Villanova Wildcats vs. Connecticut Huskies Pick & Prediction JANUARY 20th 2024

UConn completed last season by winning the national championship.

Even with a new-look roster, the Huskies refuse to slow down.

In its first game as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, UConn (16-2, 6-1 Big East) recorded a 62-48 win over No. 18 Creighton on Wednesday.

The Huskies, who have won six games in a row, will continue their difficult schedule with a matchup vs. Villanova on Saturday night in Philadelphia.

“When you get ranked No. 1 — coach (Dan Hurley) talked about it the entire week — it’s like a temporary belt,” Huskies forward Alex Karaban said. “You’ve got to continue to protect the belt, protect the heavyweight championship.”

Tristen Newton had 16 points and eight rebounds while Karaban and Cam Spencer added 13 points apiece against Creighton.

The Huskies also received a huge lift from Donovan Clingan (six points, five rebounds, two blocked shots), who had missed the previous five games with a tendon injury in his right foot.

“It felt good just to go out there and battle with the guys in front of the home crowd,” Clingan said. “Just to get that win, it was a big win for us and it felt great.”

With the 7-foot-2 Clingan back in the rotation, the Huskies recorded 21 offensive rebounds against Creighton.

It was the type of effort that Hurley demands.

“We’re an effort rebounding team. We get there with quickness and life-or-death pursuit,” Hurley said. “The scene under the basket didn’t turn into like a tag-team wrestling match or a UFC cage fight. We were able to get off bodies and just go and get the ball.

“We had a really brutal film session the last couple games, in particular the last one where we challenged the manhood of these guys and the warrior spirit.”

Villanova (11-6, 4-2) will look to rebound from an 87-74 loss on the road against No. 17 Marquette on Monday.

Mark Armstrong scored a career-high 24 points, Eric Dixon added 15 and Brendan Hausen continued his strong play with 11.

Justin Moore also added eight points in his second game back from a sprained knee.

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

“Just defending and rebounding,” Armstrong said about what needs to change for the Wildcats. “We just didn’t come out and play hard enough. We’re going to go back to the gym and keep working.”

Villanova was outscored 60-18 in points in the paint.

“Hats off to Marquette,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They were excellent offensively tonight. We just could not get stops throughout the game. There is just no other explanation.

“They scored at the rim at an alarming rate. They hadn’t been making shots, but they scored at way too high a rate today. At halftime, I think there were 17-of-20 from two. Any time you score at that rate in a half, it gives you a pretty good shot.”

Defense and rebounding have been issues since Neptune took over before last season.

If Villanova hopes to upset the Huskies, it must be better in both areas.

“We can’t use anything as an excuse. Once you get on the floor with another team … you got to get it done. Period,” Neptune said. “There’s no excuses.”

–Field Level Media

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