By Kelly Shields

Eric Dixon scored a career-high 24 points and Collin Gillespie scored 19 before he left with an injury and No. 12 Villanova beat No. 17 Connecticut 85-74.

Gillespie (below) is Villanova’s leading scorer and returned for a fifth season after a torn ligament in his left knee cost him the 2021 Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

He was helped off the court as he grimaced and went to the locker room, though he sat on the bench at the end of the game.

Dixon had the breakout game, grabbing 12 rebounds, making 10 of 15 shots for the Wildcats (17-6, 10-3), and keyed a 12-0 run in the second half that busted the game open and seemingly put it out of reach.

The Wildcats played the final 6:53 without Gillespie and the entire game without second-leading scorer Justin Moore (sprained left ankle). That opened the door for the Huskies to cut a 23-point hole to 10 with 2 minutes left.

The Wildcats sealed the win at the free-throw line and made 21 of 22 overall.

RJ Cole led the Huskies (15-6, 6-4) with 25 points.

The Wildcats bounced back from a loss at Marquette to win their fifth game of the season against a Top 25 team. The key stretch came early in the second half after the Huskies pulled to 47-40.

Unhappy with UConn’s run, Villanova coach Jay Wright called timeout and pulled his team together. Chris Arcidiacono hit a 3, Caleb Daniels turned a steal into a dunk, Dixon scored off another UConn turnover, and then came the shot of the game: Gillespie fired a 3 and the ball took a high bounce off the rim, a second bounce, then two taps off the rim and in for a 57-40 lead.

As the game got out of reach, tempers flared and the teams had to be pulled apart following a brief skirmish.

The 3-point happy Wildcats — they twice this season hit 13 in a game — made only one with 7 minutes left in the first half and still led by seven.

Dixon, who averaged 9.1 points, scored 14 in the first half. He made all four free throws and five shots from the floor. Gillespie made all three 3s in the half. With attempts beyond the arc at a minimum, the Wildcats countered with a 22-6 edge in the paint.

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