No. 3 Connecticut beats No. 20 Villanova 89-83
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)—A.J. Price’s college career certainly hasn’t lacked for drama off the court. Suddenly, there’s consistency on the court and it makes No. 3 Connecticut more of an all-around team.
“I’m very happy,” the fifth-year senior said after scoring a career-high 29 points to lead the Huskies to their sixth straight victory, 89-83 over No. 20 Villanova on Wednesday night. “I’ve been through a lot, some my fault, but Coach has stayed behind me and I’m just going to keep doing what I can do. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Price’s career has been marred by a life-threatening brain injury, a season-long school suspension over on-campus thefts and major surgery after a knee injury in last season’s NCAA tournament.
His previous career high was 26 points against Notre Dame last season and his best outing this season was 24 points in a win over Gonzaga. This was the third time in Price’s career he had 20 points in consecutive games—he had 23 in Sunday’s win over Seton Hall.
Price was 10-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and he had five rebounds and five assists.
“I couldn’t be happier for A.J.,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. “He’s been the exact opposite of a sulker. That tells me a lot of our five-year journey together.”
Jerome Dyson added 19 points and Jeff Adrien had 12 points and 14 rebounds, his fourth double-double in as many games, for the Huskies (17-1, 6-1 Big East), who improved to 5-1 this season against ranked teams, with the only loss coming at home to Georgetown.
“He’s hitting at the right time,” Adrien said of Price. “He’s had some bumps in the road but he’s coming back strong at a good time.”
Dwayne Anderson had 15 points for the Wildcats (14-4, 2-3), who have dropped three of five, with all the losses to fellow ranked teams in the Big East.
“Their guards took over the game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about Price and Dyson. “A.J. was awesome and we didn’t have an answer for him.”
The matchup of teams ranked in the league’s top five in defense looked nothing like that as the first half ended tied at 48. The defense picked up on both sides in the second half, although both teams allowed more than 20 points over their season average.
“That first half was weird, there was no defense at either end,” Wright said. “There were 3-pointers and open lanes to the basket. It did not look like a Villanova-Connecticut game.”
“They got penetration and made some 3s early and that got us running at people, which we don’t do,” he said. “In the second half we went back to what we do well, man-to-man defense with no tricks.”
Villanova went from shooting 56.3 percent in the first half (18-of-32) to 34.4 in the second (11-of-32).
“We had our chances but their guards pressured ours,” Wright said. “They have so many weapons and when Price gets it going, that is the difference.”
The Huskies used a 10-0 run to go up 66-59 on a drive by Dyson with 13:24 to play.
Reggie Redding of Villanova hit a 3-pointer to cut the margin to four, but Price answered with his only 3 of the second half with 12:04 left to make it 69-62.
Connecticut’s biggest lead came at 75-64 on a free throw by Kemba Walker with 7:42 to go, but the Wildcats managed to get back to 84-81 on a 3 by Scottie Reynolds with 28 seconds to go. The Huskies went 5-of-6 from the free throw line the rest of the way and 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who was limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble, had two big blocks late.
“During the season you have to come up with answers for what comes up and tonight we attacked back, especially in the second half,” Calhoun said.
Reynolds had 14 points for the Wildcats, who had won their last two meetings and three of four against Connecticut. Antonio Pena, Redding and Corey Stokes all had 12.
Adrien’s double-double was the 41st of the senior’s career and his eighth this season.
Dante Cunningham, Villanova’s leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 17.4 and 7.4, fouled out with 8:16 to play and finished with six points and three rebounds in 14 minutes.
“They’re as tough a team physically as you’ll play,” Calhoun said of the Wildcats. “Tonight was hand-to-hand combat.”
These teams met in the same building in 2002 with Connecticut winning 46-40.
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