BUFFALO, N.Y. — After sitting out most of the first half with foul trouble, guard Shabazz Napier made up for lost time as he scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half on Saturday night to carry the seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies over the No. 2 seed Villanova Wildcats 77-65 in an NCAA Tournament East Regional third-round game at the First Niagara Center.
Napier, who had four points at halftime, capped a 16-4 run in the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers that gave the Huskies a 51-40 lead. After the Wildcats pulled within 51-45, Napier sank another 3-pointer to give UConn a nine-point cushion.
Napier left the game with about four minutes left with what appeared to be an injury to his left leg. But he returned with 3:24 left and scored on an acrobatic layup to boost the Huskies’ lead to 60-51.
By defeating former Big East Conference rival Villanova, UConn (28-8) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 17th time and the first since 2011, when it won the national championship.
The Huskies will meet the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 3 seed Iowa State and No. 6 North Carolina in the Sweet 16 on Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
UConn sank 19 of its 22 free throws in the final six minutes to fight off Villanova’s comeback attempt. The Huskies made 22 of 28 foul shots in the game and 40 of 48 in two tournament games this weekend.
Villanova (29-5) overcame a 4-for-23 shooting effort from 3-point range in its 75-53 second-round win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Thursday in Buffalo. But while the Wildcats shot better from beyond the arc against UConn (11 of 31), they could not recover from an 11 1/2-minute stretch in the first half where they scored just one point.
Guard Lasan Kromah scored 12 points for the Huskies and forward DeAndre Daniels and guard Ryan Boatright added 11 apiece. Guard Ryan Arcidiancono led Villanova with 18 points.
Villanova started the second half the way they ended the first — with a 3-pointer from Arcidiacono. That shot gave the Wildcats a 27-25 lead, but the Huskies went on an 8-0 run with Daniels and Napier draining 3-pointers.
The Wildcats answered with a 9-2 spurt that ended with back-to-back 3-pointers by guard James Bell. But the Huskies moved ahead 42-36 with a 7-0 run.
UConn led 25-24 at the half after overcoming a 10-point deficit — the same deficit the Huskies faced against St. Joseph’s in Thursday’s second-round overtime victory. Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard’s 3-pointer with 11:33 left in the first half capped a 10-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 19-9 lead.
But that was the last basket the Wildcats would score until late in the half. Sparked by guard Terrence Samuel and Kromah, the Huskies went on a 16-1 tear that gave them a 25-20 advantage. Samuel and Kromah combined for nine of UConn’s points in that run.
After nearly 11 1/2 minutes without a field goal and only one point, the Wildcats scored the final four points of the half on forward JayVaughn Pinkston’s foul shot after Samuel’s flagrant foul, and Arcidiacono’s 3-pointer from the key with about six seconds left in the half.
Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with eight points in the first half, Pinkston had six points and forward Daniel Ochefu grabbed six rebounds. Daniels, who hit two 3-pointers, led the Huskies with six first-half points as Napier, UConn’s leading scorer, was limited to four points in eight minutes. Napier picked up his second foul eight minutes into the game and sat for the rest of the half.
NOTES: Villanova leads the all-time series 33-31, but UConn has won five of the past six and 18 of 25. … The Wildcats won 70-61 in the final meeting between the two schools as Big East rivals on Feb. 16, 2013, in Hartford, Conn. … Saturday marked the first time that Villanova and UConn have met in the NCAA Tournament in a series that dates to 1941. … Wildcats reserve G Dylan Ennis is the older brother of Syracuse G Tyler Ennis, who missed two shots in the closing seconds as the third-seeded Orange fell to No. 11 Dayton 55-53 in the opening game on Saturday night in Buffalo.
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