BUFFALO, N.Y. — You didn't really think this season was going to end up in the cold, snowy outpost of Buffalo, without one final trip to New York City, did you?

You didn't really believe UConn wasn't going to make one more trip to Madison Square Garden, home of so many memories and where the Huskies, as erstwhile members of the Big East, no longer play their conference tournament.

You didn't really think that Bazz wasn't going to get a chance to take one more bite out of the Big Apple. Did you?

Me neither.

A 77-65 win over Villanova in a third-round NCAA tournament game Saturday night sent the Huskies to an especially Sweet 16 — at the Garden, beginning on Friday. They'll play Iowa State (7:27 p.m. ET, TBS), the team that beat UConn in its 2012 NCAA tournament opener in Jim Calhoun's final game as Huskies coach.

“It's kind of ironic,” said Shabazz Napier. “It's just great to be back in MSG. Being back is one thing, but handling your business is another.”

It almost seemed fated, really. The Huskies, who largely carried the banner of the Big East over the last 15 years of its real existence, were barred from the final, true Big East tournament last season. Now in the American Athletic Conference, they played this year's conference championships down in Memphis, Tenn.

“I think the only fans we really had were my family,” joked Ryan Boatright, the Chicago native, about last week's AAC tourney.

But on Selection Sunday, when the brackets were unveiled and it was revealed UConn would be in the East Region, whose semifinals and finals would be played at MSG, it almost seemed inevitable the Huskies would somehow get there.

They did, and how's this: they got there not only because of the latest heroics of their Boston kid, Napier, who only added to his legend Saturday night — almost delivering a Willis Reed-like performance to get to Reed's former home arena. UConn also got there thanks in no small part to a New York kid, a freshman, who stepped up big when Napier sat out the final 12:09 of the first half due to foul troubles.

Terrence Samuel, a tough Brooklyn guard whose playing time has been limited for much of the season, replaced Napier and helped the Huskies turn a 16-9 deficit into a 25-24 halftime advantage — with a 16-1 run sandwiched in there.

Samuel hit free throws and scored on a couple of drives to the hole, finishing with a career-high 11 points in 21 minutes. More importantly, he contributed heavily to a choking Husky defense that held Villanova to 15 straight possessions without a field goal at one point and just 35 percent shooting for the game.

“He was great defensively, he pressured our guards,” said 'Nova coach Jay Wright. “He's got good size, he drove the ball, made free throws. I thought he did a great job.”

Reasoned Niels Giffey: “I think one of the reasons Terrence played so well is he was trying to go home.”

Samuel didn't disagree.

“That's probably a little bit of it,” he said with a smile. “Home sweet home.”

Now, back to Bazz. Once again, his flair for the dramatic and ability to make big shots was there for the late-night audience of dejected Syracuse and Villanova fans in First Niagara Center to see. He had just four points at the break after sitting out the bulk of the first half, but came out firing in the second. He scored on 3-pointers, drives to the hoop and his patented fallaway as the Huskies took the lead for good at 30-27 and never looked back.

Napier was at his best during one stretch starting with 9:42 left to play, when he canned a 3-pointer, then followed that up with a trey from even further out to put the Huskies up 11.

After 'Nova closed back to within six, Napier canned a third-straight 3-ball with 6:08 remaining, and it appeared the Huskies could book their ticket to NYC.

Then, with 4:01 left and UConn up seven, Napier got inadvertently kicked in the shin by Wildcat guard Darrun Hilliard. He crumpled to the floor in obvious pain, eventually limped back to the bench and winced in more pain while being tended to by trainer James Doran.

“The pain was excruciating,” Napier explained. “I couldn't really put pressure on it.”

Suddenly, things were a bit dicey in Husky Nation. Even if UConn was able to hang on for the win, what would it do with a serious injury to one of the greatest players ever to don a Husky uniform?

Boatright gathered his troops in a huddle. His message: “Four minutes until the Sweet 16.”

“We had fought too hard to be leading in the game,” he said. “We played well when he went out with the fouls in the first half, we only had four minutes to go in the game. Everybody had to step up and finish the game out if we wanted to move on to the Sweet 16.”

Turns out, it was a bit of a false alarm. Napier got a heavy helping of Biofreeze from Doran, re-entered the game just 37 seconds later, and shortly thereafter converted a crazy, highlight-reel layup off the glass that essentially sealed 'Nova's fate with just over two minutes to play.

“When Shabazz went out, guys stepped up, and that's what a team is all about,” said coach Kevin Ollie. “Then in the second half, he scored 21 points for us. But everybody was strong. Everybody rebounded the basketball, and we just played together. It was a gutty win.”

And now, on to the Garden, home of the five-wins-in-five-nights ride in 2011, heroic shots by Kemba, Ray Allen and numerous others.

“We're going to the Garden,” Ollie said. “We just love to plant seeds. We're going to keep planting seeds there.”

Ollie may or may not have meant the irony of planting seeds in a place called the Garden. But the seeds of the Big East Conference tournament were planted more than 30 years ago, with UConn as a charter member.

A lot has changed since then, but the Huskies feel like the World's Most Famous Arena is their home away from home, and they're sure to get a crowd bigger than just Ryan Boatright's family come Friday night.