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No. 2 UConn totes unbeaten mark vs. surging Villanova

Dec 20, 2022; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies guard Tristen Newton (2) returns the ball against the Georgetown Hoyas in the first half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Connecticut has been one of the most surprising stories of the college basketball season.

The No. 2-ranked Huskies (13-0, 2-0 Big East) will look for their 14th consecutive victory when they host surging Villanova (7-5, 1-0) on Wednesday evening in Hartford, Conn.

UConn, which began the season unranked, hasn’t played since an 84-73 win over Georgetown on Dec. 20.

The Huskies’ 13th straight win that day didn’t come easily as they trailed by seven points with about 11 minutes remaining. But they tightened defensively and received a major boost from their bench.

Tristen Newton led the way with 17 points, Jordan Hawkins added 15, and Adama Sanogo and reserve Joey Calcaterra had 14 apiece.

“I just thought I had to provide a spark,” Calcaterra said. “Things were a little slow, and I wanted to get in there and provide some energy. That was what I was focused on.”

UConn coach Dan Hurley was adamant about the how vital the production from the bench was against the Hoyas.

“I thought we couldn’t have played worse on the backboard, couldn’t have done a worse job with the defensive end of the court,” Hurley said. “We had to reach down deep, and we dealt with the second-half deficit. We proved we’re the frontrunners and still won with double figures in a conference game at home.

“You look at that and they’re 5-7 coming into the game and it tells you how tough the league and college basketball is,” he said about Georgetown. “Their starting five is really talented.”

The Huskies are reveling in their highest ranking in 14 years.

After a rocky start under first-year coach Kyle Neptune, Villanova has refocused and surged to five consecutive victories.

The Wildcats opened the season 2-5 without Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright, who retired after leading them to two national championships and 520 victories in 21 seasons.

After the first seven games this season, highly touted freshman Cam Whitmore returned from surgery on his right thumb. And the other younger players have also continued to flourish.

Especially Jordan Longino.

In a 78-63 win over St. John’s last Wednesday, Longino hit all five of his shots from the field and scored 13 points.

“There were times in the preseason when Jordan was healthy when he looked like he could be one of our best players,” Neptune said. “But then he was hobbled by injuries. He’s gotten some time off recently. We’ve got to continue to manage him. When he’s right, he’s one of the more talented players on our team and in this league.”

The balanced Wildcats were led by Eric Dixon’s 18 points, Brandon Slater’s 16 and Caleb Daniels’ 13 in addition to Longino’s effort.

Whitmore contributed eight points and 10 rebounds and continued to prove why he was expected to be one of the most captivating freshmen in the country.

The young players have been key to this winning streak since the Wildcats will be without Justin Moore (Achilles) for an indefinite period.

Villanova took two of the three meetings with UConn last season.

–Field Level Media