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#8 Villanova nips #20 UConn in Big East semis

Jermaine Samuels had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Collin Gillespie recorded 10 assists as #8 Villanova grinded its way to a 63-60 victory over #20 UConn in a semifinal of the Big East tournament Friday in New York.

Brandon Slater added 15 points and put the Wildcats (25-7) ahead to stay early in the second half with a 3-pointer. Second-seeded Villanova will face fourth-seeded Creighton (22-10), an 85-58 winner over Providence, in the championship game Saturday.

Villanova is seeking its sixth tournament title and fourth in the last five completed tourneys.

Tyrese Martin scored 19 points, Adama Sanogo had 15 points and 13 rebounds and R.J. Cole chipped in 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for third-seeded UConn (23-9), which awaits its NCAA tournament first-round matchup.

The Huskies rallied from an eight-point second-half deficit and trimmed Villanova’s lead to 62-60 on Andre Jackson’s trey with eight seconds left. Jackson had 10 points.

Gillespie then made 1 of 2 foul shots with three seconds left, and UConn failed to get off a last-second heave until the buzzer had sounded.

Martin’s 3-pointer gave the Huskies a 38-37 lead 2:56 into the second half, but Villanova answered with a three by Slater to retake the lead for good, 40-38.

Villanova eventually expanded its lead to 52-44 with 10:22 left on a 3-pointer by Eric Dixon, his 13th of the season in 26 attempts.

The first half was close throughout, with neither team leading by more than five points. That occurred when Gillespie hit a driving layup with 3:56 to go to cap a 13-4 run that erased UConn’s biggest advantage of the half, a 21-17 lead.

But the Huskies tied the score at 30 on two baskets by Martin — a putback followed by a three with 1:36 to go. Jackson’s turnaround jumper with 42 seconds left in the half gave the Huskies a 32-30 lead, but Villanova finished the scoring for the half on Samuels’ three-point play with nine seconds to go for a 33-32 lead.

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