2017 NCAA Tourament

Villanova nearly sweeps 2016-17 Big 5 awards

Villanova nearly sweeps 2016-17 Big 5 awards

Villanova was unsurprisingly well-represented in the Big 5 awards released Tuesday, taking four of the five major awards and claiming three of five spots on the All-Big 5 First Team.

Josh Hart was named Player of the Year, Donte DiVincenzo Rookie of the Year, Jay Wright was Coach of the Year and Jalen Brunson was Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Hart averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals during his senior season. He shot 51 percent from the field -- his fourth straight season over 50 percent -- and was much better from three than he was last season, raising his percentage from 35.7 to 40.4.

DiVincenzo's emergence bodes well for Villanova's future now that Hart and Kris Jenkins are done. 

The 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game. DiVincenzo played well in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 21 points with 13 rebounds in the first-round win over Mount St. Mary's and going for 15 points, six rebounds and three steals in the second-round loss to Wisconsin.

It was a bit surprising to see Jenkins make the Big 5 First Team over teammate Mikal Bridges, who was more consistent and effective down the stretch.

First Team
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Shizz Alston, Jr., Temple
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Josh Hart, Villanova
Kris Jenkins, Villanova

Second Team
Jordan Price, La Salle
Mikal Bridges, Villanova
AJ Brodeur, Penn
James Demery, Saint Joseph's
Obi Enechionyia, Temple
Matt Howard, Penn 

Dawn Staley, South Carolina win women's NCAA Tournament over Mississippi State

Dawn Staley, South Carolina win women's NCAA Tournament over Mississippi State

DALLAS -- Dawn Staley is going to savor her first NCAA championship. It took her a long time to finally be able to raise the trophy over her head.

A'ja Wilson scored 23 points to help coach Staley and South Carolina win their first national championship with a 67-55 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday night.

Staley made the Final Four three times as a player at Virginia but never won. She also led the Gamecocks to the national semifinals two years ago before losing to Notre Dame.

"It means that I can check off one of the things that had been a void in my career," said Staley wearing the championship net around her neck in the postgame press conference. "Something I wanted to do. It was one of two opportunities that I saw women play when I was younger -- national championship games and Olympics. Those were things that I held dear and near to me growing up. Those were the things I saw and were shooting for."

Wilson, a native South Carolina player who was Staley's biggest recruit ever, was the key. She was thrilled to help Staley get her first title.

"I can't put into words how much it meant to win the game for coach," Wilson said. "She's put in so much time and sweat into this. ... It really means something special to bring this back home for such a great person like coach Staley."

Once the final buzzer sounded, Staley had a long group hug with her coaching staff and then grabbed the trophy and paraded it around the court high over her head. She cut down the final piece of the net, waving it to the huge throng of Gamecocks fans while Wilson and Kaela Davis danced with the South Carolina band playing.

"You have to give tribute to the former players," Staley said. "Go back to my Temple days, they believed in our vision. We took that vision to South Carolina and that vision was we'll be national champions. If you stick with us and if you're disciplined, if you believe all these players believed in that. Happy our words came true to them."

Staley became just the second African-American coach to win a national championship. She joined Carolyn Peck, who won a title at Purdue.

Mississippi State had all the momentum on its side after a shocking win over UConn on Friday night that ended the Huskies' record 111-game winning streak. The Bulldogs couldn't muster the same effort against the Gamecocks. Morgan William, who had become the face of the tournament with the game-winner against the Huskies after a 41-point performance against Baylor, was held to just 8 points.

South Carolina (33-4) turned a 10-point halftime lead into a 45-31 advantage midway through the third quarter before the Bulldogs rallied. Mississippi State (34-5) slowly cut into its deficit, getting with 54-50 on Jazzmun Holmes' jumper. That brought a huge cheer from the thousands of Mississippi State fans who made the 8-hour trip from Starkville, Mississippi.

But that's as close as the Bulldogs could get.

The victory in front of a sellout crowd came one day after the Gamecocks men's basketball team lost in the Final Four in Phoenix.

Wilson, who grew up in South Carolina, blocked a shot on one end of the court and then hit a short jumper in the lane that started a 12-2 run to put the game away. Staley emptied her bench with less than a minute left and Wilson left with tears of joy. The junior center sees a repeat in the future for the Gamecocks, who return most of their core players.

"Man, just be with us next year, we're trying to be in this same spot next year, we're going to see how it goes," Wilson said after winning the most outstanding player award for the Final Four.

The Gamecocks won the title without star center Alaina Coates, who hurt her ankle in the SEC Tournament. She didn't even travel with the team to Dallas.

"Our players never fretted, `La' we got you a ring. We got you a ring," Staley said of Coates. "Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis they all believed in it. They spent a year getting to know our team, getting to know our system. Got the opportunity to play and we become national champions. It's incredible belief and discipline and can't thank them enough for choosing South Carolina."

It was the third loss for the Bulldogs against the Gamecocks this season. Mississippi State dropped a game in South Carolina in the regular season as well as the SEC Tournament title game.

"Today doesn't define us," said Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, who is 0-9 in his career against South Carolina. "It certainly doesn't define this team or this season. We had a heck of a year. Obviously we've had some hard times dealing with them. Today was no different."

No team had a tougher road to the championship then the second-seeded Bulldogs. They were trying to become the third team in NCAA history to beat three number No. 1 seeds en route to the title. Tennessee did it in 1987 and Louisiana Tech accomplished the same feat a year later. The Bulldogs had already knocked off top-seed Baylor and UConn to get to the championship game.

This was the sixth time in NCAA Tournament history that teams from the same conference played for the national championship, including three by the SEC. Tennessee won both of those matchups, the last coming in 1996 when the Lady Vols beat Georgia.

Wisconsin too good for an 8-seed, but Villanova takes blame for another early NCAA Tournament exit

Wisconsin too good for an 8-seed, but Villanova takes blame for another early NCAA Tournament exit

Printable bracket with game times

East Region | West Region | Midwest Region | South Region

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jay Wright started shaking his head before the question was even finished.

"Isn't it unfair for you guys to have to face a team like Wisconsin in the second round?"

Everybody knows Wisconsin should have been seeded higher than No. 8. Everybody but the NCAA selection committee.

The Badgers were ranked as high as seventh in the country as late as mid-February, they won 25 games in a highly-regarded conference, they beat three ranked teams and they have a roster loaded with experienced veterans of three Sweet 16s and two Final Fours.

They could have been a five seed, like Minnesota, which Wisconsin beat twice and won fewer games both overall and in the Big Ten.

They could have been a six seed, like Maryland, which Wisconsin beat by 11 and also won fewer games both overall and in the Big Ten.

They should not have been a No. 8 seed. Should not have been Villanova's opponent Saturday in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32.

After earning the overall No. 1 seed, Villanova's reward was a second-round meeting with an opponent with tremendous depth and experience.

After Villanova lost, 65-62, at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, Wright was asked several times about the seeming unfairness of it all.

"I don't think there should be anything negative about this tournament, especially from the players and coaches," Wright said. "It's a tourney, they make the bracket. Our job is to go play.

"You want to play great teams. You want to go to the tournament and play great teams and beat all the best. I think (you can't) worry about where you get knocked out. … I just worry about how our guys play and I was proud of how our guys played.

"We could have played better, but proud of how well they stuck together. We love this tournament. We love being in it. I'll take being in it every year, give us whoever you want. Give us a 1 seed, I don't care. We love being in it."

But the reality is that Villanova has now lost as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed four times in the last eight years to opponents seeded No. 7 or No. 8.

According to Sports-Reference's NCAA Tournament Game Finder, No. 1 and 2 seeds are 255-52 against opponents seeded No. 7 or lower since 2001, when Wright became head coach at Villanova.

But Villanova and Kansas are the only schools that have lost four times as a No. 1 or 2 seed against an opponent seeded seventh or lower.

And it's now happened to Villanova three times in the last four years. It's only happened to every other school combined 10 times the last four years.

Three years ago, very similarly, Villanova lost as a No. 2 seed to No. 7 UConn on the same court. UConn went on to win the national title.

"This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country," Wright said. "You know, just being in it, I say this every year to our team, we can't take it for granted. It's so special to be a part of it.

"Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You're playing the best teams in the country. You're going to come down to games like this, you know? We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out on the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State (in 2015), and we had a shot to win it and we missed it.

"To me, there's no dishonor in losing in this tournament but I do know that -- and we've lived through it -- you are judged by how you play in this tournament and that's the reality of it. So you have to accept it."

It's only fair that part of the legacy of this senior class -- Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds -- is that they were eliminated early in three of their four years.

Their 129 wins are 10th-most in NCAA Division 1 history over a four-year span, and of course their national championship last year is what will be remembered the most.

But three early exits from the tournament do have to be considered alongside the celebration in Houston, the parade down Market Street and meeting President Obama.

Hard to believe, but Villanova has only reached one Sweet 16 in the last eight years after reaching four the previous five years. It's just that the one Sweet 16 turned into a national title.

"It's the reality of this tournament and it's great lesson in life," Wright said. "When you're getting a lot of accolades, you're going to get some heat too.

"Everything in life is a balance, man, and you've got to be prepared for it, and when you're getting all the accolades and you're a No. 1 seed you know you're going to win it or you're going to be crushed, it's part of life, and it's a great lesson for those guys."

In the end, this Villanova team didn't shoot as well as last year, didn't have nearly the post presence of last year, didn't make clutch foul shots like last year and certainly didn't have the depth of last year.

And it all caught up to the Wildcats in the final few minutes Saturday afternoon, when a seven-point lead turned into a three-point loss.

But in a way, what Villanova did with just seven players -- only three who were really offensive threats by the end of the season -- won 32 games and both the Big East regular-season title and Big East Tournament.

"I'm most proud of the team that we became after losing Omari (Spellman) and Phil (Booth) and Tim Delaney, we lost Tim for the year as well," Wright said in the hallway outside the Villanova locker room Saturday evening.

"When that happened we figured, 'Let’s see how good we can be.' And we became a hell of a team. But not good enough to get past this Wisconsin team. But still a hell of a team. But not a national champion.

"And I thought we had a chance. It's such a fine line between being a national champion and losing at any point in this tournament. That's a hell of a team. That team could go to the Final Four. They've got Final Four experience.

"I know we get judged on how far we get, and that’s fair, I get it. But on the inside, we look at it like this: 'We played a great team, we played great, we didn't get it done. We're OK, we're OK.'

"Not right now, we're not. We're disappointed. We're going to hurt for a while, till the tournament's over. That's how long we'll hurt."