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Board Work Helps Wildcats Roll Past UConn 81-61

(DiVincenzo, Villanova)

HARTFORD, Conn. – A slow start at the offensive end can prove frustrating. Yet Villanova resisted that temptation Saturday and leaned on its defense and rebounding before its offense revved late in the first half.

The net result was an 81-61 victory over the University of Connecticut before a sellout crowd at the XL Center here.

Junior Jalen Brunson, who missed six of his first seven attempts from the field Saturday, made eight of his next nine and finished with a game-high 23 points to lead VU. Redshirt junior Donte DiVincenzo (Salesianum) dropped in five 3-pointers among his 17 points for the ‘Cats, who improved to 18-1 overall (5-1 BIG EAST). UConn, meanwhile, fell to 10-9 overall, 3-3 in the American Conference.

Jaylen Adams paced the Huskies in scoring with 19 points.

Villanova won the battle of the glass, collecting 48 rebounds to 32 for the Huskies.

“It was nice to be back here,” stated VU head coach Jay Wright. “The atmosphere in this arena and the passion that people in this state have for UConn basketball is great. I thought the key to the game for us was our rebounding. We haven’t been doing that well until recently and I thought it created a lot of second and third shots when we weren’t making shots early.” Just three days after a sizzling night of accuracy in an 88-56 win at Georgetown, the Wildcats struggled to find the range early at XL Center. VU connected on just 2-of-11 field goal attempts from the floor in the first 4:29 but defense and rebounding allowed them to be in a tie game with the Huskies at five all.

A pair of 3-point baskets from DiVincenzo and another from Omari Spellman helped the Wildcats forge a 16-11 advantage with just more than 10 minutes to play before halftime.

Over the final three minutes of the period, Villanova struck with a 12-0 run that included seven points from Brunson. That allowed the Wildcats to take a 39-18 lead into its locker room at halftime. No stat on the sheet loomed larger than Villanova’s 29-15 advantage on the glass.

“The mentality is to stay confident and keep shooting,” Brunson stated. “The guys did a great job inside rebounding and kicking it back out to us.”

The other headline at halftime was VU’s work on defense. It limited the Huskies to 7-of-28 shooting from the field (.250) in the period.

The Huskies found an offensive groove after intermission, converting four of their first five field goal attempts to outscored VU 11-7 over the first 4:01 of the period.

However, the Wildcats got their own deep shooting game going in the second half as Brunson and DiVincenzo heated up. A 9-0 run pushed the Wildcats lead out further and it was 72-43 after 13:13 of the second half had been played.

On the day, Villanova drained 15-of-40 from 3-point distance. It marked the eighth time in nine games that the Wildcats had dropped in 10 or more from long range.

“It was nice to play well here and rebounding like that was big for us,” stated Wright. “We’re getting better.”

This was VU’s third straight road game. Through 19 regular season games, the Wildcats have been on a home court only six times. They will return to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night to host BIG EAST rival Providence at 6:30 p.m. (FS1 and 610 Sports Radio).

The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.

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