STORRS, Conn. - Villanova coach Jay Wright saw a lot of Kemba Walker over the summer when he coached him on the USA Select Team that scrimmaged against Team USA before the World Championships. He liked what he saw.
Wright will see a lot of Walker again on Monday afternoon, but probably won't like it nearly as much.
Walker, Connecticut's 6-foot-1 junior, has emerged as the Big East's best player and a national player of the year candidate in the first half of the season. He will put his talents on display when the 10th-ranked Huskies (14-2, 3-2 Big East) host the seventh-ranked Wildcats (16-1, 4-0) at Gampel Pavilion.
Walker is among the NCAA leaders in scoring with a 25.6-point average, a figure that leads the Big East. He also averages 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals and makes 85.0 percent of his free throws.
"I saw what he did for us against Kevin Durant" during the summer, Wright said Saturday after his team's 74-66 win over Maryland at the Wells Fargo Center, "and now we have to go against him, so it's scary. He really impressed me.
"He plays good enough defense that he can shut down his man but never gets himself in foul trouble. He never hurt us defensively going against all those [Team USA] guys, but offensively they couldn't press him.
"On the offensive end, he's not just a shooter. He can come off screens. He can play off the ball. He'll find teammates."
Walker posted his sixth 30-point game of the season Saturday, scoring 31 in UConn's 82-62 win at DePaul.
Coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies lost four regulars from last season's team and were picked by Big East coaches to finish 10th in the preseason. But they gained major attention with upset wins over Michigan State and Kentucky at the Maui Classic and climbed their way into the national top 10.
"I thought they would be this kind of team," Wright said, "but I thought it would take time to get some of the younger guys going, to learn how to play with each other. I was amazed at how quickly Jim got those guys together. That performance in Maui was incredible."
UConn plays three freshmen in its rotation, including guard Shabazz Napier, its No. 3 scorer. Alex Oriakhi, a 6-9 sophomore, leads the conference in rebounds with 9.2 per game.
The Wildcats posted their 11th straight win, using a 19-0 second-half run to rally from a 12-point deficit against Maryland. However, they lost sophomore guard Dominic Cheek in the first half with a knee injury.
A team spokesman said Cheek was diagnosed Sunday with a sprained left knee and did not make the trip. He will undergo an MRI exam on Monday.
Monday's game will come down to rebounding. The Wildcats and Huskies rank second and fourth in Big East rebounding margin. A lot also will depend on how the Wildcats respond to the noise in UConn's 10,000-seat campus gym.
This is only Villanova's fifth road game of the season, starting a three-game run on opponents' courts that includes Syracuse on Saturday and Providence on Jan. 26.
The Cats won their only road Big East test to date, at South Florida.
"This is going to be the next great challenge for us because it's on the road," Wright said. "They're a top-10 team with a player of the year candidate, a big atmosphere, and we played 40 hours earlier. It's a great challenge."