HARTFORD, Conn. — Top-ranked Villanova didn’t shoot particularly well against UConn, but routed their former Big East rivals thanks to defense and rebounding.
Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench to lead the Wildcats to an 81-61 win, completing their non-conference schedule at 13-0.
Jalen Adams scored 19 and Christian Vital had 15 for UConn (10-9), which has now lost five games this season by at least 20 points.
The Wildcats (18-1) hit just two of their first 13 shots, but still led 13-5 early after seven offensive boards and a pair of 3-pointers by DiVincenzo.
A jumper from Adams brought the Huskies within five points at 21-16, but that would be the last time UConn threatened.
“We weren’t really too worried about it,” DiVincenzo said. “We were just trying to get back on the defensive end and just get stops. I think after that we missed four or five straight, but we got back to the offensive glass every time.”
Villanova scored 18 of the final 20 points before intermission and the rout was on. A lob from Brunson to Eric Paschell gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead at 26-16. They headed to halftime up 39-18 and the sellout crowd serenaded the Huskies with a chorus of boos .
Another 3-pointer from DiVincenzo gave Villanova a 70-39 lead midway through the second half , and sent many of those same fans to the exits.
“When we separated, we got it going off our defense,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “Jay (Brunson) got some steals, (Phil) Booth got some steals, kicked ahead to Jay. So, I think it was still our defensive rebounding.”
Since the breakup of the old Big East, both teams have won national titles — UConn in 2014 and Villanova in 2016. But the programs seem to be headed in opposite directions. The Wildcats are 147-18 since joining the new Big East and 50-5 since the start of the 2016-17season. UConn is 103-60 in the same span, but just 26-26 the last two seasons.
“We’ve just got to keep fighting,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. “We can go down the list of what we need. I wish I had a 7-footer, 7-2 guy. I wish I had a premier, all athletes, all shooters. But at the end of the day, we got heart.”
Villanova: Villanova shot 41 percent, well below their season average of just under 52 percent. But they held the Huskies to 34 percent and outrebounded UConn 48-32, including 16-8 on the offensive end.
The Wildcats are 62-3 in regular-season non-conference games since 2013-14.
UConn: Terry Larrier, who had been averaging better than 15 points per game, took an elbow to the face this month against UCF and has been suffering headaches that caused him to miss Tuesday’s loss at Memphis. He was diagnosed with a fracture to his sinus wall and wore a mask on Saturday, scoring six points in 34 minutes. Ollie said Larrier will undergo surgery this week and is expected to miss between a week and 10 days if all goes well.
ALL FIVE FINGERS IN
Brunson started the game 1 of 7 from the floor, before making eight of his last nine shots . Wright praised the All-American, for his maturity and leadership qualities, joking that he also keeps himself impeccable and “his mittens are nice and perfect.” Brunson was quick to correct his coach, noting that he would never wear mittens and prefers gloves with fabric that allows him to use his phone.
But, “when it comes to basketball, I’m all in, all serious and all for the team.”
Wright needs just 10 more wins to become Villanova’s winningest coach. Alexander Severance had 413 wins between 1936 and 1961. Wright is now 404-162 with the Wildcats.
HE SAID IT
Ollie on recent defections and criticism of his program: “The biggest thing, when they feel the ship is sinking, the rats jump off first, the scavengers jump off first. We’re not scavengers. We’re not rats. So, we’re staying right on the damn boat.”
Villanova: The Wildcats return to Big East action on Tuesday, hosting Providence.
UConn. The Huskies return to campus on Thursday to host SMU.