PHILADELPHIA (AP)—A “must win” for Connecticut turned into just another upset of a Big East top 10 team.
Kemba Walker scored a career-high 29 points and the Huskies continued the four-day run of losses by Big East top 10 teams, beating No. 3 Villanova 84-75 on Monday night.
Connecticut (15-11, 5-8) was coming off a 60-48 loss to Cincinnati, one of its worst offensive performances in years. The Huskies hit the 48-point mark less than 4 minutes into the second half.
The loss to Cincinnati came in Calhoun’s first game back after a 3 1/2 -week medical leave. He call it “embarrassing.” This wiped away some of that feeling.
“We looked like a UConn team tonight,” he said. “It was a terrific win for us at a terrific time against a terrific team.”
The Huskies became the fourth team to knock off one of the Big East’s top teams in a four-day period.
On Friday night, then-No. 5 West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh in triple overtime. On Sunday, Louisville beat then-No. 2 Syracuse and Rutgers beat then-No. 7 Georgetown.
The Huskies continued the upset trend by shooting 67 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line in the second half while holding Scottie Reynolds of the Wildcats (22-3, 11-2) to four of his 18 points.
“I’m so proud of them,” Calhoun said. “To use the word embarrassing is a tough thing to say, but I meant it.”
The Huskies have five games left in the regular season and the Big East tournament to try and turn around a disappointing season. Connecticut, which had lost five of six, remained 12th in the 16-team league and ended a six-game road losing streak in the Big East.
“I told them let’s start from the jump. That’s what we did,” said Walker, who was 6 of 10 from the field. “We put together a 40-minute game. Probably the first one of the season, to tell you the truth. It was great.”
Reynolds, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer at 19 points per game, had been a second-half star for the Wildcats in their recent games. With Jerome Dyson moving with him all over the court in the second half, the senior guard managed just the four points on 2-of-6 shooting including missing all three 3-point attempts.
“Jerome Dyson did a sensational job on Reynolds and had some help,” Calhoun said. “I told him ‘If you stop him, we’ll win the game.”’
Reynolds said the Huskies always seemed “a step ahead” on defense in the matchup of teams from last season’s Final Four that were on very different paths this season.
“They moved the ball and made all the right reads and they were hitting the outside shots,” Reynolds said of the Huskies’ second-half effort.
The Huskies hit their first seven shots of the second half and turned a 36-35 halftime lead into a 55-48 advantage. They were up 67-58 with 5:30 left and then matched almost every Villanova score the rest of the way, going 13 of 16 from the line.
Reggie Redding hit a 3 with 2 minutes left to bring the Wildcats within 76-69 and the crowd of better than 18,000 at the Wachovia Center was suddenly alive.
Connecticut milked most of the 35-second clock and Walker was fouled with 3 seconds left. He made two free throws with 1:26 left. Dominic Cheek hit a 3 for the Wildcats with 1:15 to play to make it 78-72 and this time Connecticut again worked the shot clock down to 2 seconds and Walker was able to get off a 3 that missed. Gavin Edwards corralled the rebound for Connecticut and that turned into one of two free throws for Dyson with 35 seconds left for a seven-point lead.
“We put ourselves in a position like this all the time and we don’t finish out the game,” said Dyson, who had 15 points and six assists. “We really stayed connected with each other out there on the floor. We didn’t force anything. It didn’t seem like in past games we turned the ball over as much.”
Dyson was 9 of 14 from the free throw line and Walker was 14 of 16 as the Huskies finished 35 of 44.
“I was just trying to be aggressive. They backed off me. I guess they wanted me to take a jump shot,” said Walker, whose previous career best was 23 points twice. “Tonight, I kind of got in a zone. I was shooting shots and making shots.
“That’s us, we play hard. That’s one thing we do.”
Corey Fisher had 14 points for the Wildcats, who could have moved one game ahead of Syracuse in the conference race.
“Kemba Walker was outstanding. We just didn’t have an answer for him,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They did a great job on defense. I think Dyson wore himself out playing Scottie.”