Connecticut-Villanova Preview

Prior to the start of the season, Villanova and Connecticut were

expected to contend for the Big East crown. Only one is still in

the race.

The fourth-ranked Wildcats look to continue their pursuit of a

second conference championship in five years Monday night when they

host a scuffling Huskies team trying to avoid losing for the sixth

time in seven games.

Villanova (22-2, 11-1) defeated Providence 92-81 on Saturday and

took a half-game lead atop the conference with second-ranked

Syracuse’s home loss to Louisville on Sunday. The Wildcats haven’t

won the league since sharing the regular season title with

Connecticut in 2005-06.

In the Big East preseason poll released in October, Villanova

was selected to win the conference, while the Huskies were picked

to finish third. UConn (14-11, 4-8) is going to have a tough time

finishing in the top half of the Big East, however.

The Huskies have lost eight of 11 and are coming off an awful

performance in coach Jim Calhoun’s first game on the sidelines in 3

1/2 weeks.

In need of a win to help their already slim NCAA tournament

chances, UConn shot a season-low 34.6 percent in Saturday’s 60-48

loss to Cincinnati, its lowest point total since 2002.

Connecticut’s three big men, Ater Majok, Alex Oriakhi and Charles

Okwandu, combined for zero points and six rebounds, as the Huskies

lost for the fifth time in six games.

“I thought it was one of the worst performances I’ve had here at

UConn in 24 years,” said Calhoun, who had been sidelined with an

undisclosed medical condition since Jan. 19. “I’m really incredibly

disappointed by the performance, and I’m embarrassed by it, quite

frankly.”

The Huskies cannot afford another sluggish offensive

performance, as Villanova has the nation’s second-ranked scoring

offense, averaging 85.4 points. The Wildcats have scored at least

80 points in each of their last nine games, topping the 90-point

mark in five of those contests.

The Huskies will likely have a tough time keeping up with this

potent offense. They haven’t scored more than 69 in any of their

past six games, and are 2-11 when failing to reach the 70-point

mark this season.

Scottie Reynolds leads Villanova’s high-powered offense,

averaging 19.0 points – fourth-best in the Big East.

He scored 17 of his 22 points in the final 20 minutes Saturday,

and has bailed out the Wildcats time and again with impressive

second-half scoring surges. In last Monday’s 82-75 win over No. 5

West Virginia, Reynolds scored 19 of his 21 points in the final 13

minutes.

“I don’t want it to always be, Scottie will get us going,”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “But I’m glad we have that. That’s

something I always have in the back of my mind.”

If Reynolds can score 20 points against the Huskies – a mark

he’s reached in each of his last three games – he’ll move into

third place on the Wildcats’ all-time scoring list. He needs 169

points to take over Kerry Kittles’ mark of 2,243 points to become

the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Reynolds finished with 14 points on 4 of 11 shooting in

Villanova’s last game against UConn, an 89-83 loss to the-then

third-ranked Huskies in Hartford last January.

A rematch at the Wachovia Center doesn’t bode well for UConn,

which has lost seven straight road games since a 93-82 win over

then-No. 8 Marquette on Feb. 25, 2009.

Villanova, meanwhile, is outscoring its opponents by an average

of 18.6 points in winning all 11 home games this season.