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Villanueva strives for consistency in Year 2 at UConn

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If he was ever sought for a crime, Villanueva would certainly be the first person selected out of a police lineup because of his distinctive look. On Saturday against St. John's, he went against type and was no where to be found.Villanueva, a former McDonald's All-American, played sparingly in a 68-46 win over St. John's at home, scoring just 3 points in 16 minutes. He had four turnovers and only five field goal attempts and spent most of the game tethered to the bench, where he frantically chewed on a piece of gum instead of chewing up St. John's interior defense.While his teammates combined for 17 blocks, Villanueva, a role player on last year's national championship team, had one of his worse games of the season, tying a low for points scored and generating little heat defensively."It's frustrating, not playing as much as I would have liked, but as long as we get the win, that's all that matters," said Villanueva, who averages 11 points and 7 rebounds a game. "Last year I wasn't really asked to do much because of Emeka (Okafor), and now I'm being counted on to do more. I just take it game by game."As a freshman, Villanueva was an ad-libber who came off the bench at small forward and often jacked up three-pointers and drove to the basket. This season, Villanueva, UConn's starting power forward, has played more like a typical big man, guarding the basket and posting up down low.He has attempted only 6 3-pointers in 19 games, considerably less than he did a year ago, and he has added weight to his sinewy frame to appear more dominating. The transition from perimeter-do-it-all to the team's big man has been awkward at times."The adjustment was tough, but the more I add to my game, the better," he said.Before he grew to his current height, Villanueva was a 6-foot-1 point guard his freshman year in high school. There are times at UConn when he reverts back to that mentality, softly blending into the background instead of creating one. "He hasn't played as well as we would have liked," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "I have a great deal of confidence in Charlie, but he's just going to have to pick it up. I try to stick with him. I kept him in the game. He probably went in and out more than any one single player on the team. We'll stick with him. He's going to get tougher. Charlie has to add to his great talents and abilities by getting involved in the fight. He's (6-foot-11), 240 pounds, and he has to get involved. And I think he will. He has before." Aside from a loud dunk and a superb wrap-around pass to junior forward Ed Nelson who streaked in for a layup to give UConn an 18-10 first half lead, Villanueva was a non-factor against St. John's. He did some trash talking with the Red Storm's Daryll Hill and Lamont Hamilton, former AAU teammates on the Long Island Panthers, but for the most part he spent his time shuttling in and out of the game."We're fortunate that we have Ed (Nelson) and we're fortunate that we have Hilton (Armstrong to come off the bench)," Calhoun said.After the game, his performance was an afterthought once he met his family. He gave his mother a hug, his stoic appearance melting into a smile and there again, he was altering his game, this time from basketball player to loving son.His mother, Dora, was involved in a freak car accident while she was waiting for the bus after work on November 1. A driver suffered a fatal heart-attack as he was behind the wheel, and his truck careened off the street onto the sidewalk; Dora basically stiff-armed the vehicle at the moment of impact, shattering her right arm and injuring her leg and pelvis.The accident coincided with the beginning of basketball season, forcing Villanueva to quickly returned to Queens to visit her at Elmhurst Hospital where she spent three weeks and had two operations on her arm. All that remains of the accident is a cast on her elbow."It was tough for me at first," Villanueva said. "I took it pretty hard, but once I saw her walking and smiling, well, that just made my day. She's doing well, she's a fighter. I'm just glad she's happy."Dora said the accident brought them closer together. Since the episode, they speak daily on the phone."It's like we were reunited," she said.Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.

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