in my career."