Cam Spencer ties season-high as Tristen Newton’s triple-double helps UConn men to 78-54 win over Villanova

STORRS – Cam Spencer tied his season-high with 25 points and Tristen Newton recorded the fourth triple-double of his career, the most among active Division I players, as UConn ran away late in the second half and capped off an exciting Saturday in Gampel Pavilion with a 78-54 win over Villanova.

“Championship response from us today,” head coach Dan Hurley said.

Newton secured the triple-double, his second of the year, with an assist on a 3-pointer from Alex Karaban as Villanova continued pressuring the ball with 25 seconds left. He finished with 10 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Spencer, hard on himself after he had just six points and struggled defensively in UConn’s loss at Creighton on Tuesday, came up big for the Huskies with 16 points in the second half. His final stat line included an efficient 9 of 13 shooting from the field and 5 of 8 from beyond the arc, his fifth game this season with at least five made 3-pointers.

Stephon Castle had 14 points and Donovan Clingan added 13, each playing well in their respective defensive matchups as the Huskies held Villanova to just 33.3% shooting from the field and 3 of 24 from beyond the arc.

“We just got back to our identity today in every way,” Hurley said. “On the backboard, defensively, and obviously I thought we missed some open shots. It could’ve been a 48, 49, 50% shooting night and a 20-assist game if we made more shots.”

UConn fans out in full force in response to wakeup call from ESPN’s GameDay crew

UConn (25-3, 15-2 Big East) finished the game shooting 24 of 56 from the field (42.9%) and 10 of 32 (31.3%) from beyond the arc, assisting on 14 of 24 made shots.

Both teams showcased strong defense to start, but UConn started to pull away with a 9-0 run as it held Villanova scoreless for nearly six minutes. Clingan finished a layup and blocked Wildcats center Eric Dixon on the other end, then waved on the crowd after Spencer made his first 3-pointer of the night to take a 17-10 lead around the eight-minute mark. Coming off of his first game without a made 3 all season, Spencer made two more and extended the lead to nine.

Newton scored UConn’s last five points of the half, answering an end-of-shot-clock turnaround jumper from Dixon with a similar midrange shot of his own as the shot clock expired, bringing the Huskies into the break up 31-21.

Defensively, UConn held Villanova to just 9 of 30 (30%) from the field and 1 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half. UConn had seven blocks in the opening 20 minutes, as Karaban led the way with three and Castle sent away a pair.

Karaban, just 3 of 16 from beyond the arc in his last three games, was 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-6 from 3 on Saturday night before making his first shot to secure Newton’s triple-double.

“He’s not shooting the ball like we’re used to, but AK’s still doing what he does,” Newton said. “He had the highest plus-minus of the night (plus-20) and he locked his matchup up. He makes the right plays, sets screens and does all that type of stuff… He’s always there for us.”

Villanova made seven of its first 12 shots to start the second half, cutting its deficit to five twice in the first eight minutes. Spencer continued to respond, hitting his fifth 3-pointer of the game and following it up with a midrange, plus a foul, to start a 14-1 run that featured six consecutive points from Hassan Diarra at the tail end. Diarra, with a crafty layup in transition, pushed UConn’s lead to 18 with 8:31 to go.

“They came out pretty hot in the second half but we had a lot of mistakes on the defensive end,” Spencer said. “We knew we were getting good shots on the offensive end and that would take care of itself, but we really had more of a sense of urgency on defense.”

The top-ranked Huskies have a week without games before their home finale against Seton Hall in Gampel Pavilion on March 3, which begins the final week of the regular season.

UConn retires Rip Hamilton’s number

Richard “Rip” Hamilton, UConn’s second-leading scorer all-time and a key member of the 1999 national championship team, watched with teammates from center court as his jersey No. 32 was retired to the rafters at halftime. “Welcome home, Rip,” legendary head coach Jim Calhoun said.

“There was a lot of emotions,” Hamilton told reporters before the game, recalling the moment he was told he’d be the second UConn men’s player to have his number retired. “It was one of them things that, like, you didn’t play the game for that. I played the game to try to win as many championships as possible, that’s what I was aspiring to do as a kid. When they told me that they were going to recognize me, retiring my jersey, I just thought it was amazing. I tried to hold my emotions when I was around my kids, I didn’t want them to see me cry, but it was definitely a magical moment in my life.”