BUFFALO, N.Y. — First Duke, then Syracuse. Now second-seeded Villanova has been eliminated.
The Wildcats became the highest seed to fall in the NCAA tournament so far after Shabazz Napier scored 25 points in leading No. 7 seed Connecticut to a 77-65 victory in a third-round game Saturday night.
Napier had 21 points in the second half and helped put the game away by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers to give the Huskies a 54-45 lead with 6:08 remaining. Napier was limited to 8 minutes in the first half by foul trouble, and he avoided a major scare when he briefly left the game after hurting his left calf with 4:01 left.
Connecticut (28-8) advanced to the East Regional semifinals in New York City, where they’ll play the winner of Sunday’s game between third-seeded Iowa State and No. 6 seed North Carolina.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie improved to 2-0 in his tournament debut, two years since taking over after Jim Calhoun stepped down because of health issues, and a year after the Huskies were barred from postseason play because of academic sanctions.
Ryan Arcidiacono scored 18 points for Villanova (29-5) in a matchup of two former Big East rivals.
The Wildcats’ loss came on the heels of another upset in Buffalo. The game was played immediately after Dayton, the 11th seed in the South Region, beat third-seeded Syracuse 55-53.
UConn advanced to the round of 16 for the 17th time in its 32nd tournament appearance.
And the Huskies did it in their first season as members of the American Athletic Conference after the Big East was realigned following a series of defections.
Lasan Kromah scored 12 points for UConn, while DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright and Terrence Samuel each had 11.
Villanova remained a Big East holdover, but wound up being bounced by a familiar foe.
Napier, a member of UConn’s 2011 national championship team, continued to lead the Huskies after he scored 24 points in an 89-81 overtime win against Saint Joseph’s in the second round Thursday.
The teams traded leads four times in the opening 5:25 of the second half, with Daniels putting UConn ahead for good, 37-36, with a layup.
Connecticut eventually took control in a span of 1:32, during which it hit three consecutive 3-pointers to build a 51-40 lead. Kromah began the surge and Napier capped it with a pair of 3s — and struck a pose for the cameras after hitting the second one with 8:59 left.
Napier’s injury initially appeared serious after his leg got tangled up with Hilliard while driving to the basket at the other end. Napier limped off and then sat on the bench in frustration, holding a towel to his eyes.
Napier, however, only missed about 40 seconds of action, and showed no sign of being bothered by the injury on the Huskies’ next trip up the floor.
Holding the ball atop the 3-point arc, he blew past a defender while driving into the paint and then flipped in an underhanded reverse high off the backboard to put UConn ahead 60-51 with 2:19 remaining.
James Bell scored 14 points and Darrun Hilliard added 13 for Villanova.
Poor shooting continued to haunt the Wildcats, who were coming off a 75-53 win over Milwaukee on Thursday.
After hitting five of their first eight attempts through the first 6:11, the Wildcats closed the half going 2 of 15. Their offense went stone cold after Hilliard hit a 3 to put them up 19-9 with 11:30 left.
Villanova went 11:24 without a field goal, missing 10 straight shots before Arcidiacono hit a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left in the first half that cut the Huskies’ lead to 25-24.
Villanova was down 42-36 with 11:48 left when Hilliard drove into an opening on the right wing and, as he went up to shoot, the ball slipped out of his hands and bounced out of bounds.