Huskies face unique test with Villanova

By Carl Adamec

STORRS, Conn. — Geno Auriemma often compares his University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s games with Villanova to a trip to the dentist.

There’s no secret to how the Wildcats play — slow, slower, and shoot a 3-pointer. It can be painful to watch, and more painful to play and coach against when Villanova is making shots.

So get out the novocaine. The Wildcats come to Hartford Tuesday night to take on the third-ranked Huskies in Big East action at the XL Center (7 p.m., SNY).

“Their style of play is different than most teams,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said after practice at Gampel Pavilion Monday. “They like to use up all 30 seconds of the shot clock and they like to test you. They’ll back you down, they’ll clear everyone out, they’ll run flare screens and run, run, run. It’s going to be more of mental challenge for us to stay focused for every possession for 30 seconds. You’re not used to doing that. You’re used to playing hard defense for three seconds here and three seconds there. It will be different because we don’t play many teams like that. Communication is key.”

UConn and Villanova rank 1-2 in the Big East in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense, 3-point field goals made, and assist-to-turnover ratio. They also come into the game tied for the second place behind Notre Dame in the Big East standings.

But the Huskies and Wildcats could not be much more different. UConn (18-1 overall, 5-1 Big East) will look to push the tempo. Villanova (16-3, 5-1) will run its halfcourt offense.

“It’s definitely a mental test for the freshmen,” UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It was hard for me last year going to Villanova and getting screened so many times and remembering how I’m supposed to play the screen and who’s the shooter and who’s not. It’s going to be tough for us. Coach said it would be a good test to see where we are mentally and how patient we can be.”

The Huskies have won nine straight against Villanova by an average of 32.2 points. But this may be veteran coach Harry Perretta’s best team since the Wildcats beat UConn in the 2003 Big East tournament final, ending the Huskies’ 70-game winning streak, and eventually advanced to the NCAA tournament Mideast Regional final.

Villanova would be perfect in the league but blew a 19-point halftime lead and lost at lowly Providence in overtime last Wednesday.

Seniors Laura Sweeney and Rachel Roberts — a Marlborough, Conn., native — are the top scorers for Villanova. Roberts had a career high 26 points in the Wildcats’ win over Syracuse on Saturday.

“In Harry’s system it takes time to learn the little things,” Auriemma said. “When you’re playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores like he has the past couple of years it’s not easy. But I think he’s got a pretty good blend right now of upperclassmen and a couple freshmen that are pretty good.”

The Wildcats take 44.6 percent of their shots from 3-point land while the Huskies take 37.6 percent of their shots from behind the arc.

But Villanova doesn’t have a post presence like UConn has in Stefanie Dolson. The junior center leads the nation in field-goal percentage (60.5).

“We’re going to use our height to our advantage,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “With Stefanie, I don’t think anybody can guard her in there so we’re going to get it in there as much as we can. And if they double team her she’ll kick the ball out to us.”

The Huskies have not lost to Villanova in Connecticut since Jan. 27, 1993, 50-44 at Gampel Pavilion.